so much depends
cold beneath my
with me at all
–Written by one of my offender-students in January 2012 after the fashion of The Red Wheelbarrow.
Wrigley, his nick-name here, despises me. He was the one my boss chewed out in the hall my first day. You can hear my boss say, “Good morning, Wrigley” every hour of the day. This has been going on for almost two years because Wrigley refuses to respond kindly. “Wha’s sup,” he slurs as his eyes flick anywhere but on the face. He has thug written all over his demeanor.
He hates me because I got fed up with everyone else’s complacency one week. As the new staff, I could pretend not to notice how people operate, and I hounded him through the methods at my disposal to get him to wear his pants properly. When he went to complain that I was being mean, and besides I didn’t even teach him, they pointed out that the rules stated he couldn’t sag his pants. If he followed the rules, I’d leave him alone. Like magic, that’s exactly what happened. He’s one though that seems to need to do something wrong when he’s around me, and I’ve warned him to stop lurking around my door because I will report him.
He moves on to Phase III (my program’s version of parole) next month, not because anyone thinks he’s ready, but because that’s the way our laws are written. We exchanged glances the first day I came back as if to say, “Nothing’s changed.” I’m still “mean” and he’s still all thug. But something has changed.
In Phase II, offenders are taken out in the community to learn life skills and perform community service. Wrigley freaked out during an outing to Wal-Mart where they get to experience shopping and look at prices of things. Evidently, he was so overwhelmed by the people, he backed up against a wall scared stiff and refused to move. When he was confessing this to a mentor staff member he explained how he had always walked around with a gun in his pocket. So steeped in the gang culture, he felt more than exposed walking around without one. As an ex-offender, of course, that is no longer an option.
This staff member feels for him. A couple months ago one of the Phase III graduates who had been one of the stars in an informational film about our program was running with the wrong friends in the wrong car. Instead of pulling over, the driver went to a nearby “crib” where our guy ran in. He knew that being caught with a gun would land him back in prison. As the cops approached, he squeezed the trigger, never to see the inside of a prison again. She waits, just waits, for Wrigley to join him, a lonely number in a column all by himself that we report to the Governor’s Office.
As if to answer the question in my heart from earlier in the week, this staff member told him that he can call upon a greater protection than a gun. Of course he twisted his body around and looked at a corner in the room. He didn’t want to hear about the protection of God. How foreign, how weak, he must have thought in response. At least she planted a seed. If he lives long enough he can try to substitue his favorite thing with hers.