hearing the sound of rubber brushing the tarmac as flights take-off and land.
seeing the gorgeous New York City skyline, clear as day, as gulls skim the water for the meal.
being able to see all of your friends and loved ones after having made a long trip to see you.
not having to worry about what to wear, eat, or drink, how to pass the hours of your day, and wondering if you’ll be able to get a full night’s sleep.
Now imagine yourself at Riker’s Island.
For the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of honing my teaching artist skills and carrying the Adler ambassador name working alongside Tommy on Riker’s Island. Let me tell you that there is never a dull day over there, and I am learning more about myself with each bus ride over the bridge. I have to admit that I am very honored to have been chosen to assist in Adler Outreach’s pilot program with East River Academy, (the school district placed at the prison for those inmates wishing to earn their GED while behind bars) and that the students are definitely giving me a run for my money, in a good way.
When you think of Riker’s Island, you may immediately think of “Law & Order,” (at least I did) and the connotations that went along with the place whenever Briscoe uttered the words, “Well you’ll have plenty of time to think over at Riker’s.” As with all penitentiaries, there is this mystery, a genuine curiosity for those “outsiders” who want to take a peek inside. And to those of you who feel that way, I strongly ask you to reflect on your reasoning for that attitude. Each week that I have been out there, I go through a myriad of emotions, scaling from doubt, to pride, to joy, to excitement, to sorrow, to confusion, to sympathy, to questioning. The boys and young men who choose to attend these classes, are just that boys and young, who have made choices in their lives which landed them in this place. But to see their eyes brighten when we walk into the classroom, or hear one ask as they sit down “Are we writing another play today?” brings their humanity to the forefront and as we work together bringing scenes and monologues to life, using their words to write them, the classroom can turn into one of those jet planes you hear across the river at the LaGuardia Airport, as the guys’ words transport us to 1950s New York City, Washington DC after Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” and into the kitchens of a fictional mother and son.
While I am still trying to discern my feelings about these boys, the place they now call a temporary home, and the snapshots I see of what their lives are like once we board the Q100 for home, I look forward to the early alarm clock every Friday morning, and hope that it will be a good day filled with creative fervor and possibly, a few smiles.