My friend’s story this morning summed up my experience. On Friday both of the school leaders were absent. Joking, they say my friend, the administrative assistant, is the boss in their absence, but she’s not. She doesn’t pretend to be, nor does she want the responsibility. Some people, hungry for power or recognition, can not understand this.
Let me back up a bit. The woman who refuses to speak to me moved in to my old classroom last week. There’s more to that story, but for the purposes of this one, you need to understand she has a lot of stuff. She was supposed to have her room put together by Thursday afternoon, but in prison nothing goes according to plan. The facility spent a couple hours conducting a fire drill that included the fire department entering the gates which shut everything and everyone down. Although our assistant principal wanted this teacher to start classes on Friday, and made a point of telling my friend, my friend reasoned that the expectation was a little strict. When the teacher asked to cancel her morning classes to finish what she had to stop the previous afternoon, my friend said that would be fine. She didn’t mean to suggest that she had authority to make this decision; she could see with her own eyes that the classroom was still cluttered with boxes. Where were students going to sit?
Later that morning the teacher entered my friend’s office. She has the most remarkably kind voice. In this gentle voice of hers she told my friend; “If you ever need any help making decisions [i.e. administrative decisions] you can always ask me or Sue. We have advanced degrees.” Ouch. I looked helplessly at my friend. The comment had cut deeply on several levels. It would make leaving her in a couple hours that much more difficult.
She finished the story by telling me how she was silently praying as she left for lunch that afternoon when a small event changed her oppressed attitude. Approaching her car she heard her name being called across the parking lot by one of the work crews, “Hey, Miss H. Miss H.! We saw your daughter when we went to work at the Raptor Center.”
“Did she tell you what a mean mom I am?”
“No, she said that you’re a wonderful mother.”
At that my friend laughed, “My daughter doesn’t use the word ‘wonderful,’ not with me.” Sad, but true.
“Aww, Miss,” they laughed with her. Then one piped up, “But we think you’re wonderful.” “Yeah,” they chorused, “you’re really great. You help us, and you’re nice.”
She went to lunch remembering that being thoughtful, leaving that kind of mark on these individuals is why we choose to go behind the barbed wire every morning (at least some do, although most come for the paycheck). The offenders might go waste their opportunities, squander their drug money, and destroy their lives, but they’ll have a memory that someone treated them with kindness. Maybe one of them, one of these days, will let that memory of kindness change him. That’s all we can hope for, all that we can do, and that’s all that matters.
I left her crying in the parking lot, feeling like a complete baboon. When I went out for maternity leave she made light of my eight week absence by saying that she would miss my normalcy, but at least she knew I would be coming back. In eight weeks she would have someone to talk to in between the hatred, the simpering, the downright dumbness she has to monitor daily as the nice assistant. This time her lonesomeness stretches on without end, and we can only hope the next new person will be capable, for her sake. I’ve been stuck in fruitless, oppressive jobs before; I’ve seen my friends there too; I’ve heard them console themselves with, “I wonder what God wants me to learn from this?”; and this never gets easier to bear as a friend. It feels like lead. I’ve seen some blossom from this low point; I’ve seen some sink ever deeper. Knowing this woman and the town where she must remain, I find it difficult to pray or hope. She has suffered much in life for the sake of other people, so I wish she could find meaningful employment with generous co-workers. If I had done nothing else I had made her burden lighter in the time I worked there.
Like a frame narrative, I looked up from clocking out for the last time to see Officer Sanchez, the same round, chubby, friendly face that greeted me the day of my interview. That narrative touch made the writer in me smile, not that it held any other significance. If the weather foretold anything, however, my next year is going to be perfect. As one person used to say on Friday evenings, “Any day you leave prison is a good day.” That’s particularly true when you leave for good.