Reader Response to Undue Familiarity

Below is a response from a reader on Undue Familiarity (published in The Sun Magazine in September 2016):

Though well written, Ellen Collett’s “Undue Familiarity” was cynical and one-sided. Are those who are paying their debt to society to be viewed as criminals forever?

At the end of her essay Collett portrays these young inmates as incapable of feeling gratitude or compassion. I taught in a state correctional facility in New York City for fifteen years, and my experience was that despite inhumane conditions, many of my students proved themselves to be resilient, decent, and capable of giving and receiving love.
— Deneise, NY

Ellen's response:

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.