Saturday, November 25, 2006

What can you really say?

A letter I just finished writing:

Dear ****,

I received your letter on Wednesday, right as my family was heading out the door to drive up to Logan for Thanksgiving with my mom’s (huge) family. When I saw your name followed by an inmate number, I felt really—well, really something. Sad mostly. Sad and surprised. I read your letter then spent a large part of the (6 freakin’ hour!) drive up North thinking of what I could write to you.

Brad was a student of mine—but only for a short time, and his attendance was slightly worse than yours. I remember him as a charming, fun kid who seemed in desperate need of a hug—or beating—or maybe both. What I’m trying to say is that he seemed particularly lost to me, even then. Beyond that, anything I could say about his choice, your choice, your proximity to his choice, would be presumptuous. There’s no way I can imagine the feelings either of you experienced, or offer anything by way of insight or advice on such a heartbreaking event.

That said, I was surprised that you chose to write to me. Somehow I always imagined that I was a bit of a pain in your ass. And while I’m flattered that you classify me as a “civilized being,” I don’t necessarily always classify myself as one. It sucks that you took a fall, and/but meth is nasty, nasty, insidious stuff, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you. I speak from a small amount of personal experience, and the experience of watching many friends and students loose themselves in it. As a teacher it’s so hard to know when to step in with a suspicion—even a very well supported one. You find the insides of pens laying around—notice a kid breaking out—chewing his/her fingernails—sniffing and sniffing--tapping, tapping, tapping on the desk-- and just shake your head and say a prayer. I watched you go up and down—orbit toward and away from your education, and finally just quit coming. I’m sorry you felt like you were kicked out of school. I want you to know that every teacher at SEA tried to hold on to you for as long as possible. Ultimately, you just simply weren’t there, ever, and we had a bunch of kids to place and needed your spot. It sounds shitty—but unfortunately, numbers do end up making decisions like that at times.

I really don’t have much to offer by way of advice. Here’s what comes to me though. First—there are a TON of opportunities for education in the corrections system. Take full advantage of as many of those as possible. I’ve known guys who went in without a high school diploma and came out with almost the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. If you need help or information on anything school related in there, I’m your man, um, woman. Second—you know, I’m not a religious person. In fact, after I left the LDS church, I pretty much swore off all spiritual stuff as complete bullshit. But, in the last few months I’ve been having a bit of a change of heart. I think there is a spark of some kind in everyone. Whatever you want to call it—higher self, the divine, shit, call it “Barry” if you want to. But I think that internal spark has the answers. I don’t think you’ll find them outside yourself. For me that spark kicks in in nature, listening to Gillian Welsch CDs, singing with my daughter, or when I (rarely) just let myself sit in silence. I’m thinking you may have more of a chance to sit in silence in the next little while than you have before. It sounds cheesy, but try and tune into that spark and see if it has anything to say. Finally—write. Write it all down. Start from as early as you can remember and just write it. Don’t worry about who is going to read it—although I will if you want me to—but write it. It’s weird how words on the page are such good house-keeping for the mind and, if you will, soul, but they are.

I believed in you when you were my student and I believe in you now.

Your friend,

Mrs. J


JJisafool said...


Will you be my teacher?

NME said...

GOD. Now that is some REAL shit. And your letter - is well, wow. If something that smart and candid doesn't help this kid, then he can't be helped.

You change lives Mrs. J. I'm sure the ones who slip through the cracks are heartbreaking - but the ones you help should make you feel like soaring. You are an incredible human being.

OldMotherHubbardSharesAll said...

And now we all KNOW why you are a teacher!

I believe in a higher being outside myself and said a prayer for your former student. May the time he now has to "serve" serve to better himself!