Friday, August 13, 2010

Prison is a state of mind.

I love our home. It's comfortably furnished with soothing color accents. While I sit at the dining table, I see the wind moving the vertical blinds by the window. It's a truly beautiful summer day. Outside, I hear the kids calling to each other as they ride their bikes in loops around the block. In approximately, 20 minutes my wonderful husband will pull into the garage, bound up the stairs, and pull me into a kiss. The thought of him makes me assess my appearance after the workday. I'm wearing a persimmon Banana Republic shirt and a dark denim pencil skirt. My hair is tied up with a flower of lace.

This image is pristine, beautiful. It would be perfect if it weren't for this gnawing, sickening feeling in my stomach.

This summer I've been teaching language arts in a juvenile rehabilitation center. I gave my students a project. They were instructed to write a book review, a poem, or a short story of their choosing. I told them we would compile their writings into a creative writing journal, our own class version of Teen Ink Magazine.

In class we read examples of other teens' submissions to Teen Ink and discussed writing strategies. As my students began writing, I noticed similar themes in the pieces. Themes of pain, loneliness, hell, war, violence, and brokenness.

One student wrote a story about a boy whose dad abused his mom and him. The boy in the story tried to get them out, but in the end he shot and killed his dad. (This story won't appear in the class journal.)

Another student wrote the following poem:

What It’s Like to Be Protective

Protective, the word means a lot,

to stand up and fall, to get back up and try again.

To be troublingly independent, violent and to be also content.

Protective and fast in the head, heart, and soul.

To keep friends, family, and loved ones safe from the unknown or forgotten.

Built of brick, reinforced with steal but softer than a pillow.

There when you need them and there even if not to be needed.

Observant but determined,

Overworked but prideful,

Flexible and caring but forgotten

‘til remembered when the time is stressful.

Faithful as a dog and daring as a soldier.

I am till I die because that’s how I was raised and that’s how I will stay.


I started crying when I read it. This poem is about him. He was abused as a child and years later came to be in the system when he abused another child.

Prison is not just an institution of the state, it is a state of mind.

The garage just opened. I heard his car door slam. I'm sure we'll do something fun tonight to celebrate the weekend. But I can't forget the words and stories of my students, no matter how much my surroundings want to convince me that those things don't happen. To convince me that suffering and abuse aren't real, but they make millions in record sales: "Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, well that's alright because I like the way it hurts."

It is by God's grace that I have the life I have--was born into a loving family, married a good man. I don't take that grace lightly. The reality of my students doesn't depress me. It gives me motivation to reach them and their hearts covered in barbed wire. It makes me love my husband more passionately. It helps me appreciate my loving parents with deeper gratitude. It allows me to see and fight against the forces that want to imprison me.


I’ve been waiting for you for years.

Because I have this small hope,

you’ll come up one day,

and finish the story.

-anonymous student

2 Comments:

At August 13, 2010 at 5:39 PM , Blogger Linda said...

I appreciate all that you've shared here Jenny.
I know you are being used by God to make such a difference in these students lives. I'm very touched by the words shared and the fact that the students have learned to use writing as an outlet for their feelings and as a response to their experiences. What a valuable gift they have received.
I was especially touched by the last poem. I've read it several times already and will probably do so again. I am going to be thinking on it.

 
At August 18, 2010 at 9:38 PM , Blogger dana said...

Jenny, I love the way you express things. You are such a great role model and inspiration to your students. I heard that eminem/rhianna song a few weeks ago and was immediately disturbed- nice to know someone else doesn't just accept that as just "music" and blow past it...it's such a sad message.
Thanks for reminding me of the hurts and pains that are unseen in those that I come in contact with on a daily basis.

You're great!

 

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