I’m touched that Jeremy spent a stamp on me. I don’t blame my students for not writing; I was the naive one. I continued to teach in that prison until it closed. After that first semester that I described in my essay, some of my new students did write. The ones I heard from all became the men I knew they could be.
I share Andrew’s belief in prison writing programs and didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. My students were fearless, focused, and brutally self-aware. They wrote to understand themselves and to survive the total annihilation of self that prison has as its goal.
As I continued to teach, I had each student write a document that explained his incarceration to a future employer, landlord, or college admissions officer in a way that proved he was no longer the boy who made that initial mistake. I take great joy in hearing about the students who are now finding success on the outside.
Below is a response from a reader on Undue Familiarity (published in The Sun Magazine in September 2016):
In response to Deneise, I want to clarify that those inmates were the finest and most disciplined students I’ve ever taught. They inspired and humbled me. After the experience I wrote about in “Undue Familiarity,” I turned down paid teaching jobs at universities in order to volunteer at that prison. I did this for years until the prison closed due to budget cuts.
I hoped to show it was not my students but their teacher whose failings were on display. I agree with everything Deneise says about our incarcerated students and share her sense of feeling blessed to spend time with them.