I learn more from the inmates sometimes than I teach them. This confirms my gut feeling that people need to have a safe place to learn but also to share their stories and be heard, even if that story is not what you planned to hear. It’s easy to be kind to the inmates and see them as people experiencing unfortunate circumstances. I am not there to judge them, that’s already been done by others. Today though, we read a recent Organic Gardening Magazine article on lawns.
The article explores the time and energy and resources necessary to maintain lawns and offers beautifully photographed alternatives such as clover, moss, thyme and sedge. After reading the article and talking all about chemical run off and over use of water and mowing I thought I had a bunch of converts. Well, the men pretty much all looked at me with these perplexed faces like who the heck is this woman, is she nuts? I suddenly realized that I am actually quite opinionated, shall I say rigid or even judgemental about grass, about chemicals, about mulch, about sustainability! I had to bite my tongue and allow others to voice what beauty meant to them. I finally put on the board what were motivations for lawns based on health vs. those based on personal beauty. We then were all able to say that chemicals were not ideal, watering was not ideal, but that lawns was something they “liked”. It was so rewarding to steer our way through to a place where all were heard. I realized I am not teaching so much as we are learning together.
One student went as far as telling me that as soon as he got out of the facility he not only would have a green lawn that he would water everyday and load up with chemicals but he was also going to use RED mulch AND buy a really expensive car to park in the driveway.
When we watched KING CORN last week the inmates just wanted to eat the hamburgers shown in the movie demonstrating corn fed beef. Did the men miss the message behind the movie? A week later though, it turns out the movie did make a big impression on the men because they were heard discussing it in the van yesterday on their way to do maintenance work in the Emerald Necklace Parks. The Correctional Officer pulled me aside today and said she would like to see the movie now because the men were discussing the use of corn in everything, even beef and soda and fries.
So I guess I can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink, but some time when I turn my back and walk away that same horse will take a sneak gulp or a long deep sip and hopefully now knows how to find his water by himself, or can teach me where to find mine in turn.
I haven’t converted anyone to moss lawns but I have provided a safe and kind atmosphere where students can learn, laugh and feel confident enough to dream what color their mulch will be when they return to civilian life.