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Monday, June 15, 2015

Dude, I Just Want to Chill

I know I've been a little shouty about my job lately. In fact one of my coworkers who perhaps knows me best out of everyone here has avoided calling me that last couple of days because I can't control my internal volume when I talk to her about work. It could also be because I admitted to her that I get so angry that I spit all over myself while talking...

Yesterday I went to check in with a student who's technically no longer on my caseload but I have a misplaced sense of responsibility to my students who I believe deserve some level of continuity and support. I talked to him for a minute about his progress reports, his impending academic graduation (he'll still be locked up for a few more months after graduation), and his plans for after his release. Not too long ago he told me that he had decided he wanted to try going to a community college, just to see if he could do it. Of course I told him I would do everything in my power to make that happen for him because I (naively, apparently) believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to explore their futures and discover their bliss, as the kids say.

When I went to check in with his current teachers, they asked me why I would encourage this particular student to go to college because he just doesn't "have it". They told me it was a waste of time to think that this student would ever be released and make something of himself.

Erm...what?

Aren't we paid (handsomely I might add) to do just that? Ok, maybe the majority of these kids will walk out our door just to return in as little as a day, but does that mean we stop encouraging them altogether? I can't understand the attitude that, because these kids are locked up, they shouldn't be told what's out there. I love talking to these kids about my college experience; it truly was the best years of my life. And even though I preface most of those conversations with the reminder that I'm the world's biggest nerd, my passion for education is occasionally catchy. The kids see how much I love to learn and how much I love to share what I've learned which is why some of them do finally say, "Hey, I'd like to try it."

Why on earth would I ever stop encouraging that?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"It's a Fun Day to Be Incarcerated"

It's 8:17 am and I've already taken three Excedrin.

See, last November I changed jobs. Again. Raise your hand out there if you're surprised by that. No? No one?

I'm sure if you scroll through my blog archive you'll see that the longest I have ever taught in one place is the year and a half at the Dark Side and the year and a half I just wrapped up at the Dark Side's Satanic twin, the Center Ring of Hell School. Most people would say that at this point there must be something wrong with  me, but those of you who read this blog regularly also know that I've worked in some of the most hellish and horrible places you can imagine. I've been kicked, punched, bitten, spit on. I've had poop thrown at me, had my nose broken, and wrecked my knee (for which the "Shut the F*$k Up Ice Cream" kid still feels terrible). And now for some reason I've decided it would be a great idea to start working with incarcerated youth. After 15 years of this crap, you'd think I would lose a bit of my idealism but OH NO. I still think I can make a difference. Pfft.

The first few months here were amazing. I scored an office, I don't have to write lesson plans for every subject under the sun. I get to be part of a team working with some of the toughest kids in the state. At the same time, I'm working with some of the toughest kids in the state.

Throughout my career the hardest part of what I do hasn't been the constant fear that a fight is going to break out or that I'm going to get smacked in the face. The hardest part has been realizing just how much of a disservice we are doing when it comes to these kids. In fact, just this morning, my favorite professor posted a status on Facebook that definitely hit home: the average cost per year of incarcerating a juvenile is $88,500, and most of them are in for non-violent crimes like possession. My prof then asked his grad students to figure out what the per-year cost of a Harvard education was.

$67,000. More than $20,000 cheaper than incarcerating a youth. Education is cheaper than incarceration. Who knew?

Oh wait....

This past week has been rough. And heartbreaking. You can't help but love these kids because when they're incarcerated, you frequently get reminded that they're just that: kids-- the oldest is barely 18. Watch the science teacher break out a bottle of bubbles; then watch the kids go wild trying to catch them. Listen to them giggle uncontrollably at the lamest joke in your arsenal. Sit with them when they discover that you can do math on your desk with dry erase markers.

Then remember that once they're discharged there will be no continuity, no support. They may go on to a treatment program but what kind of treatment will they receive? Will they get the assistance they need to start over and go straight? Or will they go back to their block because there's no one there telling them that there's more to life than the streets and easy money? When they're incarcerated, they dream. They say they want to go to college, become engineers or lawyers. The bars make them feel safe, safe enough to imagine a life that doesn't involve drugs and weapons. But they know in their hearts that the rug will eventually disappear from under them and they will go back, often to a home that is more toxic than anywhere else in the world they could be.

I know, I know. The first lesson they teach you in teaching school is not to get attached. But when you do what I do, opening your heart to these kids is what gets them to trust you. Seeing an adult who cares about them just  because they can is what makes these kids feel secure enough to try, secure enough to learn. Why can't we provide them with that BEFORE they land themselves behind bars? Our school to prison pipeline is out of control and our programs have waiting lists that are sometimes 7 kids deep. Kids languish in programs, waiting to take the next step on their journey back to society-- time that slowly chips away at whatever optimism they may have built.

I also know I'm rambling. It's the stress melting my brain. But I needed to vent and I promise I'll keep this more up to date because knowing that you all are reading this is the best therapy I could ever invest in.

So tell me what you think. How do you feel about our juvenile incarceration system? How do we fix it? Where is my Excedrin?

Friday, December 13, 2013

RAW Boston Artists Showcase

Hey! Guess what! I'm still alive!

Not only am I still alive, but I have fantastic news.
My photography will be featured at RAW Boston's upcoming show on January 26 at Rumor in Boston. Click on the flyer below to visit my profile page and purchase tickets.
Even if you can't physically make it, a ticket purchase will support my show and defray the cost of the venue.
Otherwise, come hang out with us, meet some amazing people, and see some amazing art!



Monday, July 1, 2013

A Worst Nightmare

As usual I apologize for the radio silence. It's been a crazy year so far but tonight my post is not about me (insert snarky comment here).

Tonight my post is on behalf of a former classmate and friend, Shauna Hadden.

Every day we see scam emails and Facebook posts declaring that you or one of your loved ones has been robbed in a foreign country. The scams then go on to request that money be wired to an account to secure your release. Generally you receive a phone call from a loved one who sees this message and you all have a great laugh when you realize that you were not indeed in Beirut on vacation, but slaving away at your desk the whole time. You change your password and call it a day.

Unfortunately for Shauna and her 6-year-old daughter Ava, this is no scam. In 2005, Shauna's now ex-husband came to the United States illegally and settled in Massachusetts where the pair met and were married; Shauna welcomed Ava into the world two years later. By the time their daughter was just 3 years old, Shauna and her husband divorced and he was summarily deported.

Fast forward to May 21, 2013. Nearly four years after her divorce, Shauna has taken Ava to visit her father in Brazil, a good faith arrangement made to give her daughter the opportunity to get to know her estranged father. The moment Shauna stepped off the plane she discovered her good will had been a tragic error in judgment and she is now begging anyone who will listen to help her and Ava get home.

Shauna's ex, Donizete, immediately began threatening his ex-wife and child. Shauna did the only thing she could and asked a friend to help her put some distance between herself and her ex, but on June 6th, five federal police officers ordered Shauna to surrender her passport, as well as that of her daughter. Their names were flagged on all airlines and Shauna has been threatened with prison should she attempt to leave the country.

It has been over a month since Shauna arrived in Brazil. Though she is a United States citizen, the country of Brazil has blithely stripped her of her rights and has informed her that she will most likely be an unwilling guest of their country for some time. Though she has tried her best to work through the appropriate channels, Shauna is being told there is nothing that can be done to bring her and Ava home.

I know you, my audience, have been faithful readers of this blog for many years and I hope that you take the time to not only read this post but share it in as many outlets as possible, especially those of you who are actual citizens of Brazil. Perhaps you have some insight that might help Shauna and her daughter come home to all of us who miss them very much and are gravely worried for their safety. Thank you all! 

xoxoxo  Paste

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

HELP!

So my Kickstarter campaign seems to have stalled a bit. So near yet so far away! Would you all take a moment to visit and take a look? Even if you can only spare a dollar every little bit helps to get this project off the ground. Or if you find you can't squeak out a donation, share the link with your friends. Support the arts and history at the same time!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1099705752/committed-belchertown-state-school-for-the-feeble