Friday, July 17, 2009

nails from the clink

Brace yourself, dear reader, for what I am about to confess is going to sound weird:

I want to do my students' nails.

For those of you who either know me personally or have read my full profile, perhaps this isn't such a sick, twisted declaration. Several years ago, while I was working for a holistic skin care company, I enrolled in a nail technician licensure program, the intention being to create a natural nail protocol in my company's education & training department. The only problem with this plan was that, upon attaining this license, I realized that I desperately missed working with kids, kids with tough lives, real needs and big problems. Dealing with the skin care dramas of people who have never known the meaning of hungry or broke was, I realized, not going to be a satisfying vocation.

So I'm three years back in the classroom, yet I still carry this funny nail tech license in my wallet, which I sort of use, mostly in the summer, for the occasional pedicure party. I don't think of myself as a member of the Nail Care profession. But lately, I've caught myself looking at the hands and nails of my students as they hold their books and thinking, "God, if I could only trim those cuticles." WHAT? I've tried to shake those thoughts clear out of my head, reminding myself that this is my reading workshop in a house of corrections, not Katie's House of Nails. SNAP OUT OF IT, I tell myself.

But their hands, for all of the mischief they've encountered and crimes they've committed, are beautiful. They have long, healthy nails. None of my students are nail biters, from what I can tell. All of them could stand a manicure, if for no other reason than to get their nails down to a more sanitary length. They'd love the hand and arm massage that I provide, and with the biodynamic skin care products I use, it would be like a little slice of heaven right here in the clink. There's not a lot of nurturing human touch in this place. And they don't have free access to nail scissors for the same reason that sharp, weapon-like objects are generally frowned upon in jails. Plus, some kids have been known to use their own torn fingernails as tools of self-mutilation. If I gave them regular manicures, there'd be fewer opportunities for them to hurt themselves (and others).

Sounds like plenty of good reasons to offer up my services, right?

Here's why I won't do it. These kids have already had all of the boundaries that should exist in normal, healthy relationships skewed up and screwed up. Most of the female role models in their lives thus far are women who want to have sex with them for drugs, money or both. At best, the women in my boys' lives have been dishonest and unhealthy. If I, as a reading teacher, were to introduce a layer of physical touch to my students, even if it were as part of a 15-minute therapeutic nail treatment, it would change EVERYTHING. Our relationship would change permanently, and for the worst. I would never again be an effective teacher. I'd be just another woman who crossed a line and touched. It would confirm what they've suspected all along.

So I'll continue to watch their nails grow and grow. We'll just keep reading.

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