Recently, I’ve spoken with a couple of former colleagues about our experiences at CCCF and have found those conversations a mixed blessing. As time goes by, it is harder to remember how crazy I felt, how unwell and frenzied. It also becomes easier to doubt my experience, to think that maybe I was being hypersensitive and over-reactive, that it wasn’t that bad. But typing the sentence “maybe prisons aren’t that bad after all” feels like a joke.
Prisons are terrible places.
But maybe they were less bad than I made them out to be? It all seems so fuzzy now, so distant and small. I’m starting to question why I ever thought it was bad enough that I needed to write about it – why I ever thought this story would capture people’s attention. Maybe if it were more horrific, if I had witnessed all kinds of horrible violence and aggression, maybe if I’d been more scarred and torn up – maybe then it would be worth telling. But it’s not about any of those things – it’s about watching my students struggle against their internal odds, battle their demons and self-doubt, and win – time and time again, they won. They succeeded in ways they’d never imagined – big and small – and experienced themselves as confident, competent, and valued people.
Trying to write the section about DOC has shaken my confidence tremendously. Writing only about my experience is proving much more difficult than I realized it would be. When I went back over the material I’d already written, it sounded like the rantings and complaints of a disgruntled person, an unhappy and bitter person. But how to write about a system that’s so awful when the immediacy of the emotion is gone? I’m not subject to that toxic environment every day now, and it’s hard to summon the motivation to be thoughtful in my observations. I wonder if the rest will be this hard. I wonder if the rest is worth writing at all.