He was a tall, skinny black man with a wisp of a moustache and daring eyes. Had he grown up under different conditions maybe he would have seemed more skinny than scary, but he carried himself like he was twice his size. His wide shoulders and serious face didn’t help. If he appeared quietly I’d feel some fear well up in me, but I usually saw him coming, swinging his long arms and looking tough. I bought into his image for the first semester, but he seemed satisfied with me in the end and gave me no trouble at all. There was no denying, however, that he was a bully.

Even though he denied ever attending high school “on the outs” or ever being complimented for his writing, he always did a good job. He wrote this little cinquain to satisfy what he thought was an annoying assignment:

Quiet, helpful
Learning, listening, writing
Mrs. C’s classroom
Advanced Writing

When he graduated from our high school in June he was talking about taking a welding class and maybe others. This was a huge improvement from his, “I dunno and I don’t care,” answer he usually gave me. I left for maternity leave with just a little hope that he would get out, find employment, and do something different with his life. Nothing fancy or noteworthy, just simple and law-abiding.   

Eight weeks later he was charged with extortion and given the boot back into adult prison. Not surprising. Like I said, he was a bully. But I was horribly disappointed and sad. I could hear him telling me, “Miss, it doesn’t matter.” How many times had he told me that? How many times had me assured me he’d end up back in jail no matter what I taught him or how I encouraged him? He got what he asked for.

Nonetheless, I was surprised. When an offender comes to us, he accepts a reduced sentence, usually half or a third of his original sentence. Sometimes it’s more significant. One guy has 85 years “over his head” as we call it, but only has to serve seven (our maximum sentence) with us. These offenders also accept certain conditions of the program. If an offender fails to comply with our program too severely or too frequently, we can ask to have him revoked and returned to the adult system to serve his original sentence. This happens rarely. We try to give everyone chance after chance after chance. He’s the first one I’ve seen go.


About hey miss

A teacher. A prison guard. I used to think that was like oil and water. Like lightening and metal. Some days it is. Some days it's magic.
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