Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Coming back to real life

After last night’s nightmare, I’m pretty sure that teaching high school for a year scarred me for life. I was told to take the students to the gym, giving them a writing assignment to be completed by the end of the period. A veteran teacher led them, with me taking up the rear; yet, even though the walk was short, she claimed she’d never take any part in my class again. Not a good sign. We arrived at our destination. Seating was abundant—far too spacious—so I told the students who sat farther than midway back to take seats toward the front. There was much grumbling and one confrontation; she refused to move. While I argued with her, wondering how to save face because I knew I was fighting a losing battle, I noticed not one but four students swinging from trapeze swings from the very high ceiling. I yelled, “Get down from there, you idiots!” but no one paid attention to me. Correction: the entire student body laughed at me. I rushed into the hall. I was so new that I didn’t even know how to contact the office. A coach saw me and pointed to a phone. A short buzz later connected me to the principal. He was too busy to deal with me, even after hearing about the trapeze swings. I was on my own.

In real life, I had 90 students that year—95% of whom were happy and willing to be in my class. The remaining 5% took Spanish that year only because they felt they were forced to do so. Alabama education requirements had changed—students needed to take the equivalent of two years of a foreign language to receive the Advanced Diploma. That 5% didn’t want to be there and let me know daily. I was the one on the swinging trapeze, but it wasn’t exhilarating. One or another of that 5% batted me around with a big, giant hand.

This was a shock to me. Before and after my stint in high school, I taught English as a second language to sweet elementary kids. They loved to get out of their regular class to see me. Kids whose first language was English wanted to be in my class. My class was fun. I was dynamite. And I was in complete control.

These days, I’m on my own again. For good or bad, my teaching days are behind me; I’m in charge of no one but myself. Even so, I occasionally find myself on a trapeze, not feeling the angst of a teacher about to get smacked, but, instead, feeling the remarkable exhilaration of writing. Something fun. Something noteworthy.

And when I send  it out to be published, someone invariably yells in the form of a rejection letter, “Get down from there, you idiot!”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A tribute to my husband

    I did a really stupid thing over the weekend. I mistook myself for someone who knew how to handle a computer problem. My darn laptop knocked me off the internet yet again. Out of frustration, I started poking around and found a “restore” avenue. What could go wrong? It had to mean “restore to a working condition,” right? Wrong.

The mouse arrow glowed with a feeling of hopelessness, or so it seemed. It matched my mood. No icons to select on the totally black screen. No directions to tell me what to do next. I turned it off/on, off/on, off/on. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach warned me that I had to tell my husband.

Nonetheless, I sat on the secret for about 15 minutes, hoping for a miracle that never came.

Fast forward three days. Even a computer-savvy husband needs time to mount an appropriate attack. Would this work? No. Would this work? No. How about this?

At the end of the third day . . . success! The computer works better than ever, costing only (?!) time and aggravation.

My husband didn’t need to extract a promise out of me. On my own, I solemnly swore to admit total ignorance of all things computer and to never, ever go down the questionable path of no return.

And I’ve got to hand it to my husband. He wasn’t happy with the situation, but he was very patient. Never a harsh word crossed his lips.

The man should be nominated for sainthood.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The death penalty: no laughing matter

I read. I READ A LOT. And every once in awhile, a book bowls me over and really makes me think.

Without giving a blow-by-blow account, I’ll tell you this: John Grisham’s The Confession is a fascinating persuasion against capital punishment.

When I was young, I was dead-set against the death penalty; but, as I got older, I temporarily lost my idealism. Perhaps we’d be doing society a favor by eradicating the most heinous of criminals; perhaps we’d be doing the taxpayers a favor, too.

But since then, I’ve come around to my original thoughts. Taking someone’s life is wrong, no matter the circumstance—and, as Grisham so articulately illustrates, particularly if the accused is innocent. Because, while we want to believe in a judicial system that judges fairly, it simply doesn’t always do so. The system is made up of humans. And humans sometimes make mistakes. If society kills an innocent person, no one wins—from the jury all the way up to the Supreme Court—not the guards, not the taxpayers, not the victims’ families, and certainly not the accused.

Furthermore, housing criminals might not come cheap, but executing them costs millions more, tens of millions more. For example, if Californians shunned execution in favor of life imprisonment, they could save $1 billion over five years. These are compelling reasons to abandon the death penalty. An eye for an eye just doesn’t cut it.

But wouldn’t it make the most sense of all to nip a life of criminality in the bud? Sure, that’s simplifying the nearly impossible. Unfortunately, nature or nurture condemns too many lives to count.

However, there is a path that’s proven to be successful. By recognizing the issue of the role of poverty in crime, strides can be made toward reducing it. Identify little ones most likely to commit crimes; in doing so, invest in their future. Don’t throw money away for the upkeep of prisoners; instead, invest it at the beginning through programs such as Head Start. Nurture preschoolers through love and education. Give them hope. Enable them to become productive citizens.

And there’s a final truth we must face. First-time offenders rarely receive life sentences. They commit minor crimes, they go to jail, they become hardened criminals. There are too many stories about incarceration gone wrong not to be real. Things go from bad to worse. And what do ex-cons face? No one wants to hire them. They get angry. They get desperate. Jail in and of itself does more to destroy a person’s chances in life than it does to rehabilitate—not because imprisonment in and of itself is ineffective but because no one has the resources to follow through. Prisons are too crowded; resources for follow-up are too few.

As James Grisham tightens the noose, the reader can't help but race ahead. Will claiming innocence prove futile? How about claiming guilt? And just how do you view capital punishment, or even imprisonment in general?

Reading The Confession makes a person think.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Guilty until proven innocent

A recent newspaper headline read Sudafed brings meth charge. If a picture had accompanied it, I may have concluded guilt or innocence based on that alone, despite the fact that my own driver’s license reveals a woman capable of killing her own mother for a pack of gum (when in actual fact, I’m simply guilty of being caught off-guard by a disgruntled government employee with a heinous sense of humor).

While it’s true that believing in the whole innocent-until-proven-guilty scenario isn’t one of my strengths, I can sometimes keep an open mind. Yet, I was reasonably certain when I started reading the article that the accused was guilty . . . until it became clear that the poor woman was victimized by a sting operation gone amok. Convicted of second-degree intent to make methamphetamine, she’ll serve a year in jail unless she wins an appeal.

The buying of Sudafed has become so suspect that one can no longer pick it up off a shelf. Based on her doctor’s advice, the accused simply purchased Sudafed to avoid an ear infection on a scuba trip. Never mind that she crossed state lines to do it. She had run out of time, and the trip was looming. Unfortunately, her son bought Sudafed at the same time in a different store. Even that didn’t convince me of her guilt. 

But her confession did.

She apparently told police that she intended to make crystal meth with both boxes. She claimed that by “confessing,” she could get permission for her son to drive home with the three children who had accompanied him to the drugstore.

“But I didn’t really do it, Judge.” 

If you buy that, I have this piece of property in Florida. . . .