Saturday, March 29, 2014


Yesterday I spent all day at a Prison Education conference. It was extremely inspiring and depressing at the same time. Our country has a major problem with prison reform. I have been interning with a prison this semester reading inmates' creative writing and offering them feedback. I get to visit the participants in a couple weeks, and I couldn't be more enthused. These men are thoughtful, genuine poets. Working one-on-one with them will be a pleasure. Most of them take their work at least fifty times more seriously than the undergraduates I teach.
My beautiful school post-conference.
In addition to tutoring inmates, I have been reading several books on the prison experience from various viewpoints (short term, lifer perspective, cop stories etc.). Something I've noticed is that each inmate story I've read ends up miraculously feeling hopeful, grateful for what they still do have behind bars. This floors me. And even I, who has a good life, sometimes get grossed out by their Pollyanna attitudes. They have every right to believe in nothing and soak in seas of self-pity when most of them find a higher purpose and a sense of peace. It's...cheesy to say the least. But I've recently realized two things.

1. I'm never going to read a book by someone who runs off of bitterness. That person will never do anything. So that perspective, which is probably the majority in prisons, doesn't get scribed.
2. While it seems serving life is the lowest of lows, it is all relative. Once you're incarcerated, I'm sure you see how it actually could be worse. At least you're not insane. (Most prisons are full of mentally unstable people because mental health facilities are too full for them.) Although the only luxuries you have are over-priced Cheetos, at least you can work your 50 cents an hour job to earn them unlike the guy chained in solitary for forty years. Compared to that, even some prison terms suddenly seem livable. Cheesy, but true.

So, don't be too cool for the cheesy. You get places by being optimistic--no matter how stupid it might seem to someone on the outside.

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