I went and saw one of my former students in jail this past weekend. Hakeem has been sentenced to 23 years with no chance of parole. He was arrested when he was 17.

He still looked like the 6th grader I knew. Same smile. A number of new tattoos.

I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. I’m not good at small talk under normal situations. The stakes are raised when you haven’t seen the person in about 6 years and they only have 30 minutes of contact with non-prisoners a week. The poor reception on the phone didn’t help anything but Hakeem seemed happy enough to see me that it didn’t seem to matter.

We talked. Apparently I need a hair cut because he thinks I look like Tom Brady. Hakeem also let me know that half my class is now in jail. He listed too many of those kids and what they were arrested for.

It’s not like I’m totally naive, I figured a number of those kids would end up in jail but each name I heard knocked me down another notch.

The whole thing has been eating at me more and more. So many people failed these kids.

Comments on this post

  1. Dana Huff said on September 24, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    I think it’s great that you visited. I think too often kids feel like they’ve been given up on, especially in a situation like this, and it wouldn’t surprise me if none of his other teacher visited. If I am honest with myself, I would say it wouldn’t have occurred to me to make such a visit. It sounds like a very difficult experience. My professor switched jobs with a high school English teacher for a year, which I admired her for. She had to go into therapy she said because she took so much of her students’ lives home with her. Anyway, I know you feel downcast right now, but I admire you for going and for not giving up.

  2. Mickey Futrell said on October 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

    There are instances when I wonder what my former Mt. Vernon students are doing. Periodically they would come by and visit at school, I even saw one last year. He is going to Varina now, and doing fine. I would like to hope that if I found that one of my former students where in a similar predicament as your former student, I would be able to do the same thing you have done.

  3. Jim said on November 9, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    So what did you talk about? This is fascinating to me that you actually went. Must have been crazy.

    • Tom said on November 10, 2010 at 7:44 am

      It is an interesting idea. This Richmond group paid to rent out the Westhampton Theater and show the movie for free. Then UR hosted a “community dialog” which had probably 150-200 people. We broke up into rooms and then subdivided in the rooms to answer some pre-scripted questions. There really wasn’t enough time and we were supposed to report back so they guy I had issues with started spouting off.

      I said, essentially, that saying every child can learn doesn’t matter, that the movie was about disparaging public education in favor of charters, and that it was a biased film with no value. I was probably not smiling as I said these things. Imagine my conversation with you over military benefits at SXSW. An elderly lady then challenged me with a staw man argument, pretending I said that one person couldn’t make a difference. I did not let that go either.

      The guy I was with had a nice little comment towards the end as well but he managed to say it in a way that didn’t scare people. It did crush their spirits though. He said something like “All this movie shows is that if you have a school full of students who have parents who all care about education, who think it is important, then you have a chance at being successful.” The guy I originally yelled replied with “You really think all those parents care about education?” I managed not to say “Didn’t you just watch the movie with people crying and praying to get into schools moron?”

      The spirit then left the room and everyone from our group went home properly demoralized.

  4. Shalinda said on October 27, 2012 at 4:53 am

    Hello My name is Shalinda.
    Hakeem was my brother, Mr. Woodward was my favorite Middle School teacher. He was like a father figure that Hakeem and I Never Really had ! He Tried his hardest to keep me and Hakeem on the right path to success. 2 Be Continued…. Free Keem Thanks Mr.Woodward <3 Shalinda Witcher

    • Tom Woodward said on October 27, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      Shalinda- It’s been a long time. I’m glad to hear from you.

      Your memory is better than I deserve. All of you were such good kids. I wonder often what you’ve grown up to do.