November 17, 2013
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #304: Class Warfare
Trying to be a blessing to others can be such a drag sometimes—am I right? Make a meal for hours, and it’s gone in minutes with just dirty dishes left behind to show for the effort. Try to bring your mom a bouquet of flowers, and get in trouble for picking pretty flowers that should have stayed in the yard.
At a San Francisco Giants game, I was an ambitious 17-year-old and ran to the bottom of my section of seats to start “the wave” by getting everyone to stand at once and wave their hands. No one stood, probably because the entire section was from a special needs school, as I found out after vigorously trying to get them to do more than just wave back at me. At least I tried.
My primary avenue of blessing others here at the prison is by facilitating extra-curricular classes. For the past three semesters, the classes have run fairly smoothly, with just the occasional hiccup of a delay or lockdown that postpones the class a week or two. This semester? It seems I’ve had to face one obstacle after another.
The classes were supposed to re-launch their new semester in July, but due to the unavailability of staff to meet with me, we didn’t get all approvals and plans set until late August.
Still, this didn’t deter my efforts to get the word out with notices up in each of the eight 120-man pods and lots of one-on-one recruitment. Each of the business classes filled to their capacity of 30 students, while the public speaking and creative writing classes had 20 and 10 students, respectively. Everything seemed to be running smoothly, but this is prison, the adult equivalent of preschool. Nothing goes as planned, so set your hopes high and expectations low.
The first day of business class this semester, I walked into a packed multi-purpose room with students standing up at the back. Every chair was filled, and some men were sitting on overturned storage bins. There were just 18 chairs—not enough to fill the tables, let alone enough for the students.
The guys were excited to begin, until staff came in and made all who weren’t in chairs leave. I selected those from my housing unit to leave, and did a make-up class with them later in the week. Learning to accent their natural skin tone with the proper eye shadow and lip gloss did wonders for their self-esteem, since they’d missed the business class. Kidding. I made up for the missed class, which was strictly business.
This chair issue happened three weeks in a row, and though I received permission to bring additional chairs, lower- level staff didn’t believe me, so guys were sent back again.
Then, thanks to fighting inmates on another compound, class was canceled another week. The next week, I was pulled into the medical unit just before class was supposed to start to begin preparations for my colonoscopy.
The next week, we were supposed to have class, but only half of the enrolled students showed up, being unsure if the class was still going on.
The following week, since contraband was passed from one unit to another unit during a Buddhist gathering, staff put an end to inmates meeting with other units. More than half of my classes live in the other two housing units, so that killed off the classes for the next two weeks until I could meet with prison staff.
It turns out this ban on meeting in other units and with other units applies to every class, meeting, and religious service EXCEPT for the classes I teach. Praise God for His favor on my life!
I quickly sent out new passes to the enrolled students welcoming them back to each of the classes and apologizing for the delays and interruptions. Some returned, but most didn’t need much of an excuse to stop doing something positive.
But I’m undeterred: Now I think I’ll try getting them to start the wave. Fingers crossed.