Thou Shalt Not Steal

It should go without saying that as a teacher in a prison I have to guard against theft. Before I had to rearrange my room I kept these opportunities to a minimum. Sure, I lost the occasional pen, lots of pencils, a deck of cards, and a document my first two semesters. If there was anything else, it wasn’t important enough to miss.

When I lost the document I retraced my steps three times and searched rooms I hadn’t even entered that day. In my mind I replayed the events leading up to that moment at least a million times. You should probably know that I can be a bit of a ditz because I can be distracted by thoughts, questions, and projects as easily as a kitten in a spring field–there’s a butterfly; now, a caterpillar; oh! dandelion fluff. Try as I might, I’m pretty sure it’s no secret to my students, and I’m lucky they haven’t taken more advantage of my shortcoming. The stupid thing about this particular incident is that I was driving home, four hours later, before it occurred to me: I didn’t lose the paper, it was stolen. And I knew who did it. I also knew they had gotten away with it.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, it was another lesson, and I had to be careful how it shaped me. While I haven’t talked about it much here, many staff who have worked any length of time in corrections start to treat everyone like a potential felon. It’s irritating to deal with when you’re used to working with a certain level of mutual trust, but I understand now how this mistrust develops.

Coming from a school where we taught and expected character I was slow to hone a constant state of suspicion; indeed this extra sense still a little slow, sometimes to the exasperation of my watchful TA. Theft can occur in the “normal” school room as well, and I’m sure it happens all the time in certain districts. That in mind, I try not to get upset when it happens to me in prison.

The other week my pen disappeared. It was my fault, I left it on my desk. It was a nice pen which would be valuable to my students, and I should have known better. I berated myself silently, pretending I didn’t notice. By now I knew better than to assume I had misplaced it. After lunch, fifth hour, the pen showed back up exactly where I had left it. Someone either thought this was a good joke or was being kind. Either way I counted my blessing and put it away.

Today was no joke. Today they took off with my purple binder full of 12 weeks’ worth of lesson plans and handouts for two classes. In case the thief was watching I tried to compose myself as I looked at my bookshelf and looked again. Maybe I had misplaced it. I calmly checked my file cabinet. Not there either. I slipped a note to my TA, “Am I blind? Is there a lesson plan binder lying around that I overlooked?” Nope.  Would the binder magically appear after lunch as my pen had? No again. I waited hopefully until the last hour of the day before I had to report it missing. How embarrassing.

The color of my binder suggested certain names. No surprise there when I saw those names. I’m getting pretty tired of them as a matter of fact. I’m also getting pretty tired of losing things to sticky fingers this semester. Not only is it inconvenient, but on top of all the other events in the past twelve weeks I can feel the pull into the unkind mind and attitude of veteran correctional officers. No disrespect to them and their sacrifices at all (thank God for them in fact), but I want to maintain a level of common compassion, decency, and trust. We work with a very, very small percentage of the population after all; what we put up with every day is real, but it isn’t reality.


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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