“Man, it’s hard finding things to write about in here,” Charles says to me during class. “I just keep writing about the same depressing stuff, ya know? It’s like there’s only so much good you can find to write about in a place like this. And somebody told me, you gotta get out and see things to write about them.”
Charles spends the majority of class reading through some poetry journals I brought in for class. He’s the one that wrote his first poem without knowing what a poem really was. “That means it was already in me, right?” he says when I remind him he wrote an excellent poem.
More and more, I’m watching inmates leave class. They’re sent “upstate” to another facility, or if they’re lucky, sent home. Charles told me yesterday that he hopes they have writing programs like this one upstate so he can continue learning. “I’ve never done this before,” he says. “I never knew what writing was all about. I wanna keep doing it.”
My time as a teacher at the ACJ is coming to an end soon. With just a couple more classes and a final reading left, I can’t believe how quickly an 8-wk course has passed. I feel like I know some of these individuals; I’ve felt their pain through their words and stories, I’ve laughed out loud with them, I’ve been touched by their work, challenged by their ideas. I’ve tried to give them a supportive beam to rely on, if only within this classroom, so that they might have a little bit of extra hope in their creations, their futures, their lives.
I’m reminded of all the pain that suffuses writing. We talk about how writing is therapy almost every class and some of the inmates tell me they don’t want to go to some of those places inside them. They don’t want to feel what digging deep makes them feel. I tell them it’s a process, and that getting it out on paper, though painful, might relieve them in the end. They’ve become more willing to share their inner stories. Through abandonment, drug dealing, stabbings, nights on the streets, gun shot wounds, betrayal, depression, and rejection, they reveal their lives to our classroom, and I try to understand where each one comes from. I have a hard time.
Their voices are strong, even though they might not know it. They’ve affected me, and I’m not much in the scheme of things, but they’ve made me change the way I see the world around me. Right now, this perspective is laden with a new level of fear and disappointment because I know what’s truly going on outside my bubble of a generally happy world; I face reality each week when I walk into the classroom and hear more about these lives. I see all the themes and threads of movies that I’ve watched come to life right in front of me. I’m slowly walking away from an almost childlike-trance of optimism, and wishful thinking, pacifism and ideal worlds.
No one’s life is perfect, not even mine. But I recognize the happy childhood I was given, the education I received, the chance to travel to growing worlds, wondering how much these aspects truly influenced who I’ve become.
And then I see perfection in one moment or one sentence, or even one look in an eye. And the child in me returns. Charles looks up from a book of poetry. “I want to write somethin’ happy,” he says to me. “Good,” I say with a candid smile. He opens his notebook and takes pencil in hand.