Every 28 days, reads an administrative regulation (AR), a team must meet to discuss the performance of every offender. In its fledgling years the day halls at my facility were all activity as offenders lined up to press their uniforms, spit shine their boots, button their shirts nicely, and pull their essays hot from the printer for these performance reviews (PTR’s we call them). The idea was to prepare them for interviews later on. It no longer holds this prestige. Too often they come stumbling in straight from a nap, bleary-eyed and wrinkled.
These days are a bother mostly, but illuminating. Take today, for example, when EJ mosied in, gave one long glare at the Lt., CO, and me before saying, “Let me sign it and go.” I’d never really worked with the Lt. standing in for the day, and secretly thought he was rather weird and critical even though he had started to warm up to me. So I was quite surprised when he pushed his chair back, adjusted his glasses, and softened his tone to that of a wise grandfather, “Now just a moment. What’s going on here? Have a seat.”
I don’t know how to describe EJ because I’ve never seen a face like his all taught across a thin frame, eyes that look eternally sleepy and wary both, and deep scars. After he left the Lt. asked about the scars and the CO told what she could remember from the case: as he pulled his gun to shoot at someone, he shot himself in the side and then had his head run over by a hummer. Everyone suspects traumatic brain injury, but we have nothing on file.
He sat awkwardly in front of us, hands shoved deep in his pockets the whole time. The Lt. was able to learn that EJ thought he was doing positive things behind the scenes despite a long list of negative reports. It came down to me whether he would move up in status or not. I just couldn’t, not with his list of negatives. He started to get agitated, so we let him leave. As he left he punched the 44 gallon trashcan which bounced around on the floor for a moment. At least he hadn’t punched me! The CO said he’d be back in a minute to apologize. I was the only one around when he did pop out of his room during count time (which equates to no movement) to give a superflouous speech about how he should respect me because I’m a teacher trying to give these guys an education. I finally stopped him and accepted his apology. He looked surprised.
The next day my boss rushed into my room, “Can we change rooms for a moment? Go see Ms. M. as she scores a Woodcock Johnson writing exam.” No other explanation was given, so I went to her room and pulled up a chair beside her. She seemed surprised to see me, and indeed she was. He hadn’t told her to expect me.
Looking over EJ’s responses, I noticed that very little made sense. His results were impressive. At 20-years-old he had the education of an eight-year-old. My boss summed it up well when he said that this showed how many peope had failed him along the way.
If we try to give him material appropriate for his comprehension level he retaliates. “What? You think I’m retarded? I’m not stupid,” he tells Ms. M. He has demanded lessons in Algebra, but got frustrated when he was unsuccessful. He’s been fronting like this for years. Now what?
We are faced with the task of getting him to pass his GED before his 21st birthday, less than a year away. But how are we to do that?
This was the question posed to me at the end of Friday afternoon. After another student I had tutored passed his writing exam, I think they were only half joking to suggest I’d have the answer. They need a miracle.
Then I ask the biggie: Where does he go in life? I almost plead the question for an answer. “He’ll never get a job, or if he does, he’ll be swindled for less than he’s worth. Then he won’t have enough to live on he’ll be forced to rob someone.” My boss continued, “If I could I’d move him right now into a purely vocational program to teach him survival skills. Because that’s what he needs.”
I mused over all of this. Why does the Great Author of us all include these hopeless chapters of woe? EJ makes me question my whole purpose at the facility and in the community. When I help my TA think through his future I don’t feel responsible for his future actions only my current ones. I do my job and say my prayers, but ultimately he will live his life. When it comes to the EJ’s though I feel like I should be doing more to save his life and the lives of his next victims. As a Christian and American citizen what am I supposed to be doing for him and children like him? Where do they belong?