I gave the students a week off to revise their work. It was nice to have a break, but I found myself constantly thinking about the world around me in relation to the inmates at the jail.
I watched Gasland the other night, a documentary about the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling that’s going on all over the country. The process of drilling is polluting water and sickening families, and the “Halliburton loophole” prevents oil and gas industries from disclosing the chemicals being used. I started thinking about the change that one person can make, started contemplated the saying: You can make a difference. I felt disheartened being reminded that the power lies in congressmen and senators, in rich oil CEO’s and selfish political leaders. I started losing hope in the power of my students at the ACJ.
North Americans function as one big system. We live under one network, and the more we learn the more we begin to understand that certain individuals have the power to make decisions that affect populations at large, a domino effect on people, down to the cleanliness of our drinking water. As I grow older, this system only becomes clearer and more upsetting to me. In Gasland, the filmmaker and narrator travels all over the country talking to families whose wells have been contaminated by the chemicals required for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which is the process of pushing out natural gas using millions of gallons of water. My heart clenched with each beat as I watched the destruction that humans were doing, the contamination, the pollution, the dishonesty, the stripping of what should be a natural right. My heart hurt and it weakened because I couldn’t deny the little power that I have on the world around me, and the even less power that my inmate students have, and for a moment I wanted to give up, on my students and my way of life, move away from the city to the middle of the woods, away from a system of lies, greed and self-interest.
I want to bring good to the lives of inmates who spend their days locked up, hidden from sunlight, from their families and friends, from the evening skies and Pittsburgh lines, from the rivers that feed this city. I know they’ve made wrong choices or have been circumstantially fated to jail, but I still believe they have the potential to make the right choices and I want to help them realize that.
But there are days when I lose hope in the good of people, days when documentaries like Gasland and responses like BP’s to the oil spill in the gulf force me to recognize reality. People that know me say I’m an idealist, say that I give people too many chances, and try to find good where there isn’t any. I say I’ve seen more good in the men and women at the ACJ discussing writing and how it can help them reach their goals, listening to them talk about their son’s bedroom or their aunt’s cooking, watching them pat each other on the back after sharing a well-written poem than in any group or individual who has the power to control our country. I say those involved in natural gas drilling who are aware of its horrendous effects on humans, those BP exec’s who, although educated and well-traveled, care more about their reputations and money than the health and happiness of humans or an entire ecosystem, are the people who’ve made wrong decisions. Those are the people who are hurting thousands more people than these inmates have harmed, and those are the people who could use a little time behind bars, forced to search for the good within them.