Odd title, I know. But those are the two things that scare the crap out of me and after all, it is almost Halloween. The kernels for these still incurable fears were both planted by my dad’s DVD player at a young age.
First sharks. No shocker here, it was when I watched “Jaws.” Honestly, this requires no real explanation, just know that I was so freaked out that I refused to leave the edge of swimming pools for a good year. I needed to be able to leap out, should I see a giant shark fin break the surface. I was convinced however the water got in the pool was how those great whites would surely get in as well!
The prison thing all stems from a old documentary my dad owned called “Scared Straight.” It was shot back in the 70’s, so the hair and clothes were all funky, but this did nothing to mitigate the horror for me. It was (and I think still is) a program where they take repeat juvy offenders and stick them in a max security prison for an entire day.
They literally line these poor little bastards up in a room and let about thirty of the worst, most terrifying convicts you’ve ever seen into the room. The convicts then scream at these kids, spittle flying all up in their faces. They take the kids’ shoes, throw them across the room and dare them to go get them back. One guy makes a kid hold onto his belt loop the entire time to simulate being his prison bitch.
Lemme tell you, that was completely traumatizing to an eight year old Joe Gazzam. So much so, that when I was thinking about writing novel, it was the only thing I could seriously consider. I had to exorcise this demon somehow.
The interesting thing to me about the program was – there was always an invisible line between the kids and the cons. The convicts were part of the program, so you knew they were never reallllly going to hurt those kids. But at eight years old and now thirty years later, I was obsessed with the idea of – what would happen if that invisible line was erased?
What if you were a kid loose in that prison, unprotected, amongst the worst of the worst. What would THAT be like? So, I wrote a novel about that very scenario.
To be honest, I was traumatized plenty times since — watching “The Shining” at nine years old, made me refuse to ever go down a dark hallway. I would literally pee off the balcony of my father’s apartment rather than go down the hallway where a bulb had burnt out.
But the fears that have truly stayed with me all these years are in the title of this post: Sharks and Prison.
What are yours?
Check out Joe’s book: Uncaged