I brought a stack of student essays back to the unit and spent the evening grading them in bed. The men were asked to write about losses they’ve experienced in their lives.
One student writes about leaving his wife to come to prison.
I’ve lost a girl that I truly loved with all my heart. One whom I wanted to grow old with. A woman who I wanted to wake up next to every morning and tell her how much I loved her. She meant the world to me. When I left her it felt like a part of my soul died and my heart fell to my stomach.
Another student writes about his absence in his son’s life.
He was 6 months old when I left. When his first tooth came in, I wasn’t there. When he first crawled, I wasn’t there. And when he took his first step, I also missed that.
Jacob, a quiet man with a knack for algebra, writes about losing his freedom.
I lost my mind in this prison system three years ago. My mind is not at ease because I lost my freedom. I know if I had my freedom back, my mind would focus more frequently.
Many men in the class–and prison in general–come from broken homes, raised by either a single parent or extended family member, an aunt or grandparent. Several students write about the loss of their grandmothers.
I lost my grandmother to cancer at a very early age. I feel like I’ve lost a big part of our family roots. My grandmother knew a lot about slavery and the struggles in which people of color had to endure through the years. I miss the stories that she use to share about picking cotton and walking five miles one way just to attend school.
Another student writes:
My grandmother was a wonderful woman. She was a second mother to me. I could always go to her in my time of need. My grandmother cooked the best stove top toast you’ll ever eat. My grandmother loved to go fishing. I miss my grandmother a lot.
He goes on to write that he’d like to become a motivational speaker when he’s released from prison and work to keep young people in school and off the streets.
Fathers are not prominent figures in many of the men’s lives. The few who mention their fathers rarely do so in a positive light. One man writes about losing his father to a heart attack when he was sixteen.
He was fifty three years old. My father was a good parent sometimes and that time was when he didn’t drink. He would almost lose his mind when he did drink. My father had come to realize when he was about forty two years old that drinking wasn’t good for him and his family. By that time it was too late because my mom and the rest of us had already moved out on him.
Another student writes:
Then while I was locked up, my Dad used to come see me but one day he left from seeing me and somebody killed him and that mess me up bad. My mind was so fucked up.
The essay that touched me most was written by a young man who goes by Shorty. He has a kind and handsome face, and has always shown an intense desire to learn. Between classroom assignments, he’ll often grab a dictionary or encyclopedia from behind the library’s circulation desk and read quietly to himself.
I was 16teen when I got locked up, so I was pretty young for my age to be here. I had no hair on my face so the boyish look I had faded fast. It’s hard being the youngest in jail because you get all kinds of nicknames. What I regret the most though is my early 20s I didn’t get to enjoy.
Freedom, please enjoy it, because I have been missing mine for 11 years now. I wish I could have done a little more with my freedom (better) instead of doing the things that led me here.