I was very excited by the opportunity to teach poetry to inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary this past fall. I had never interacted with inmates before and had not heard much from many people that had. I talked to Rei about his experiences but he always just seemed so cool about what he was doing – like working with inmates inside a penitentiary was no big deal. Because I really didn’t know what to expect interacting with inmates, Rei’s relaxed attitude toward his experiences gave me confidence going in.
My emotions shifted as going inside the penitentiary become more real. I will never forget the moments leading up to entering the prison for my first time – going through security, waiting in between barred doorways, checking in at various identification points – my excitement turned to nervousness. Standing locked between doorways with no way out, I realized that once I was in, I was in. I was most concerned by the realization that I’d be trapped inside the facility; I felt claustrophobic. This made me anxious and I nearly panicked out of control. I focused on breathing deeply and stabilized my thoughts. Rei was right there to comfort me with his confidence. We entered the penitentiary.
Once inside we made our way up to the recreation floor and waited for class to begin. Inmates began coming in one-by-one. Before I knew it they were introducing themselves to me and seemed excited to see a new face in their class. I was blown away by the kindness I felt in the room. Everyone was respectful and the inmates enjoyed spending time with each other in class. And their poetry was incredible! It was absolutely amazing to hear and even feel the inmates passionately recite their poems!
I’ve since gone back in one more time and look forward to learning more about poetry with these wonderful human beings in the future!