Sometimes what doesn’t seem amusing when it happens becomes at least slightly amusing later on. For instance, yesterday in class, we read an essay out loud; the essay was about how Mother’s Day is celebrated in a federal prison for women, a real kneeslapper.
Afterwards, I asked all of my students to write a response to the following questions: “How do you connect to this essay? What is similar between your life and the world of this essay?” To set a good example, I, too, wrote a response, and I volunteered to read mine first: “The first thing that comes to my mind is that I have a cousin in jail right now. My cousin is my age—he’s my favorite cousin—but he has always lived ‘on the edge’ so to speak, and he is now in jail again, for ninety days this time, because he didn’t pay his child support…for about the fifteenth time. He is not the only person in my family who has been in jail or rehab, or both. I used to look down on people like that, but I don’t anymore.”
I looked up from my paper triumphantly, feeling that I had revealed a personal detail from my life that surely must have made me appear more humane, more real, more down to earth for my students. Now they would see that I did not lead a golden life with a silver lining, that I was just an everyday kind of person like them. They would now trust me even more than they already did.
Having revealed this tiny sliver of my family’s bold and unique refusal to adhere to any definition of social normalcy as it might ever have been understood by any civilized people after the prehistoric age, I asked for students to share their own written responses. One after another volunteered, each beginning with the following types of phrases: “Even though I personally don’t know anyone who’s ever been in jail,” “Although the prison experience is very foreign to me,” “While I was raised in a family that never broke the law,” and “I don’t really know anything about what this lady is writing about.”
What a proud teaching moment that was for me.