Some days are just wonderful. It’s My Best Beloved’s birthday, and it’s Bailey’s birthday (our dog, known asThe Rescuepoo), and the hot-off-the-presses copy of my new novel arrived in the mail, which just makes me giddy with grinning . . . . but. . . the most wonderful thing about today happened in a prison.
A woman who works with the terrific organization People and Stories wrote to me a few weeks ago and asked if I remember a student I’d had from my prison classes a couple of years back, whom I’ll call John. Of course, I did remember him. He’d been in prison for a long time, although he was still young. He was also funny, smart, kind, enthusiastic about writing (and pretty much everything else), optimistic (against all odds in a place like that), filled with a joyful faith. . . in short, he was a pretty good guy. I don’t have all the facts about what landed him in prison, so I won’t go into that, but suffice it to say it had to do with being felony stupid, and full of the sort of bad luck and bad judgement endemic to fifteen-year-olds that results in long prison terms.
Well, John has now been transferred to a facility which acts as a transition between prison and halfway house. Still very much a prison, but no quite so grim as where he was. While there, he’s been taking part in the People and Stories program. The first day of class, he asked if she knew me, and as happens, she does. (I’ve done work with People and Stories before.) John spoke fondly of me, apparently, and of the work we did together in the writing class. He’s been writing. He’s excited about going home . . . and … well, would I, this woman asked, be willing to come and lead a session before he’s released? Would I? Absolutely.
So today, I saw John again. You have to understand this sort of thing rarely happens. Inmates are not allowed to contact teachers like me. I’m not allowed to contact them. (This is wise and prudent, for obvious reasons.) When inmates get transferred (and they get transferred a lot), they simply disappear. When my class was cancelled, they were never given an explanation as to why. I’m just gone. One learns to live with it.
I don’t know who was happier, me or John. He looks great. A little older, a little calmer, a bit more bulked up, but just as kind and open and full of optimistic faith as ever. As part of the session, he read a story he’d written. It was good. It really was. I laughed and said, “What the heck did you do, save every handout I gave you and study it?” He laughed, and said yes. Well, what do you know. What do you know.
When I first met John he reminded me of a too-big-for-his-feet puppy, bounding everywhere, tripping over things, full of crazy energy. It seems he’s grown into his feet, metaphorically speaking. His writing shows the growth. He says he wants to be a writer, and I say, why the hell not?
He’ll be out in a few weeks and he has a lot of support lined up, which he’ll sure need. It’s rough out there on the streets for anyone, but for a young man with his past, it’s almost impossible. Still, he’s got a line on a couple of possible jobs, and he’s got that optimism, and that faith. If I was to bet, I’d bet he might just beat the odds. He just might.
We gave each other a big hug as I left. It felt wonderful to know he won’t be there long; that this part, at least, will be behind him. I’m going to cling to that.
So, it was a great day. Still, as I drove away, I couldn’t help thinking about my other students, the ones who just disappeared into the system, back to the streets, off into lives I’ll probably never know about. I think about those guys, and wish them well . . .I hate saying ‘them’ because if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned there’s no such thing as ‘us’ and ‘them’. Just all-my-relations.