Teaching Inside

So I had the fellas at Rikers for a full class. The first one last week was a good experience in that Fish and I got on the Island with no trouble and into the facility with minimum hassle. Fish was in utter shock as he had experienced some wicked delays in his trips before and said I must have brought some kinda magic in that everything went smooth and the class we taught went great.

Well, the magic continued… (A lil play by play on getting to Rikers) We arrived in Fish’s car and parked at the bus stop. You need to get on a bus to get on to the Island unless you have a special pass and even then, since we are not employees they would search the car up and down, so that’s no good. After crossing the bridge and actually hit the Island you have to show some ID and the guard has to check in his paperwork that you have some type of clearance. This process can take anywhere from five minutes to two hours (if they can’t find the paperwork) and there is nothing to be done if it takes forever. Both times the paperwork has been right there and we have been rushed through to the bus that takes you to the complex you need to go. The first time we hit some building called EMTC, you get there hand in your ID and clearance and receive a pass. You are now in the actual prison part of Rikers and you have to wait for a guard to escort you to where you have to go again this can be five minutes or two hours and again we were led through no problem. Leaving is pretty much the same in regard to waiting for a guard to escort you but then getting your IDs back is pretty easy and laid back.

Fish handled the bulk of the first class and only gave me the fellas (btw, I hate calling them inmates or prisoners or any shit like that) for about 20 minutes. This last go around I had the whole class. My lesson plan was to go over Billy Collin’s “Aristotle” poem and then discuss the beginning, middle and end of poems, divide the class into three groups, have em each write a stanza dealing with beginning, middle and end. Now, if you’ve never read “Aristotle,” I find the poem quite wonderful and love the images and how the poem is solely driven by those images; however, I do not enjoy the SAT like style of the images, meaning Collins writes way too much about the opera, mountain climbing and cabins for me. I am more about the ghetto, hip-hop and welfare and I wanted to show the guys that you can make your own experiences into those parts of the poem.

We took a break from Collins and read Willie Perdomo’s “Carzy Bunch Barbecue” that has an intro, beginning, middle, end and outro stanza (the intro and outro stanzas are identical) Willie’s urban images were easy to latch onto and the fellas ate it up and head mad commentary on the poem. We then reviewed Collins again and talked about the similarities and differences. Fish closed out the class by reading one of his poems he wrote during the free write and we was out. The fellas have to bring me an “Aristotle” type poem for our next class and I am really interested in what will happen.

I was nervous as hell coming into Rikers and wasn’t sure how I would react if the class did not respond since my initial response is to always try to flex and I knew that was not the road to travel. All the fellas are receptive to the class and have the highest respect for Fish and are warming up to me. I originally did this out of curiosity but am know totally into it to see if poetry can really reach these guys. We shall see.

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