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this is your chance :: jill mcdonough

by on August 6, 2016

English Composition at South Middlesex Correctional Center.
Julie reads out loud, and I praise her super thesis, then show
how her paragraphs veer away from it, just summarize.
And is she pissed! Too pissed to listen when her classmates try
to help. Amanda offers Act 2 Scene 1—”Now I do love her
too”—as evidence of Iago’s state of mind. But Julie’s
shutting down, frowning at her handwritten draft, writing
that took her weeks. Hey Julie, I say. Julie doesn’t look up.
Says What. Says I hate this stupid paper now. So I say
Hey Julie. Amanda’s helping you—write down
what she’s saying.
She says I’m aggravated. I think
they take classes on naming their feelings. I say I know it
but you need to pull it together, or you’ll end up screwing
yourself. This is your chance.
We’re all quiet, breathing
together, willing her to break out of this. Then:
a little miracle. I look around the room and see
that everyone is beautiful. Each did something special
with her hair. Hey, I say, again. I say hey a lot in prison.
Hey wait a minute. What’s up with everybody’s hair?
Mabel got a haircut. Ellie’s hair is long and black and gleaming
down her back, Amanda’s in French braids. Julie’s freshly
blonde, down to the roots. You guys all look great!
They laugh. They’re happy I noticed.
Thank god I noticed; now, for a minute, we
are women in a room, talking about their hair. Julie says
Amanda did her highlights, and Sandy blew it out. Good job, guys;
she looks great.
And then I say, Julie. Look at you
all pissed off over your paper when you’re so lucky!
Look at all these good friends you have. Helping
with your paper, doing your hair . . .
She nods.
She looks me in the eye, back with us, back on track.
I know, she says. I need to work on my gratitude.

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