My work has come to an unexpected halt.
The week before classes started back up at MICA I attended Baltimore College Town LeaderShape; a week-long intensive leadership conference. One activity called for us to write headlines we want to see in the newspaper. Mine read, “Art Behind Bars; State of Maryland calls for Art Therapy in all Correctional Institutions.”
The week left me feeling energized. I feel overwhelming support for the work I started a year ago. The conference helped me organize my intentions for the year and really consider the kind of teacher I want to be. My supervisor, partner and I are ready to expand our program for more interns. In the coming weeks, art classes should be starting in the women’s and juvenile sections in addition to men’s pretrial.
Last Tuesday I went for a walk with my friend, Chetan, in Federal Hill. On our way back to his car we passed a group of four young men. Out of nowhere, one punched Chetan in the face. Two more joined in beating him when he fell to the ground. I turned to run and was grabbed by the neck and forced to the ground. Almost all I can remember is hearing Chetan scream, “What do you want? I’ll give you anything” and feeling the strap of my purse tugged off my shoulder. They threatened us with a gun and ran when neighbors came to our aid.
My relationship with the criminal justice system is complicated to begin with. I felt disgusting in the back seat of the cop car as they lined three of the four men along the highway, handcuffed, pulling their heads back so we could see their faces. The American caricature of ‘bad cop’ in the front seat demanding to know who did it. I think of Bob Dylan singing Hurricane. I have no idea what they looked like. The men in front of me are my age. They look terrified. I didn’t want that power.
I should be angrier. I should be able to separate myself from empathy. In my mind I can’t tell the difference between them and my students. I feel stupid for being so warm with the men I teach. I feel weak not being able to muster up any fury for the men who left a handprint on my neck.
They keep us in the police station until two am and put Chetan in an oversized red shirt because the blood on his polo is evidence. The detectives and cops are jaded and talk about how pathetic these guys are. They want to lock them up for life. Try them as adults. Maybe it’s just a matter of not living in Canada anymore, but it is likely their sentences will be longer than what the man who killed my father served.
I miss teaching but I am so frustrated that three people are going back into a system that I don’t believe will fix them. How do I walk back into a classroom full of men who are guilty of similar crimes? How do play victim when I spend so much time on the other side of the bars?