When you’re preparing the reading for the class you’ve started teaching at Rikers, and the theme is ostensibly persona but you want to choose everything so perfectly that each of your five inmates—you mean, students—feels the force of the words so primally, so internally, that he wants to use those words to shape his own world in the image he projects, rather than the one he now lives within. Throw in some of your favorite Langston Hughes poems and Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” as long as you remain aware of the dynamic this creates of a white man “teaching” these pieces to incarcerated black men but also acknowledge the thirst to contextualize their experiences that they’ve let you in on. (And yes, allow yourself a moment to secretly glow that, even in your first conversations with them, they call you brother.) Go ahead and throw in Dave Eggers’ “After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned” because you reread it last week and want to give these brothers a taste of the unadulterated joy a dog takes in the simple act of running and leaping, from the dog’s perspective—even if the dog has been trained to fight and thrown in a river, even though the squirrels continue to chatter at the inanity of running and jumping just for the joy of it all, even in the knowledge that it all ends in death. Yes, even if it begins in bondage, even through the chatter of know-nothings and random, impulsive acts of violence, even in the knowledge that it all ends in non-existence, there is still joy, joy joy in the wind in your face and the air beneath you, even if we sometimes only feel it through words.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor