Two People

You’re like two people. One is like a kid. Doesn’t know how to dance, doesn’t know how to make love. That’s the one I cared about. But the other one, the other one I hate. The one who knows, the one who has this wrapdown, who knows how to run drugs, who kills people! — Yolanda, American Me (not endorsed)

They weren’t born hardened. Some of them were rosy-cheeked, affectionate, happy little boys. Some of them were shipped off to foster homes at an early age. They know suffering, the rudiments of sex, and how to steal; but they don’t know how many weeks to a year, Peter Pan, or how to just be nice.

I get to see their goofy smiles and hear their jokes. “Miss, can we listen to the radio?” I defer to my designated DJ.

“So call me, maybe,” sings some popular artist I can’t identify.

“She must regret singing such a dumb song,” smirks one of my students which sparks a series of comments about this kind of girl. Taylor Swift changes everything and the tall Tongoan and stocky Hispanic from Miami start a silly lip sync/karaoke performance at the high points. They make me laugh. I imagine this is the side their friends and family remember.

In a moment of truth I catch a look in their eyes when they talk about Mom or baby sister. They just want hugs and home cookin’. In that moment I can picture them relaxing at home like anyone of us. I think that maybe, just maybe, this one will straighten out.

The next day I might hear how stupid our program and facility are, but the day after the same person writes, “Getting locked up saved my life.”

One student treats his third Christmas in prison like it’s normal, but another dreams about his first Christmas back home. He never wants to spend another holiday away.

Their writings show remorseful sons, tender brothers, overly generous friends, but I don’t forget that a phone call, a dumb suggestion can send events spiraling out of control. I don’t forget that in a state of emotion–panic, vexation, tunnel vision–they are capable of heartless deeds that destroy people’s lives forever; whereas most of us would not put ourselves in that situation in the first place. We don’t harbor monsters in our hearts.

They are two people. One is like a kid, and I enjoy that side. But the other one, the other one I hate.


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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