If You Teach a Man to Fish

Another Saturday of racing the sunrise to the upper level of Hell. When I wake up at 5 am on a Saturday morning, I often ask myself why I work so many hours and feel like I never get ahead. Some days the hour-long drive feels like a shackled walk to the town square where I will trade my body for a few measly morsels of currency so that I can pay one more month’s worth of bills. As I pull up to the dull gray, unassuming, one-story, concrete square with fish-gill slitted windows surrounded by two, twenty-foot barbed wire fences, I feel a surge of energy shoot through my body. I may feel enslaved to my bills or my chosen lifestyle or societal expectations, but I am freer than many – including the thousand plus men inside that daunting place.

You may call them criminals. Some call them animals. Most don’t think they deserve a second chance. I call them my students. When each man walks into my classroom for the first time, I look into his eyes. I often see a darkness, but there are two parts behind even the darkest eyes: A brain and a soul.

If you teach a man to fish…

Do not judge, lest ye be judged…

There is a fifty-fifty chance the man whose eyes I meet will be a disrespectful pervert who will be sent to solitary once I kick him to the curb, or will be the most perfect example of the complexity of the ying-yang inter-workings of a human being. Out of almost a hundred students, I’ve only had two defile my hopeful optimism.

It is my personal policy to never research the offense of my students. I know the men in front of me have killed, stolen, pimped, dealt, beaten, molested, raped and over-consumed. I also know that each man sitting before me will at some point put to shame any preconceived notions I might have tried to smuggle into the room. One man drafted plans for a hurricane-resistant bio-dome home that was completely powered by natural resources. Another man wrote a 500 page epic novel that could rival Harry Potter. Another man gave a speech that could have sent chills down the spine of Martin Luther King, Jr. Another had not spent one second of his twenties in the free. That’s what they call the world you and I complain about – “in the free.”

And so Day One of class commences. I may teach these men a thing or two, but I can assure you I will do most of the learning. That is, after I set the parameters for the class culture: my classroom rules. 

1. Respect Yourself
2. Respect Others
3. No Lewd Conduct
4. No Unnecessary Negativity

You may cackle at the simple naiveté of the rules I chose for my prison classroom. You won’t laugh for too long because you will soon realize that those four rules are sufficient for even the most untamable.

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