Joan and I were in Raleigh together for the first time to take the tour for new vista volunteers at North Carolina’s Central Prison, a hundred years old, built by convict labor along the railroad tracks behind Morgan Street so new felons could be shipped in by boxcar. The inmates called it “The Wall”: thirteen hundred of them locked inside. Guards with tommy guns manned the towers twenty-four hours a day. The fence that crowned the high stone perimeter was electrified. We were marched right into the gut of it: I and J blocks, where the criminally insane, playing badminton on an asphalt court wrapped in glittering silver concertina, screamed obscenities at the girls. A wall with bullet holes in it. No buttons in the elevators, just an intercom and a camera. The Death House, in a grassy side yard spilling with pink primrose, had to be entered through a heavy church door. Inside lurked the gas chamber: an oak chair bolted to the floor in a glassed-in confessional. A row of cushioned pews for the witnesses. Though it was mid-August, Death Row was cold. Joan wore my green flannel shirt, her long brown hair still damp from bathing. I had known her only a week. In college she’d played piano for prisoners at the Dekalb County Jail in Atlanta. The Central condemned wore white: white beltless trousers, white tucked-in shirts. They were barefoot and washed in light. We filed past their cells along a narrow gunmetal catwalk several stories up. We could barely see the bottom. As Joan passed along the block — her head down — the men milled to the fronts of their cells and clenched the bars, likenesses of one another, amnesiacs, ghostly in their whites and that odd gleam pooled about them — not wholly there, but evanescent while we hovered as though in midair, trying not to face them.