I asked the students in my GED lasses to write a short essay about a decision that changed their lives. Not many participated; most sat around making vulgar (yet amusing) comments about Ms. Williams’ robust anatomy: “Sheeeeet, I bet that pussy hotter than fish grease!” But there were a few students who managed to concentrate long enough to spit out a few paragraphs. One polite Mexican in his mid-forties with a teardrop tattoo beneath his left eye wrote the following:
When I came to prison my life change. I had to decided what to do. because Friend and Love left me alone. I start thinking what I want to do with my life. Now, I first read the Bible that made look at my real self. I Hated the person I’ve become. The people I Hurt spiritual and mental. I thank my God for putting me in prison. It saved my life because it took out of Drugs and I believe prison have saved my life it give a chance to think who I don’t want to be anymore. Here made me think who I want to be when I get out. A Good Father and a Son to my Rather. Be thankful for the good and bad. Because for every bad thing there are something around the corner.
I find it interesting that this student, whether he consciously knew it or not, chose to capitalize the words “Friend”, “Love”, “Hurt”, “Drugs”, “Good father”, and “Son, elevating otherwise common nouns to more meaningful proper nouns. Whenever I quote from my student’ papers, I struggle with whether to correct the errors – punctuation, capitalization, grammar, spelling, usage – or simply leave their words as is. Making corrections clarifies meaning (presumably). But you also miss a lot of nuances. You miss the camel-case words, the transposed letters, the long and breathless passages that plow forward without any comma or period. You miss the struggle, the uncertainty, the desperation. You miss the context. Therefore, I choose the light-handed approach; I leave each work as true to its original as possible.
I started selling drugs at 16 years old. I got bigger and bigger into it by 20. I did make a lot of bad decisions threw it. And it led to me being in jail for the last two years, and away from my family. I do regret and I did learn my lesson from this.
I plan to change my life as soon as I get out! I do have a career, so I’m going to try to find a new contractor and find a lot of work.
I can’t wait to be apart of my son’s life and that will keep me from going back to what I was doing.
Drug use and hustling at the ages of sixteen and fifteen – even as young as twelve – are all common themes in many of the essays I read. And I wonder to myself: What was I doing at sixteen? Starting high school. Designing my first website. Coming out. I had never seen a drug until I came to prison. I didn’t even know what pot looked like until I saw Voodoo smoking it one night in the cell (and it was nothing like I expected).
the life changing decision I made was when I started sell drugs. I started off by just watch the older guy in the city ride in nice cars and getting all the women. I always wanted to go to college and play pro football but the bills started falling behind, food started getting low so I had to do some most young boys do when time get hard.
fortunately, I never knew what hard times were growing up. My parents struggled, of course, but I didn’t realize this until I became an adult. My parents made sure that life never felt hard. What’s interesting in this essay is the student’s acceptance of the “fact” that young boys must sell drugs to make ends meet.
Another student disregarded the essay prompt and wrote only six cryptic lines.
One day I have a dream about me been the person that I wanted to be like, and the next day I was staring at the mirror looking at my self feeling good cuz I was that person that I always wanted to be in this life.
A black student in his late-thirties with dreads turned in what was by far the longest essay of all four classes.
When I was 15teen years old, I was bless with a beautiful baby girl. So I had to make a choice to stay in school are to drop out to take care of this baby.
So I decided to leave school and become a man and take care of my child. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I couldn’t get a job anywhere because on I was still to yound and plus I was a drop out, so no one wanted to hire me.
I was really feeling mast up. With no education and a lil baby to care, I decided to hit the street. I talk to one of the O.G.s in my hood, and he put me to work.
Years have past and thing have change. My baby girl is 4 years old now and my other baby girl is 2 years old, but I’m still dealing drugs and never tried to find a job. Since my kids have grow up, I have been to jail 4 times. I’v thought about getting my life back on track. But the money won’t let me live the game along. Stock and street, 7 years and 4 months later I look back to the day I took that first package and still regret it.
Fifteen years old. A father. A drop out. A drug dealer. The story is so common in prison that it’s become cliche: Teen pregnancy leads to drop outs which leads to hustling which leads to prison which leads to another fatherless child which leads to another teen pregnancy. The cycle continues. I’ve read hundreds of these essays in the eight months I’ve been tutoring. but for some reason, this particular essay angered me. Where are the mothers? Where are the fathers? Where are the families, the schools, the community leaders, the churches, the role models? Did the whole black community just pack their bags and leave town?
At the beginning of his presidency, Obama urged the black community to step up to the plate. Black and white liberals alike responded by chastising the President for what they considered were “unproductive” and “insensitive” comments. The black community demanded political action from the first black president, not a reprimand. But here’s the thing, and it’s something I only fully realized after coming to prison: Obama nailed it. Blacks have the ability to evoke more positive change in their own community than political action alone. Politics can’t fix teen pregnancy. Politics can’t fix absentee parents. Politics can’t keep kids in school or stop the glorification of drugs. Politics cannot replace responsibility. And this fundamental truth has nothing to do with race.