The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Whitehall Ledger 

Column: Some field trip...


Over the past weeks kids from across the area were able to wrap up the school year with their annual spring field trips.

I was able to read online about what seemed to be some pretty amazing trips and the kids really seemed to be happy about where they were going. It's really great local schools plan these trips for the kids. After a long year in the classroom it is always nice for them to get out and have a little fun.

Looking back on my time in school I certainly had quite a few end of the year trips but only a few distinctly stand out in my memory.

When I was in fourth grade, we were able to go to the county fairgrounds in Wyoming and participate in "Frontier Days" which was one of my best elementary school memories.

The other field trip I can vividly remember was in sixth grade and to this day I really can't understand why this was any sort of reward for the work we had done during the year.

Near the conclusion of the school year, the two sixth grade classes boarded onto busses and we made an hour and a half journey to Rawlins, Wyoming.

Nothing against the people that live in Rawlins, but it has never been my cup of tea. It has always been a place to stop at the truck stop to use the bathroom and buy jerky. It was the halfway point to Laramie where I attended the University of Wyoming and I had many trips stopping there with family on the way to Cowboys games.

The destination for our trip was a few miles out of town at the Wyoming State Penitentiary. That's right, for our reward as a sixth-grade class we got to travel to a very much in use state prison.

From the time we arrived it was awful. As we walked through the grounds there were cat calls to us as if we were new prisoners arriving to serve our term. I'm not sure about the security risks for a tour like this, but it was downright scary. We got to see just about everything and it culminated in a question and answer session with a handful of inmates.

Some of the things they said really scared me. I was 12 and really didn't want to hear about how some of these people grew up and what happened to them.

Looking back on it now, I felt that we were all on one of those "scared straight" shows but the main problem was that none of us were really bad kids. The few "problem" kids weren't allowed to go on the trip so it seemed very weird.

Maybe the hope was to scare us to the point this would be the first and last time we ever made the trip.

I had tried to block this memory out of my mind and unfortunately this was about the end of my school field trips. We didn't do anything in junior high and for my first two years of high school I never had a field trip.


This changed my senior year when my criminal justice class had a trip. You guessed it, the trip was to the Wyoming State Penitentiary. For the second time I had to endure this stupid field trip and it was just as bad as the first time.

We did get to stop at the old Frontier Prison that was pretty neat, but the crazy stories we heard had already soured the trip.

I'm not quite sure what kind of message my school district was trying to send, but there seemed to be better things we could have done.

Maybe if it saved a few kids from ending up there it could have been worth it, but when you are 17 you don't listen to anybody anyway so I'm not sure how much it helped.

I'm glad to see that the local kids aren't spending their end of the year trips in jail, that's a huge plus in my books.


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