226 | That Elusive Pail of Water

May 27, 2012
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #226: That Elusive Pail of Water


Dear Family,

I knew this would happen! I know that, given enough time, anything will eventually change, so the same principle should hold true regarding the Cognitive Behavior Class. (Now, before you roll your mental eyes and tune this letter out just because I’m going to write yet again about this class, I ask that you give me a break: we all endured Phillip’s letters on this topic, and now that I am being forced to endure the same class he survived, you shall have to endure my musings about it. Deal?) That is, given enough time, I figured either (1) the class would get better, (2) the class would get so much worse that the disaster of this class might be interesting, (3) the class would begin to hold some meaningful value, or (4) we’d watched a movie justifying criminal activities.

Gratefully, not just #4 has happened. I spoke with a case manager today about the appalling lack of actual curriculum in the class and the appalling lack of common sense in the teacher, so steps are now being taken to bring us good curriculum, and a staff member will sit in on our class to view the presentation and interaction.

On Thursday afternoon, we were told the teacher had “nothing” for us. I’d brought my college studies with me, so I got 1½ hours of study with actual material. The next morning, the same thing, except the teacher wanted us to play a game. No suggestions.

So, I offered three ideas of group participation games. Duck, Duck, Goose and London Bridge Is Falling Down are the perfect speed for most of the class participants, though I declined to suggest them. Charades (which, ironically, should be the working title of the class) was chosen, and I got to be supposedly rehabilitated by playing pantomime for two hours with a group of guys who don’t know what Jack and Jill went up the hill for. Of course, our 24-year-old teacher didn’t either. Her suggestion for a nursery rhyme? “Tiny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini,” by which I assume she meant the song, “Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini,” which I’ve never heard but know about.

By the time my team was up 17–0 after five rounds, I decided to at least make it fun for everyone (aww … he is being rehabilitated!) by changing the game format to a free-for-all with no scoring. Another guy and I kept writing ideas while two others acted them out. Can we say, “Your tax dollars hard at work!”

That brings us to item #3 on my list above—the class having meaningful value. One guy who sits behind me, Ambrose, is quite an interesting character. He’s been incarcerated since he was 17 and served all but the past six months on the “mainline,” still caught up in gang activity and drugs. Now 32 years old, he recently switched from the mainline to SNY (Sensitive Needs Yard), which meant a drastic lifestyle change for him.

During one of our many “just sit and wait for the end of class” times, I talked to him about his plans for release and especially about society’s perceptions of him. His body is covered in tattoos, including his neck, hands, ears, and everywhere hair would normally be found on his head.

When I asked him if he planned to attend a church when he gets out, he started opening up about a time when he had only a Bible while on isolation lockdown in “The Hole.” He told me that he saw God work on his behalf as he prayed for specific answers and that he’ll now “never doubt” the existence of God.

I then encouraged him to get back into the Bible and told him I’d like to invite him to church with me. He thanked me for our conversation as “class” dismissed and said he’d like to continue it later. I was thrilled. In Cognitive Behavior Class!

God had fun with that, gently reminding me that He has all these things in His control, and He does all things well. Nobody I know gets to reach this man, except me. (Be grateful nobody I know has to be in this class, except me!)

If I have to sit through ten weeks of this—just to reach Ambrose—it’s worth it all! In the process, I might also inform the class about the elusive pail of water. We’ll see.