Today was the sixth of twelve sessions teaching poetry to a group of incarcerated teenage girls.
I confess, it was hard to gear up the energy to go back there today. Two bad sessions in a row knocked the gumption right out of me. It’s not that my other sessions have always gone perfectly. There’s always a time you hit the wall but you can still see over it to where you know you’re heading. But that last week left me feeling like I was floundering, unable to give them that undefinable something that is a gift from a teacher to a student, a power that I know comes with being able to voice your feelings.
I prepped hard all day Sunday. I had tons of writing prompts and ideas and lyrics to some of their favorite songs and a bag full of full-sized candy bars.
And oh how they surprised me. It’s not that they suddenly became devoted fans of poetry. It’s that they took chances and engaged with the process of writing. On Friday several of them had asked for one of my prompt cards so they could write some extra poems on their own time. They shared those before we got started today. Then it was time to do a group warm-up on the board. I loved how they all begged for a chance to pick the word for the day. The word they chose was NORMAL and here’s what they came up with.
Normal tastes like oatmeal and water and sometimes like Kool Aid.
It feels dull, boring, like tears or a paper cut ’cause life hurts sometimes.
Normal smells fruity like Mango-Tango and flowers and the air around you. It’s like when you walk into your grandmother’s house and it smells like food.
Normal sounds like your family talking, your favorite song on the radio, my mom.
Normal looks like a boy and a girl in love, a girl and a girl in love, a boy and a boy in love, a drag queen. Normal looks like the girls in here.
From there they went on to write their own poems on the topic of normal. One wrote about how normal for her means getting up early to take care of children that aren’t hers and making sure her mom has something to eat when she comes down from her high. Another wrote about how normal was being molested by her father. I was so proud of the writing they did even though I had to shove my hands in my pockets to keep from handing out hugs.
We talked about various poetic devices in general and then more specifically as it related to the song lyrics they asked me to bring in. And then they wrote their own poems modeled on the songs. They all participated and before I left, most of them had asked for new prompt cards so they could do even more writing on their own time.
What was different this time from the last two times? I don’t know. I was just thrilled for them to have such a good session.
One more thing was different from last week. This time, when I handed out chocolate, they said thank you.
Yay! I’m so glad you had such a breakthrough day. I hope it keeps up, but know that you reached them today, even if they don’t let you in next time.
It was good to have this day to hold onto because today, not so great. 🙂
Oh, good for you for all your hard work and courage in reaching out. I’m so glad it was a good session today–it looks like you’re definitely touching them in good ways.
Thank you. I’m so glad this was a good day. It makes it easier to handle the days that are less than ideal.
Happy early birthday to you, Susan! 🙂
ooh, thanks! Good luck on the new webseries!
I always knew you could do it. Life has its ups and downs that is NORMAL. It was never about you. It was always about them and their issues. No one ever knows what goes on behind closed doors and if normal to someone is being molested well how sad is that.
How appropriate was the word of the day. I say that because normal means so many different things to people. I have never known what it is like to be normal in the physical sense. Even that messes with my head sometimes and I get so frustrated with myself. I know though that is just how it is. So maybe it is exactly the same for these girls. Maybe they have never known what it is like to have a normal family life.
Who is to say what is normal anyway. Life does not come with a book of instructions and sometimes it is just thrown at us. Maybe that is the key just keep firing topics at them that they can relate to and then you may have a chance to get their attention and interest.
Either way you are doing a great job you just don’t know it and they don’t show it. Sometimes we just have to look and dig a little deeper that is NORMAL.
– Anne McKenna
Thanks again, Anne. I love hearing your thoughts on this adventure of mine. The girls do all have some very definite ideas of what normal is. I was glad to see some of the writings they did, acknowledging that normal is different for each of us.
Sometimes it’s just a bad day.
How was the new talkative girl? Was she back yesterday?
SO glad things were better last time :). Kind of like a roller coaster ride with surprise turns.
It really is a roller coaster, Jama. Exhausting too. I come home and want to take a nap. I don’t know how teachers do this for so many hours every single day.
This made me so very happy, Susan. For all of you. Hooray for you and your courage, and for those girls and their courage!
(That image of you shoving your hands in your pockets to refrain from giving hugs is both powerful and heartbreaking.)
Oh, Tracy, thank you. I don’t feel very brave at all.
And it is so hard not to hug them all. So very hard.
Good for you for continuing to bring your gifts, and let go of how they’re received–though it’s certainly nice when they are received!
Thanks, and yes, it’s very nice when the gifts are received. Of course today was another reality check but it was easier to take because of the day we had today.
Thanks. I’ll keep giving it my best shot.
Yep, the new talkative girl is still very talkative. Monday she was popping up and down all the time, a regular chatty Cathy. Today she had an incident so she had a frowny face all day and was more quiet and wrote a lot of inappropriate sexual stuff that I couldn’t let her share.
Thanks! I was really sad. The feeling of apathy in the room was just overwhelming.
So brave of you to keep going, Susan. And I’m so glad they gave you something back this time. I’ll bet there more going on inside them, too, that hasn’t yet borne fruit. You are doing something wonderful.