... like lifers turn to trusty prison guards

catch_up

Member
Czech
Hi,
could someone please help me with the following sentence in bold?

She dialed in a hurry, and bearded Evil Dad lifted his phone to answer,
and life became much easier on the nerves. Then, with a groaning buzz, the scanner came back on. Dad and Uncle waved a command at her, like lifers turned to trusty prison guards, and she scampered through the metal gate and never looked back.



Does that mean that dad & uncle turned to those security geeks like lifers turn to trusty prison guards (because after receiving the full third-degree they were kind of close)? Why the past tense, then? Or is there something more?

It's from Bruce Sterling's story called "In Paradise".


Thank you for any kind of help.
 
  • bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    I think that "lifers" refers prisoners who have received sentence of life in prison.

    I would have expected "trustee" rather than "trusty."
    Trustee is also a term used for a prison inmate who has special work-related privileges, usually as a result of good behavior.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trustee

    However, one U.S. state did have a peculiar system for employing inmates to control their fellow inmates, called the Trusty system:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trusty_system
     

    catch_up

    Member
    Czech
    I understand the words themselves, but I don't really get the meaning of the senstence. I don't know what exactly happened there...
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    I see. The father and uncle waved at her to proceed through the security scanner, acting in the role of security personnel. Sterling compares this reversal of roles to inmates acting as trustees.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    THe clause is describing the way in which Dad and Uncle waved or possibly comparing Dad and Uncle themselve to "lifers." "Turned" is not really a verb here. You could expand the clause to read something like "Dad and Uncle waved in the way that lifers who had turned into prison guards would wave" or "Dad and Uncle, who were like lifers who had become prison guards, waved."

    Other than that, I have no idea what this sentence is talking about!
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think I might be confused because the thread title has "turn", but the original post has "turned".

    In any event, both words are certainly verbs.
     

    catch_up

    Member
    Czech
    THe clause is describing the way in which Dad and Uncle waved or possibly comparing Dad and Uncle themselve to "lifers." "Turned" is not really a verb here. You could expand the clause to read something like "Dad and Uncle waved in the way that lifers who had turned into prison guards would wave" or "Dad and Uncle, who were like lifers who had become prison guards, waved."
    That's exactly how I understood it from bibliolept's first answer.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    My point, sort of, was that "turned" here is a past participle functioning as an adjective, not as a verb. Like "spoiled milk." Since I am not an ESL teacher, there may be some nuance is how this construction is described formally, but to me "turned" here is like an adjective.
     
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