Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Some Life Lessons from a School Assembly

At school, we recently had a group of prisoners from the local prison work release center come to speak to witness to the students about how the mistakes you make in life can lead to serious consequences, in their case prison. When I was in high school there was a similar program where prisoners told their story to students to discourage them from going down the wrong road. I will always remember the story of one of the women who witnessed to us in high school. She had been with a group of people who chose to rob a house. When they broke into the house, an elderly woman was home. They tied her up and then taped her mouth shut. What they did not know was that she had a health problem in which she could not breath through her nose. The elderly woman died and the robbers went to prison. The young woman had no idea, or intent, that taping the elderly woman's mouth would kill her; however, that piece of tape cost her the prime of her life. She spent the best years of her life in prison.

The prisoners who came to our school were two young white men and an older black man. I know that I am probably about to be classified as a bleeding heart liberal, but my heart went out to these young men. Each had been caught up in circumstances in which better self-esteem and willpower may have afforded them a better life. I have to admit that the first speaker, a tall young white man, did not speak into the microphone and since I was in the back of the room, I could not hear him well.

The second young man was a small very cute blond guy with blue eyes. He was well spoken and did a very good job speaking to us and answering questions. He looked like he could have been one of our students and this made quite an impression. He had been with some friends, the wrong kind of friends, who chose one night to rob a store for a little fun. He did not know what they planned at the time, but since he was in the getaway car when the robbery occurred, he was convicted for being an accomplice. He also made the point that to the guys (remember this is a mostly white private school) that you did not want to be a small attractive white guy in the largely white African-American population of the Alabama penal system. He basically said when there are no women around, you become the woman.

I know there is a lot of gay porn about prisons and I know that as gay men that men having sex with each other is not a problem for us, but it was obvious that as a straight man, this was not what this young man had enjoyed in prison. I think that all of us would agree that forced sexual contact is not something that would be a pleasant experience. This was only one of the things that he described as the terrors of prison life. Not being able to see his family, the food, the structured schedule, and the lack of privacy were all some of the difficulties that he described. His remorse was quite real, and I did feel sympathy for him.

The older black man who spoke third told his story of being in prison for a second time. The most poignant part of his story was when he told the kids that their parents, teachers, and other authority figures made rules to protect them, not out of some sense of arbitrary authority. He told the students that it is when they make up their own rules that they find trouble. When it becomes trouble with the law, their parents won't be able to help them. They can't get them out of trouble and it only takes one small wrong turn, one circumstance where they should have chosen another choice, or one wrong choice that can't be undone and you lose all your freedoms.

These three men presented a powerful message about the choices we make in life. While most of us won't find ourselves in situations that might send us to prison, we do have situations when we as gay men have to make certain decisions. One of the most important of those decisions is about safer sex. Safe sex is hot, check out the picture after the jump (NSFW) if you don't believe me. More importantly, it can save your life. Just one time can lead to contracting HIV, herpes, or any number of STDs. While some can be cured with antibiotics, research has yet to find a cure for viruses such as HIV, herpes, or HPV.

In the gay culture we can also fall to peer pressure of other kinds: drugs and alcohol being prime examples. Drugs and alcohol cause a lack of inhibitions which may be great for getting over nervousness, but they can lead us to do stupid things. I am not a teetotaler by any means, but I do my best not to overindulge, especially when I am driving. Driving under the influence can lead not only to harm to you, but also to others, and you might find yourself in prison like the guys men who came to speak to us at school.


fan of casey said...

Joe: In asian culture, ultimate shame is going to prison and because that shame is extended to family, it serves as a strong deterrent, altho not perfect.

I do wish people would be more secure in themselves and not give in to peer pressure and get dragged along into trouble.

Anonymous said...

I took several juvenile and criminal justice classes in college, and had the opportunity to talk to, interview and listen to men just like these. Some were extremely remorseful, others were hardened and simply didn't care any more, and one told us with complete candor and sincerity that "certainly, yes, I'd do it again" (white collar crime). But none were happy with where their lives had taken them.

The key to these encounters is who you choose to do the talking. Of the (around) 12 I met, only one or two of them would have been effective. I hope your students learned from this lesson.

Peace <3