He walks with a measured, confident strut you can identify through a crowded hallway. Always freshly pressed with boots so shined you can see your own reflection, his appearance tells you immediately that he serves the Surenos. His stony look is difficult to read, but with the right words his face melts into a warm, sheepish smile. Sharp, glassy brown eyes dance around even when he looks straight at you. When he isn’t in class, he is in the yard working out. His petite 5’5″ frame can bench press 300 pounds (the only ounce of fat on his body appeared on the tops of his cheeks), and they say he’s the strongest one of them all. The first semester I had him in class he sported bandages from his latest soccer injury more often than not.
To the casual observer he is as quiet and hard as a rock, except with friends who can make him laugh easily. He might like you to believe that he’s cold. He probably didn’t smile or talk to me for weeks at first, and looked at me sideways the first time I tried to engage him in conversation, but this shy gang-banger retains a softer side. He probably doesn’t even know it’s there, and that’s the sad part. They assure me he’ll never break free from gang mind-set, and I believe them. That’s why, in his case, I try to learn from him rather than mentor.
Lately the local paper has looked the same day to day and week to week. Certain mug shots have appeared on the front page for nearly three weeks running, and the titles about guns, drugs, and high profile cases look alike too. It’s gotten to the point I barely glance at the paper anymore, but one headline caught my eye, and I muttered something under my breath.
“What’s stupid, Miss?” he asked me.
“Because of our new gun laws the big state shoot has been cancelled which means a huge financial loss to an impoverished county,” I explained. “Our elected officials don’t understand the economic impact of their decisions, regardless of their thoughts and feelings on gun control.” I rarely speak up about political issues, particularly about marijuana. The other day they asked me about landfills, and I finally figured out they were asking me in response to an article, so I read how we are no longer allowed to dump our TV’s and other electronics. Again, I muttered, “I’m so tired of the green movement.” I muttered too loudly because my students laughed, “What green movement, Miss? Are you talking about marijuana?” I never thought of it that way. “I’m sick of that too,” I told them and wouldn’t comment further. People are too polarized over the issue where I work.
My students know that I shoot and they all assume I carry which is fine by me; they’ll be cautious if they ever see me on the street. Naturally they wanted to know how I felt about our new gun laws. I explained some of the problems associated with these laws made by people who don’t enjoy them. “It’s like when the feds revised the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) last summer. The people who made the laws don’t work in prison, so they don’t see the impossibility of following certain decrees, and we have to suffer for their decisions,” I used the thorn in all of our sides to show how laws have unintentional consequences. “You know, I grew up with guns, so I would have voted a different way, but some of those people are scared of them in the same way that I am afraid of electricity,” I wanted him to understand how we arrive at these points, my over-simplified civics lesson for the day.
“But what about you,” I wanted to know, “what are your thoughts about the gun laws?”
“I dunno,” he said, “I never carried one.” And now he never will. Usually, though, my students don’t care what’s happening in the capitol because they know where to get a gun, if they ever think they need one, regardless of the laws. That pretty much makes my case.