For more Prison Chronicles stories visit Introduction: The Prison Chronicles.
A Crack in Your Argument
One student was complaining about how crack cocaine was all a CIA scam meant to destroy the African American community. Another student called him out and said, “Bro, you are HERE for selling crack!”
So, I asked the first student what he was charged with.
“300 vials of crack.”
“Did you buy it from a white guy or a black guy?”
“Did you sell it to black people?”
“Are you on crack right now?”
“No, man. What do you think I am?”
“Well, right now I think you may work for the CIA.”
Rats Are First to Abandon a Sinking Ship
A student in a county jail was complaining about how the cops were corrupt for arresting him on an accessory to murder charge. He kept loudly complaining about that it was total bullshit, he had nothing to do with any murder, and he was only here because the DA was squeezing him to rat on his friend and he, “Don’t rat for no one.”
Aside from the double negative prophetically suggesting the obverse of that statement, I was tired of him disrupting class. Since he wanted to take up my teaching time, I thought we could use it as a little exercise in values clarification.
“What’s the deal with your case?” I asked.
The student explained that a friend of his thought his girlfriend was cheating on him and needed a gun to “set things straight,” thinking he meant to threaten the guy she was cheating on. Instead, he killed her.
“And how did your friend get a gun?
The student explained that he knew a guy who sold drugs and kept a gun under his couch. So many people went in and out of the guy’s apartment that my student figured he could steal the gun and sell it to his friend and the dealer be none the wiser as to who stole it.
“How much money did you get?”
“100 dollars and a half ounce of weed.”
“Was this the first time your friend ever got popped [arrested]?”
“Nah. He got some drug charges and a domestic violence.”
“For hitting the same woman he later killed?”
“So, you stole a gun from a guy you bought drugs from, sold it to a friend who you knew was arrested for beating his girlfriend who then used it to kill his girlfriend and all you got was $100 and a half ounce of weed?”
“Well, you should have at least gotten a full ounce because they are going to send your ass to prison.”
[Classroom erupts in laughter. Also, Einstein just told me and the entire class what he did.]
Two weeks later, the student rats out his friend, cops to lesser changes, and is released on time served.
Eventually, everyone rats in prison. E V E R Y O N E.
Sometimes, They Are
In prison education programs, some students are there just to front for the courts. You know, show them they’re serious about their “rehabilitation.” In county jails, most are there serving short sentences of under a year or waiting for trial. One time, I had one very big, very angry inmate student up on attempted murder charges who was just pissed about everything, challenging me on every assignment I gave him, and questioning my competency. I kept telling him to keep his attitude to himself, be quiet, and do his work. I had to do this in several classes. Instead, he kept bitching and moaning about his charges, bullying other students, and trying to intimidate me. I told him he needed to behave himself or I would toss him out of the program.
“Why you treating me like a child!”
“Because you are ACTING like a child.”
Keep in mind, I’m locked alone in a room with this big angry man up on attempted murder charges and about a dozen other students. The only thing keeping him from beating me to death for challenging him like this in front of others is his common sense. It was a constant battle with him, but he had some intelligence and I needed some students to actually pass the GED that term. Nevertheless, he hated my guts.
As it turned out, he did get that GED and guess what? The DA exonerated him of the charges. He was innocent after all.
Sometimes, You Feel Like a Nut
Mental illness is rife in prison, and even then we sometimes have students who have serious mental conditions who should be in a secured mental unit and not out in general population. One such student was David. He was prone to talking to himself and sort of lived in his own world. I don’t remember what he was in for, but something related to his behavior when he was off his meds. I made him my inmate clerk so he could get out of the block a little more often than the others.
The teacher's office was adjacent to a classroom I worked in and had a long horizontal observation window installed so the officers could see in the classroom. These were situated about half-way up the wall. Between modules one day, I say down to relax. Now, keep in mind, the observational windows are installed about halfway up the wall, and I’m pretty short, so when I sit down on a chair against the wall, no one can see me in the office.
Another teacher just started that day. She was a veteran teacher who had been out on sick leave for the better part of a year receiving cancer treatments and given the turnover in a county jail the students did not know who she was. Also, she is a tall, bald woman with a loud personality. Frustrated with the changes in the program since she left, and the inmates’ behavior, she enters, shouting loudly and gesticulating with her arms in a wild manner. The glass muted the sound, but one could easily tell how agitated she was.
We had the afternoon class and when it was over David waited for the other teacher to go into the office and then he approached me. He said he saw the other teacher widely failing her arms about and loudly talking to herself between modules today. David pulled me in closer to him and whispered: “Tell her it’s OK to talk to herself. Everyone gets a little crazy now and then.”
I was touched by what David said. His empathy showed he was sensitive to the hurt of others. Here was someone incarcerated, alone, living with a mental illness, reaching out to show his concern for someone who was not in prison, but someone he thought was suffering like he was suffering.
I didn't have the heart to tell him I was in the office all along, she was actually talking to me, and that he just couldn’t see me, so I never told him and let him think that my co-teacher was crazy.
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