Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Cousins of Prison

When I was little
I saw the world in black and white.
There were good guys and bad guys.
Good guys did the right thing and
the bad guys went to jail
where they belonged.

It was a simple way
to keep the world sorted.

Today in class,
I read a story called Your Move
about a ten-year-old kid
influenced by gang members.

We were discussing the characters
and there was an avalanche of stories
about family members in jail...
cousins, brothers, fathers
with a corresponding tale
of wrong place, wrong time.
Bad choices.
Bad influences.

I thought of my ten-year-old-self
carefully categorizing the world
with my confident vocabulary
of universal justice.

What words would I have used
had it been my cousin locked-up?
What neat definitions would I have used
to figure out right?

Because the kids I know
also know
that prisoner is just one label
a person gets along with
son and dad and uncle
and the so many other roles
any person takes in this life.

I can't help but wish
the kids I know had a childhood
to keep the mess and complications
of the world
at bay a little bit longer

As my room of girls
hurtles towards adolescence
I know they will all make bad choices
as any person does.
I only hope that the consequences
are not so dire
that a sixteen-year-old-self
can't recover.

We're born where we're born--
some of us learning
the nuances of this life over years.

Some of us visiting
our cousin in prison.


Blogger Deezee said...

this is beautiful. as I read it, I suddenly imagined your gathering the stories of your students - in their words, in their voices, hopefully by their own hands - and putting together a book to better foster understanding and ease judgment. I think it would be amazing and be such a tool to open a much needed discussion around our prisons and who gets there and the cycle and the pain...

and pardon my ignorance, but year-round schools in your neck of the woods??

10:50 AM  
Blogger ecm said...

Not really, just year round school at MY school...which is actually really great!

6:57 PM  
Blogger January said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Looking forward to seeing more of your work.

I loved your poem, so rich yet heartbreaking. I especially loved the lines:

"We're born where we're born--
some of us learning
the nuances of this life over years.

Some of us visiting
our cousin in prison."

I didn't see you in the list but you should post a link at the Poetry Thursday blog ( It's not too late.

4:52 PM  
Blogger RitaPita said...

Hi. Thanks for the kind words on my blog. Sorry it took so long to respond, but I have been quite busy as of late.

Your writting is beautiful.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous susanna said...

Oh Emily, you really do have a gift. The hope that you have for your students' futures is evident in your writing.

5:24 PM  

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