Things To Do

It’s like a math problem on the LSAT: two students go to the Hole and five of my classes reduce by 50%. How many total students do I have between my six classes?

That’s the reality I spoke about in an earlier post, but that’s not the point. The exciting, agonizing part about this reality is that my students start talking. It took me two days to piece Leroy’s story together.  He complained that he couldn’t remember seventh grade at all, but surprised himself today by remembering kindergarten vividly.

“If you go to my elementary school, Miss, you would see a picture of me and two little girls holding certificates. The rest of the class is peeking out behind us. I was dressed in a yellow shirt with black stripes–I remember that!  We got the certificates for learning to read and being the smartest kids in class. Can you believe that, Miss? I was scared to death, but those two girls read at the ceremony.” He paused to read my face, and surprised me with the question, “Have you ever received an honor or award?” Umm, yeah. It took me a moment to control my tone to respond. Then he said, “I sometimes wonder how life would’ve been different if I had been a nerd.”

“How do you mean?”

“Remember when I told you how I was kidnapped?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think that I would have been picked on quite as much.”

That’s a thought. I was a something of a social outlier myself (although my husband assures me I’m not exactly a nerd) and I had more than my share of bullies over twelve years of public school, but I was never kidnapped.

We traveled in and out of time, from kindergarten to the present and back to middle school. He explained that even though he knew he could perform well in school, life distracted him. Even at six-years-old he felt he “had things to do,” and described a life with  a couple other siblings and single-working mom. “She did good with my sisters,” he boasted about his mom, “they graduated and are getting through college.”

Ever since he’s been at my facility he’s walked with a wary step. Every few months he gets in a fight and sent up the Hill. For a short time he seemed to have a few allies, people he could greet in the hallway and exchange cheat sheets with, but nothing solid. Someone once tired to explain his estranged relationship with the gangs to me, but I didn’t follow. Leroy touched upon it yesterday, though. Just about the time he became a teenager he became entangled with the gangs.

“I was kidnapped when I was 11,” he startled me by saying yesterday afternoon when I asked why he carried, not one, but two pistols at such a young age. Admittedly I would have been spooked beyond belief in his shoes, but I can’t imagine going to the streets to find a couple pistols to stuff my pockets in response.

Then someone made the mistake of calling one of his sisters a name. The school principal watched as he threatened the name-caller and flashed his metal. After receiving charges for menacing he had to attend a group home. One of his teachers assigned him to write a report about a rough book, My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King. “I read the first five pages and put it down. Have you ever read it?” he asked. I had heard the title a few times. “It’s rough,” he said, “you probably wouldn’t like it. They won’t even allow it in the library here.” He carried the book around for a couple of weeks, but didn’t open it again until his therapist suggested he give it a try. “That was the first book I ever read,” he concluded.

Everything seems to come back to his kidnapping. He is another student who is the only truly illegal citizen in his family. His attorney, however, advised him that a state law might grant him citizenship for the trauma he experienced when he was 11-years-old. It will take two years to find out, but he has time, four years to be exact.

In the hallway of an elementary school you’ll see a picture of three toothy (or toothless) kindergartners holding up certificates celebrating their literacy. “We were role models,” Leroy commented, “which is kind of funny.” It took a kidnapping, probation, and incarceration to get one of those children to read. I’d like to know what happened to the other two.

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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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One Response to Things To Do

  1. J Brown says:

    What painful stories these young people live. Thank you for capturing them here.

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