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Once You’re In, You’re Done For

June 15, 2012

For the second time during this school year, I had a student involved in a high speed chase in a stolen vehicle that shut down the West Bank Expressway in New Orleans. This kid was gone for a 6 days in a row. He’s normally a good student, always here, always making eye contact and paying the strictest attention. When I asked who had seen him around, some of the kids said he’d been in jail. Out of care (and curiosity) I made the phone call. His mom died from cancer last year, so he stays with his grandmother and dad. I’ve only ever talked to grandma.

I asked grandma if her grandson was planning to come back to school. His LEAP scores were very close to passing, and he really needed this time to be prepping for retakes. She asked what time school let out, and then told me he’d be back the next day. I asked if everything is ok, and she said there has been a little trouble. That’s it. I knew I’d have to wait for details.

He arrived the next day, Tuesday, and when the kids started asking him where he’d been, he mimed getting cuffed.

This kid is special to me. I’m his homeroom teacher. I fought for him to be able to come back to us when he brought a gun to school back in August. He did a few days of jail time and 6 months of probation on that charge. He was the first kid I cried over, in front of my class, the day he brought the weapon. When the class asked me what was wrong, I told them, “If you ever think for one second that I don’t love every one of you, you’re wrong.” Then I taught. I’ve had many serious talks with him, including one about a month ago about how hanging with bad people turns you bad. Finally, today, after getting bits and pieces from other teachers and administrators this week, he came clean to me.

Son, please tell me what you were thinking. Don’t you remember our talk we had a few weeks ago? About hanging with the wrong people can get you in trouble? That hanging with bad influences gets you arrested, or beat up, or shot, or dead? That anything you do from now on will light up your gun charge that they dropped because you had no record?

He just smiles at me the saddest smile I’ve ever seen. This kid has all the signs of previous illiteracy, perfect serifs on his elegant letters, but can’t spell better than a flea. We’ve worked SO hard with him this year and he didn’t get enough to pass the LEAP. I feel so much for him. He must be so lost.

We talk about where the bail money comes from, where the lawyer fees come from, what happens when he gets time for the gun charges and running from the cops in a stolen vehicle. We talk about who gets hurt when crimes are committed. We talk about his ankle bracelet (one of many of our kids who have government issued jewelry) and his future plans, how he knows this will keep him from getting a good job, and how (AGAIN) education is the skeleton key to a bright future. It opens all door.

I stop. I tell him I won’t preach any more, but this old lady, Grandma Pancake Booty, gives good advice, and perhaps he should start listening to those of us who care about his future, who love him, instead of those people who think that the joy ride of life should be taken in a stolen car. He smiles again, shiny eyed and ashamed. It’s heartbreaking to know no matter how much I love this child that his survival mechanisms are so far beyond me, that he does what he does for protection on the streets. The jail system and the education system don’t complement one another. Algebra and proofreading skills get you paper awards on a Friday afternoon. But gangs and “my people” help you survive until the next arrest. Education keeps you out, but jail locks you in. And in this world, once you’re in, you’re done for.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Erin permalink
    June 15, 2012 2:56 pm

    I love your blog, and I’ve been following it for about 9 months. I’ve shared it a few times on Twitter, and I’m wondering if you’d be interested in speaking to me about social media. I’m filming a documentary, and will be staying in New Orleans July 2 and 3. I’d love to interview you. I don’t know if you’re on Twitter, but I’d really love to meet up, even if you’re not. You can see what the film’s about here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1020889969/follow-friday-the-film

    You can contact me at DirectMessage@FollowFridaytheFilm.com, or through the Kickstarter page. Thanks for your posts! Will continue to read and share.

    • kmrobb1 permalink
      June 15, 2012 7:41 pm

      um…yes. sunny is AMAZING and should TOTALLY be spoken with!
      sunny, i hope you say yes!

  2. Claudia permalink
    June 15, 2012 3:39 pm

    My heart aches for you. I know exactly what you are going through. I had one like this, a senior, during the past year, a kid in my advisory group that I started working with one-on-one. I went through a lot with him – too much to detail in a comment on your blog. Suffice to say that within the 9 months he was in my school he reached some highs and very low lows, that included a drug arrest and being sent twice to our “alternative learning center.” Oh, and he became a new dad too, at 17. Thirty days before graduation he came to school high and was kicked out to the ALC, again. I cried, then I fought for him to walk at graduation because I knew that achieving just one big goal in his school career might make a huge difference. He got wonderful grades at the ALC, did walk at graduation, and it was a pivotal experience for him. Incredibly gratifying for me as well.

    Just this morning, I met with him for another mentoring/tutoring session. He was a little down in the dumps because he had just had his first essay rejected by his community college English professor – he was told to rewrite it and resubmit it. When he gave it to me to read, I was blown away by his honesty and use of language, even though his grammar and spelling were not great. It was the story of him waking up in jail, having reached bottom, and all of what he was thinking and experiencing at that crucial moment. It was a privilege to read it, because I realized that my instincts were right, that this was a person worth fighting for, and it made me glad that I had. I also think the kid has some real writing talent that will only improve once he masters the mechanics.

    Your love and concern will make a difference – maybe not as soon as you want, maybe not enough to keep him from hurting himself or limiting his job prospects (my kid desperately wants to be a cop, oddly enough, but the outcome of his drug arrests this past year might make that impossible), but it will help him. We are trying to get these kids out of survival mode, trying to show them how to get a rung up, which are things no one has ever told them before in language they understand. Hang in there, you are doing good things. Feel proud.

  3. kmrobb1 permalink
    June 15, 2012 5:47 pm

    really profound.
    i have a side job suggestion for you. you could be an advice columnist 🙂 and it could be called Dear Grandma Pancake Booty.
    can i seriously message you all my hard life questions and you tell me what to do? you’re so wise!

  4. Aunt Cathy permalink
    June 16, 2012 11:45 am

    You made me cry!!! I am so very proud of you Ms. Sunny Dawn.

  5. February 6, 2013 7:38 am

    This blog, “Once Youre In, Youre Done For New to the Orleans” ended up being
    amazing. I’m producing out a reproduce to clearly show
    my buddys. Thanks for your time-Karri

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