A Five Year Plan

“I want to write!”

I picked my jaw off the floor and adjusted it back in place to ask, “Have you ever said that before?”

“Naw, Miss, I hate school,” I noted the present tense in his explanation. “I mean, I never have before. But when I learn somethin’ I want to try it. Like math. I hated math, but then I started to learn something. Or like this. It makes me want to try it.” We had wrapped up a few lessons on outlines and were going over prepositional prhases.

So I gave him a piece of paper and a prompt. “You say you’re interested in business. You ever hear about a five year plan?” He nods, so I continued. “What does your life look like on Oct. 17, 2016?” I knew it was a stretch for someone who had just begun his journey with us. Our students go through stages in their thinking. Usually, but not always, the time it takes to conjure a positive future is relative to their time remaining with us. His release date was a couple years down the road, and he had only been in school with me for a month. It was early for him to be thinking about his five year plan.

“Well, first I need to get an education….” he trailed off as I shook my head.

“The first step is in answering the prompt. I didn’t ask how do you get to your five year plan, I want to know what the plan is: Where do you work? What does your family look like? Where do you live? What do you do on the weekends? Let’s begin with where. Where are you going to live?”


The sate name hangs in the air as I look sharply at him. I thought they were supposed to move away from trouble, and it didn’t take long to figure out a good number of my students had bad connections waiting for them in California. I was also still washing my brain clear of horrible images provided by the training academy, all from California prisons. There it is so bad that guards can not wear their uniforms to and from work; and in the California equivalent of my facility, students are placed in individual cages (that look like tall outdoor kennels). I don’t mean to criticize them here because I know this system, hardly conducive to learning, protects lives. What is more important: a life or a dangling modifier? I do have to ask, however: If we can have a Sureño sit quietly two desks away from a Norteño, a Cripp bunk with a Blood, then why can’t California?

“Is California a good idea?”

He shrugs knowingly, “I like the weather, Miss.”

I can’t argue with him there. “Have you ever thought about North Carolina? Beaches, sunshine, business friendly, and a new start?” This piqued his interest and twenty minutes later he was the CEO of his own company in the hills of North Carolina. He and his beautiful wife have decided not to have kids of their own, but are starting a charity for inner-city, high-risk children. Even though he left my room with a lighter step, I know the dream can burst before he leaves the building if someone looks at him wrong. Still, it’s a seed, it’s a possibility no one had ever discussed with him. “God, save him”, I prayed under my breath before welcoming my next class.

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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