Measuring Pride

Company A buys 8,000 fasteners from Company B at 6.8 cents each. How much does Company A spend on fasteners?

“How are you going to solve this problem?” I asked. “What’s your operation” I tutor Jones twice a week in an empty classroom. He’s preparing to take the GED.

“Division?”

I gave a comic sigh and dusted the chalk from my shorts. “Okay, let’s try something different. Let’s say I want to buy some weed from you. How much does a pound of marijuana cost?”

Jones grinned and named his price with little hesitation. “Sixteen-hundred.”

“You’re shitting me. That’s per pound? Is pot really that expensive?” Pornography is free, I thought to myself.

Jones laughed; his eyes lit up. I could tell I was speaking his language. “Alright,” he relented. “I can get it to you for thirteen-hundred.”

“Okay, so you’re going to sell me some weed for $1,300 a pound. Let’s say I want to buy ten pounds. How are you going to figure out what I owe you?”

Without so much as blinking, Jones correctly replied, “Multiply.” Suddenly, I had a great idea: a math textbook for drug dealers.

If Jamaal pays $150 for an eight ball of cocaine (3.5 grams), how much will he need to sell each gram for to turn a profit of $100? (Round your answer to the hearest hundredth.)

I stopped teaching GED classes and went back to being a clerk. I still do a bit of tutoring on the side, for those students I know are genuinely interested in learning. But aside from that, I spend my weekdays grading papers and performing other menial tasks. I’ve been trying to think of some clever way to frame the situation, to make it sound less like I gave up and more like it was beyond my control. But the truth is I did give up; there’s no positive way to spin it. It just wasn’t worth it anymore, wasn’t worth the aggravation. I know it sounds awful, heartless, even selfish (I was fortunate enough to have gone to college). And it certainly is a different tune than the one I was singing six or so months ago, about how inmates are “seeds” waiting to be nurtured so that they may grow…grow into what exactly? Productive, responsible adults? Now, I’m not so sure. Seems I’ve become the cynic I use to rally against.

The problem–and this is not blame-shifting but an actual problem–is that all inmates without a GED or high school diploma are, by law, required to participate in GED classes, regardless of whether they want to or not. And if the inmate drops out, he loses good time–twelve days for every year of his total sentence (this can mean up to four months for a ten-year sentence). The result is a classroom where ninety-five percent of the students have no interest in learning and only serve to disrupt the five percent who do. And because inmates cannot leave the class until they obtain their GED or accumulate 250 credit hours, turnaround is almost nil. The system becomes clogged with dope heads whose only ambition in life is to get out of prison and go back to the same things they were doing before they got arrested.

If Oxycontin costs $1 per milligram, how many 80-milligram pills can Jason buy for $5,000?

My replacement in the classroom is an older guy named Paul. He’s white, college-educated, and loves recounting to the class the time he spent working in Thailand as an engineer. He dispenses motivational aphorisms–“slow and steady wins the race”–and tells students not to doubt themselves; they can achieve anything they set their minds to. And when the students fail to remember for the umpteenth time how many places and in which direction to move the decimal to convert a percentage to a decimal number, he doesn’t look at the slack-jawed and ask “Are you shitting me?” as I would do. No. Paul tells me that the key to teaching is patience. Patience and understanding. Which is why I was slightly mollified when after only two weeks of teaching, a rather fatigued-looking Paul decided to take a day off. Patience, Paul. Patience and understanding.

Martinez is cooking meth. If it takes 15 pounds of red phosphorus and 8 pounds of ammonia nitrate to produce 2 pounds of meth, how many pounds of meth can he make from 60 pounds of red phosphorus and 40 pounds of ammonia nitrate?

Identity is so intertwined with occupation. It’s the first thing a person asks after introduction. What do you do? For better or worst, we determine our self-worth and the value of others based on what we can bring to the table. And that–in an ever growing list–is one of the most difficult things about being incarcerated–the uselessness. I’m not a teacher. Nor can I say I’m a web developer anymore. So what am I?

Back in February, my parents sent me a Valentine’s card. They must have found it in the “For Single Sons Who Will Never Give Me Grandchildren” section. But it was a lovely card, tasteful and heartfelt, and on the front it read, “A son is…a constant source of happiness and pride.” And I wondered–not with self-pity but with honest searching–what do I bring to the table? If the sentiment is indeed true, if it isn’t just some Hallmark boilerplate, then certainly it’s not the kind of pride that is measured in traditional terms. It’s not a pride determined by having a successful career or six-figure salary or a foreign luxury car or beautiful wife and family. I have none of those things; perhaps I never will. So how then is pride measured? What do my mother and father have to be proud of? Or, more importantly, what do I have to be proud of?

Answers: Jamaal must charge $71.43 per gram on a $150 eight ball of cocaine; Martinez can cook up to 8 pounds of meth; and Jason can buy 62 80-milligram Oxycontin pills.

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