Thursday, February 14, 2008

This must be what jail is really like

"Long time no see."

A familiar head popped in the door the other day. A really cool kid I hadn't seen in months. "Hey," I said. "What have you been up to?"

"Well," he said, "I was locked up. But I'm back. And I'm trying to get back in school here."

"Hey, that's great. Is everything, um, OK?"

"Yeah. I mean, I'm on parole now. But all that stuff's behind me now."

"Good. It's good to see you. Hopefully everything will work out. But I hope you hurry it up. The semester's already two weeks old, so you're already behind."

And so we chit-chatted for a bit. About things we're doing in class. About who's still here, who's gone. Of course there was a big question I wanted to ask but didn't. What had he been arrested for? I didn't ask, and he didn't offer up the information. Instead, he produced a report card.

"I got an A in British Literature," he said, pretty proud.

I looked at the grades: A in English and three B's. "Not bad," I said. "So, you took classes in jail?"

"Yeah. And the teachers there were really good. Good enough to be, you know, real teachers. They could work at a regular high school. It wasn't just worksheets and that kind of stuff. We read from textbooks and did, you know, work."

"That's really great. Tell me more about it. Like, how many guys were in your classes?"

"Classes weren't too big, maybe 12 or 13 people."

"And the teachers were good?"


"And were there guards?"

"Oh yeah."

"In the room with you? In the back, just ready to kick some ass?"

"Well, not in the room. But the teachers had a button on their desk. And if there was trouble, they'd press that and the guards would come on in."

"Did that ever happen?"

"No ... you know, school was a chance to get out of your cell. Get out of the daily routine. Nobody wanted to mess that up."

"And so everyone was there to learn?"

"Yeah. Nobody messed around."

"Huh," I said, thinking, how the hell could I show my everyday students that school is, you know, an opportunity? A chance to get out of the cell of life that so many of them are stuck in, a chance to get out of the routine.

"Anyway, I'm gonna get going," he said. "I hope to be back in your class soon."

"Thanks. I hope you get back, too."

And if I get him back, I hope to write about it. And about whatever else happens.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you need a buzzer at your desk....

ms g said...

And now you know if your school closes, you could always teach in the prisons. I'll bet their food is better...

Bill said...

I taught briefly at Nancy Jefferson (the high school in the juvenile detention center) and while I had no respect for its administration, I had a great deal of respect for the teachers. Very good at their jobs and very dedicated. The students weren't all that motivated, but as your student remarked, they didn't want to be back in the cells.

freelunch said...

My dad taught in a state prison until he became the principal there. He had a few success stories, but the real problem was that so many of the inmates were there as part of a nearly inevitable path from never finishing high school and never learning basic literacy for any number of reasons happening to do with schools, teachers, parents, social services, and self.

My dad was never a romantic about what he did or about the people he was working with, but he certainly didn't blame the inmates for all of their problems.