Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mr. G. Takes It To the Mat

Mr. G. stands like an Aztec fireplug when it is his turn to read. He takes his feet after pushing in his chair, looking around the circle, and taking a deep breath. He gathers up his hard-won dignity and pulls authority up from somewhere deep inside and feeds it into his voice. He is breaking new ground.

It is the first time he has read in the workshop. Yes, he has been attending, listening, and watching, for several months. I think he has been sizing me and the other men up. He has three large dots tattooed above his eye brows. Looking at him, I find it hard to focus on his eyes; I lift my gaze to those strange dots.

"I've never read in front of people before," he says.

I nod and tell him he is brave. Other men nod the knowing nod, having been there before.

"I was in the Mojave Unit when I met a man who thought he was a woman," he began.

He went on to tell the story of Misha, a "maricon," who had suffered greatly in prison, and who now was standing alone after a gathering of a church group.

Mr. G. had found religion in prison. At first it was evangelical Christianity but had morphed into a kind of Aztec pantheism. He was a devotee, a disciple, who lived and breathed his creed.

He read on, how, after the Bible study about loving your neighbor, the men had broken into groups, leaving Misha outside on his own.

Mr. G. approached him, struck up a conversation. He wasn't shy.

"So many people feel that homosexuality is the result of sexual abuse as a child. I was abused. I am not asking you about this without knowing what that is like."

The room went silent as the men around the table locked onto Mr. G.'s narrating. Suddenly the air went out of the room.

"I was wondering if your liking men came from an experience like that," he read, the tone one of curiosity rather than condemnation.

"Misha said that yes, he had been abused, raped several times, but that he did not attribute his attraction to men to the abuse."

Here Mr. G. pauses, takes a breath, and began to reflect.

"I have always been one to shun men I called 'putos' or 'maricones.' I wanted to beat them up, to shove them into a corner. But talking to Misha I saw that he was different, and had a right to be different."

Some of the men in the workshop shifted in their seats. Mr. G. was approaching a taboo topic, and it was uncomfortable, prickly.

"So I here to say, to stand and say, that I respect Misha for who he is."


Then applause.

Knock me over with a feather.

I need to stand back here to state that I  am not trained as a therapist, that I do not encourage inmates to write about their demons or their wounds. That said, I don't forbid or discourage their doing so either. I am interested in the writing, and if the writing grows out of a painful moment, then so be it.

Mr. G. absorbs the applause, flushes a little, takes most subtle of bows, and then says something that takes me even more by surprise.

"Since I started writing in this class, I have looking at things that have scared me all my life. I am finding that if I write about this stuff, it bothers me less. I've been having fewer nightmares lately. I feel pretty good."

This triggered some of the other inmates to jump in with experiences of their own.The talk sounded something like a men's support group, but I didn't mind.

I thought of Terry McMillan, a teacher of mine when I was in graduate school. She said "If you feel blood pop out your forehead when you are writing, you'll know you're on to some good stuff."

Well said, Terry. Well said.

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