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.

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