Sunday, September 22, 2013

Conflicted at Work

Whenever people ask the "What are you doing these days?" question I usually answer with a truthful but not whole answer, something like "I work for the Alpine school district as a teaching assistant." For most people that usually does the trick, but the inquiring few ask "What school?" or "What grade?" And then I say well, actually it's a group home. And then they say what's a group home? And I answer it's where kids who are in state custody but need higher surveillance than a foster home go to live. And then they ask why are they there? And finally, I'm forced into the whole truth: it's a group home for underage male sexual offenders.

It's a dance I've perfected.

I try to avoid the end of this ritual, not because I am ashamed of my job but because I always hate what comes next: the look of offense or worry or alarm and then the final question, "What did they do?", with the underlying assumption that the answer could sum up the whole of their existence.

I always want to say "It's complicated" but I never do. Instead, I brush it off with a simple I don't know. In fact, I have some ideas but they're not pretty. If I tell them to you, you will imagine some picture of a sexual predator. That is partially true. Some of their crimes are truly horrific. If I focus on that side of their past I find myself emotionally distancing myself from them, so I try not to do that. They need love and discipline, not distance.

What I want you to know is that they aren't just sexual predators. They are people like you and me. In a way, that's even more frightening because they are just like you and me--not internally of course, but externally they are just like any demographic of teenage boys. It is absolutely chilling to realize there are likely many more undetected sexual predators in schools. I mean if you came into our classroom (or even taught here for that matter) you would have no idea. So most of the time I don't think of them as sexual offenders. I get in the mode of thinking of them as normal guys--something I can't afford to do. Carter worries about my safety at work, though I always tell him it is unecessary. At school we're all stuffed into one classroom with three to five other adults at any given moment, and even if I ever were alone with any of the kids, only two of them are big enough to pose any real threat. In any case, none of these boys are particularly aggressive; they're manipulative--their victims are usually trusting children they know that can take advantage of. Therein lies the real threat. If I forget that they are sexual offenders, it's easier to put myself in compromising situations. So I try to always remember.

Another confusing part of this puzzle is how much I love them. I love them! I want them to recover and  succeed and live normal lives with loving families and good jobs, not suffer for all the horrible things they've done. And the thing is God loves them. He has their names written on the palms of His hands. He looks to his lost sheep and mourns. I, too, find myself mourning their lost childhoods and broken minds. To be so emotionally, mentally, and physically unstable is so tragic for such a young age. I mean, 13! 17! It's too young. Some of them have really dysfunctional families that explain how wrong their lives are at their age, but some of them have really normal parents who are absolutely heartbroken by their child's choices.

So there it is: the pity and horror and love all jumbled up in my mind everyday. When I go to work I have to simultaneously remember their crimes and forget they are criminals. It's an inner conflict I'm still working on.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Summer Reads: Matterhorn

Graduating and just working part-time while I try to get my act together has left me with mountains of extra time. At first I wasted away my free time with the same reckless abandon I used in college. I mean, what if I never had another free moment to waste again? What if this was my last chance to mindlessly troll pinterest and facebook and dream about future renovations to hypothetical houses?

Several months later, I realize there is only so much time a week I can waste and still maintain my self-esteem. All of this is just to say that I am reading more and I started a food blog. Only Carter (and now the rest of the internet) knows that cooking and food occupy 30% of my daily thoughts. You should know, as an accurate estimation, 30% is A LOT of time and thoughts. It only barely falls under how often I think of Carter and rises far above the thoughts I devote to finding a full-time job. Being real here. My new food blog is called A Dash or Two and I focus on easy, fast recipes with uncompromised taste. Part of me wants to bury this blog in the depths of the Internet until I can perfect every recipe and word but in an effort for personal growth, I putting myself out there mistakes and all. It's a work in progress but take a look anyway and if you don’t now, don’t worry I’ll probably be spamming your facebooks and blogger in the future.

In other, aforementioned news, I am reading more. I should probably just get one of those Goodreads accounts but there are only so many social media sites a real human can join, hence:

Matterhorn: A Review

In the spirit of full disclosure, you probably will feel depressed at the end of Matterhorn. It is a fictional book set in the Vietnam War, though written by an actual Vietnam combat veteran based on his experiences. Aaaaand the language is way past borderline. BUT in its defense it entirely changed the way I view war. I want to share my favorite part of the book in which two soldiers are talking on the eve of a major and deadly battle:

“You think we go to heaven when we die?” Jermain asked.
“I don’t think nothin’. I believe Jesus take care of us when we die.” Cortell looked at Jermain. “Believin’s not thinkin’.”
Jermain took that in for a while. “What if you’re wrong?”
Cortell laughed. “What if you wrong? You been worse off than me all you life. I got the safe bet, not you.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t believe.”
“No, you just playing it safe and not choosin’. Jesus don’t want you to play safe. You don’t get anyplace if you don’t choose.”
“I don’t want to go nowhere but back to the world.”
“Yeah, I be right there with you,” Cortell said. He was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Ever’one here think it easy for me. I be this good little church boy from Mississippi with my good little church-goin’ Mammy, and since I be this stupid country nigger with the big faith, I don’t have no troubles. Well, it just don’t work that way.” He paused. Jermain said nothing. “I see my friend Williams get ate by a tiger,” Cortell continued, “I see my friend Broyer get his face ripped off by a mine. What you think I do all night, sit around thankin’ Sweet Jesus? Raise my palms to sweet heaven and cry hallelujah? You know what I do? You know what do? I lose my heart.” Cortell’s throat suddenly tightened, strangling his words. “I lose my heart.” He took a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. He exhaled and went on quietly, back in control. “I sit there and I don’t see any hope. Hope gone.” Cortell was seeing his dead friends. “Then the sky turn gray again in the east, and you know what I do? I choose all over again to keep believin’…It ain’t no easy thing.”
I LOVE that passage. I love that he describes faith as a choice. Unreligious people so often look at the religious and think that we are all brainwashed, somehow fooled by a mass delusion. What they don’t realize is that faith and hope is a choice, and it’s a choice everyday. Some days it’s easy to choose faith but other times it can be very, very hard. Isn’t that a beautiful passage?