A teacher. A prison guard. I used to think these two pursuits were like oil and water. Like lightening and metal. Some days it is. Some days it’s magic.

Six years ago, after four years of fumbling around with other jobs, I made one of the best decisions of my life, to become a teacher. For four years I taught at a college-prep, character-based, charter school where I was quite successful. Could I teach successfully at another school? I wanted to find out.

Then I took a job teaching youthful offenders. Youthful offenders have committed serious felonies during their juvenile years, and many are lacking a high school education. That’s where I and my co-workers come in.

As an English teacher I have opportunities to tease out pieces of my student-offenders’ stories that the automotive teacher, for example, does not. I also have more than my share of opportunities to watch my hair turn gray, instantly. Depending on the class, I might have a college-ready student falling asleep in one corner and in front of me one with a third-grade reading level arguing with me about using periods in his writing.

Before I came to prison, I couldn’t tell you I had a heart for at-risk youth. That has since changed, so too has my aversion to writing a blog. Truthfully there are days I would handcuff them all to their desks and walk out. I’d come back though. I think we call that hope, and that’s my reason for writing.

This blog is not meant to be an objective observation of teaching and reforming criminal youth; it is, at times, deeply personal as I unpack how I came to care for these young men. It is also meant to give voice for those whose stories might otherwise be buried forever behind the barbed wire. I hope you too can learn from their stories, learn to reach out to the children around you.

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