On certain weekday evenings, I leave the visitor parking lot of San Quentin, the decrepit state prison that sits on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, and as I look out at the night sky rising above the Richmond Bridge—an arch of highway sending me home—I seem to be moving across the hinge of a great disproportion. It was the first thing I noted about teaching in prison, the way the impression of the place overtook speech. At first this impression was physical, then moral, and finally emotional. Teaching often facilitates a relationship with one’s own ignorance: only by confronting the limits of my knowledge can I begin to ask questions, begin to imagine how questions will be asked of me. This is a confrontation I have learned to accept readily, as a useful practice, a gentle intellectual and spiritual stretching in the safe and narrowed context of a classroom. But outside the door of the San Quentin classroom is a prison yard, and beyond that, stairways that lead to cellblocks and dorms where thousands of men live literally stacked against each other. I do not understand how to live out there. I don’t have to. But more significantly, I don’t know how to think about what a life there means. For some hours after teaching—sometimes days—I can’t reconcile the scale of my daily existence with the scale of a world which has brought about this other place.
more from Kathryn Crim at Threepenny Review here.