Monday, August 17, 2009

getting out of jail

I'm leaving the clink. Well, at least, I'm leaving the particular DYS facility in which I currently work. You see, my husband and I have this house out in the western part of the state that we tried to sell this past year but were not able to. Stupid, stupid housing market!! To make a long story short, we're going back, for either a long time or a short time, to make some improvements to the property and to try to sell it again, soon, or maybe not soon.

It's kind of funny. I never thought getting out of jail would feel like such an undesirable situation. I really love the work I do here. I teach these kids because I think they need me. And, in a weird way, I think I need them. There's a feeling I get from teaching in the clink, a kind of personal and professional satisfaction that I have never gotten from any other kind of work I've done. I'll miss these kids.

Fortunately, I have a boss who is very understanding and very good to me, and she worked to find me a position doing pretty much the same job out west. I may find pastures just as green ahead of me. Or maybe I won't. The hubs is going to keep his working situation in Providence (he's an independent artist/designer), so I'm going to be a one-woman show for much of the time. It's gonna be hard. But, as my mom always reminds me: it's going to work out...because it has to.

So, this is probably my last post for the next two weeks or so. Look for new tales from the new clink in September. Let's all try to enjoy these waning dog days of summer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


If I were writing the supermarket tabloid version of my experiences in the clink--the kind where only the Most Shocking And Outrageous Headlines made it to print--here's what you'd see:

"Cell Phone And Charger Found In Resident Rec Room! No One's Admitting Anything!" (editor's note: remember, in jail they don't let you have cell phones...or chargers)

"Three Residents Infected With MRSA! Really Poor Hygiene Or Illicit Sexual Contact To Blame? Or Both?!?"

"Resident On Anti-Psychotic Medication Regularly Cheeks His Meds - And Gives It To Other Residents So They Can Get High!"

"Generous Parent Donates TV To Juvenile Detention Center - With Hidden Gun Inside?!?"

"Resident Steals Scissors From Classroom, Eludes Guards And Holds Case Worker Hostage!"

(related to previous scandalous headline) "Although Guards Were To Blame For Not Noticing Scissors In Resident's Sock, Guards Get Mild Reprimand While Teacher Whose Classroom They Were Taken From Gets Shit-Canned!!"

"Guard Engages In Sexual Activity With Resident On Third Shift While Others Either Sleep Or Look Away!"

It's a crazy, crazy approach to teaching in this place. It's a far cry from Waldorf education. Being a teacher in the clink requires a certain constant watchfulness that I never had to muster when I was teaching in public schools. There is much possibility for chaos, and even more chance for danger.

So why do I do it?

I teach reading to these kids because they've gotten the short end of the stick in life, and they need someone to give them a chance to succeed, in spite of everything. And that "everything" means their criminal records, their angry dispositions, and their convictions that they're still going to keep hustling when they're discharged. That's the hard part: when I overhear my students making plans to get back on the street to keep dealing, stealing and gangbanging. Makes me disappointed, dejected, depressed.

But I won't give up.

Monday, August 10, 2009

certainty and doubt

Just checked my e-mail inbox, where I found Barbara J. Feldman's daily Educational Inspirational Quote du jour:

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain
of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." ~ Bertrand Russell (1872 -

Hmm. This one resonates.

Monday, August 3, 2009

19 down, 11 to go...

It's day 19 of 30 here in summer school in the clink. I know what you're thinking: HAH! Sucks to be you! I used to think that any teacher who has to work during the summer must be either broke or psychotic, or both (ooh, bad combo). While I'll admit to being somewhat financially challenged, it's far from a miserable existence here in SummerClink 2009. I've decided to do a completely freestyle approach to literacy, taking into account my students' individual preferences. Here's a rundown on what each of my boys are reading/thinking/doing in my reading workshop:

Danny: My most willing reader, my most agreeable student in general. I sometimes wonder what on earth got him into a place like this. Anyway, Danny is totally into Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief series. I just went out and bought him book 4 of the series, The Battle of the Labyrinth. You should have seen the look on his face when I pulled it out of my book bag this morning. He immediately opened it up and started reading, but then strangely, he put it down. I said, "Let me guess. You don't want to blow through that book during reading workshop time, and you'd rather read something else now and save this for when you're in your room." "Um, yeah," he said. So I brought out a big, hardcover Mythology book from the "ology" series. It's part book, part scrap book, part pop-up book. But not babyish. Just interesting and cool. I thought Danny would find interesting the Greek mythology stories that are so closely linked to the storyline in The Lightning Thief. From what I saw, he digs it.

Sha'Vaughn: Another very willing reader, but one who is somewhat hampered by the medication he's on for behavioral issues. It's really hard for Sha'Vaughn to stay awake in my class, but he manages, and it's probably got to do with the fact that I bought him the first two books in the Pendragon series. He loves them. We talk about the plot, the characters, the predictions he makes and the visualizations he sees.

Mauricio: Mauricio is yet another willing reader, but his attendance in my class has been affected by his behavioral issues during second shift. Mauricio is bipolar, and this condition takes him to incredibly angry places at times. When his behavior is good, we read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. We read it out loud to each other, which is such a powerful way to read a book. In fact, it was Maya Angelou herself who said, "Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning." I really look forward to Mauricio's class time. We just finished chapter 6 of IKWTCBS, in which she describes a fanatical churchgoer she witnessed as a young girl and the hilarious way her brother imitated this woman. Mauricio and I were both laughing so hard we had tears running down our cheeks.

Jimi: One of my youngest, and less willing readers. Jimi declared to me months ago, when he first arrived on the unit, that he wouldn't need reading because he was going to be a pig farmer in the Dominican Republic when he grew up. He was really obstinate, Jimi was. But I think that over the past several months, Jimi has really matured, both as a young man but also as a reader. He shows a greater ability to comprehend, both text as well as greater life issues. Jimi had struggled with decoding earlier in the year, but he has really improved in his fluency, decoding and comprehension. I think he still wants to be a pig farmer, but he's warming up to the idea that even farmers need to be literate. I'll support his dream however I can. We read shorter texts, excerpts from longer texts, and different forms of electronic media, like podcasts, blogs and wikis. He likes street literature, and he loved a book called Black & White that he read in another class.

Dominic: Dominic is still here. Dominic is my oldest student, and he recently took his GED test. A huge, huge step for him. Dominic had been reading The Yankee Years for some time, but when he finished that we really focused in on preparing him to take the GED writing test. Dominic finished the test about a week and a half ago. The day after he took the test, he found out that a dear friend of his was gunned down and murdered. Dominic has withdrawn considerably, and I know that his future rides on his GED results. I fear that if he does not pass, he will go back to his former lifestyle, the one that got him into this place. He's going to find out his test results any day now. Until then, we've been relying on the NY Times Bats blog and any related Yankees online literature to get us through. That, and Scrabble.

James: My newest student, my least willing reader, and one with comprehension levels lower than I have ever seen. James is my biggest challenge. He has great difficulty remembering anything he's read. Even from one paragraph to the next, from one sentence to the next. I believe he has a pretty severe learning disability. Until that gets figured out, I turn to short stories, word games, puzzles, and anything else that's fun to keep his interest level up. We have to work on his comprehension, but that task has to be approached carefully and in small doses. James comes from an urban/street background, so anything in this genre will be good for James - as long as it contains a message of non-violence and redemption. Suggestions welcome.

That's my classroom in a nutshell. SummerClink 2009. In eleven days, I'll get a chance to do my own free reading. Maybe even on a beach...