Not a word usually associated with prison, but last night’s meeting filled with happiness and laughter. The man in the book group with the longest bid — 29 years — who is also the longest continuing member of the group, had gotten news that morning that his parole application (if that’s the right word) had been granted. I also learned that at his August 18 hearing with the parole board they’d read my letter of support out loud. I was glad he got to hear it. The mood was celebratory.
I too am extremely happy for him. But my feelings are mixed, not because of the loss to the group (how selfish! — I’ll allow myself only the tiniest of twinges) so much as because life outside will have to be mind bogglingly different for him, and what are his opportunities for getting a job and fending for himself? Family and friends abandoned him long ago. He’s smart, and resourceful, and has his shit together — a well developed sense of self and agency — but having gone into prison as a young man of 28, and leaving it at close to 60, well, I simply can’t imagine what will be like for him and to him.
Several people also reported laughingly that my calling out and stopping DG in his Socratic tracks (a story in which the repartee makes him look good, even when being shut down) in our last meeting had been retold in the mess hall to the delight of listeners outside of our group.
Come to think of it, it’s more the norm than the exception for the group to have laugh out loud fun discussing our lofty works and ideas. And this is another way that the prison class is like my college classes: the pleasure that comes from sharing ideas, the slips of tongue, the jokes inspired by the texts, and the fancy verbal footwork that is the good philosophy students’ stock in trade. Those meetings/classes are the most successful: the full person engagement with the text and the other members of the group. And with me, of course, too.