September 7, 2020
Dear Superintendent Raymond,
I write this on Sunday, the sixth of September, and about four and a half months from the end of my commitment to Long Creek Youth Development Center. I write this letter in regards to my early termination of my link to the Department of Corrections. My intentions have not always been good. And I have made a lot of mistakes in my life leading up to now. But my life has changed drastically in the past year or so.
I began class with a woman I had seen around Long Creek, here and there, in my short trips throughout the hallways. I had no idea that this teacher I started working on my GED (HiSET) with would be the biggest support in my educational and progressive life. In fact, I had no intention of finishing my GED at all; I honestly despised being in the classrooms with the young, rowdy kids in the normal classes, and I figured it would be easier for me to just skate through my full commitment in that class. That teacher was Ms. Chaison.
At first, I hung out with my best friend, who was also in Ms. Chaison’s GED class; I had hung out with him for years before ever coming to Long Creek. He and I were just slacking off. And at thatpoint in my commitment, I had no intention of changing my ways. I believed I would simply be released on my set date, and continue my life of shared substance abuse with my family and friends. I had no imagination of a life beyond that. Every time Ms. Chaison, Carmen, the intern, or any other teacher tried helping me whatsoever, I would brush them off. I figured since I was in special education for years,that I was just an idiot. But about a month or two into Ms. Chaison’s class, I started to catch on that I wasn’t the idiot I thought I had been at school. I began working somewhat diligently on the practice test for writing. I finished it in a day and handed it to Ms. Chaison. The next class, Ms. Chaison confronted me as soon as I stepped through the door. I completely expected there to be a thousand mistakes within my practice essay. But to my surprise, Ms. Chaison was the first teacher in my life to tell me my essay was amazing. This gave me a huge boost of confidence. I stopped slacking off so much with my friend and began poking my nose into the GED study-guide book. After putting in a decent amount of effort into studying, preparing, and receiving advice from Ms. Chaison, I quickly completed the reading as well as the two stages of the writing test.
I wasn’t noticing it at the time, but this was where things started changing in my self esteem and in my life: I grew myself a bit of self-confidence among my insecurities and my mental and emotional instabilities. I was finding happiness without even realizing it,because the successful reward of education kept me occupied and distracted from my compulsive thoughts and negative emotions; made me feel useful and good at something for the first time in my life, and connected me with a teacher who shared my sense of humor, knew exactly how to present information and teach me the way I could learn, and shown me the kindness, compassion, and caring structure I had never seen from any other adult in my life. Ms. Chaison opened my eyes to a new way of life, meaning, spirituality, education, career, community, friendship, and family, beyond the cycle of addiction and drama.
A couple of weeks later, while preparing for the social studies test, Ms. Chaison sat me down to go over the three test results that had been sent back from the Department of Education. Not only had I passed the tests, but I tested at college level. At this point, Ms. Chaison invited me to join her college classes that were starting in thenew semester, in a week. I told her that I would think about it. For the next couple of days, I had many, many conflicting thoughts about what was happening in my life: not only had I discovered that I had not been an idiot, but I discovered that I had actually been pretty smart; not only was my educational progress rewarding in the moment, but it was hugely rewarding in the long term; not only had I actually met a kind person who appreciated my progressive life choices, but she was my teacher and she was offering me advanced education.
College had been something I had never even considered in my life, spending the majority of my education within the confines of special education, failing all of my classes whenever enrolled into normal classes, only going to school for a couple of hours every few days while high, and dropping out of high school early to lobster with my family, just as Gramps and all of my uncles had. So the question of college not only had never been asked of me by my past teachers or family, but I had never even considered it.
Honestly, the options before me were scary. Not only had no one in my family ever gone to college, but the majority of them had dropped out of middle school and high school or been kicked out for behavioral issues, noncompliance, ineptitude, or unwillingness to learn, absence, and/or on-campus intoxication. And there were a few members of my family—my Mom, older sister, Aunt Kimberley, Aunt Cherry, and Aunt Cookie-—who had achieved their GED. After the offer and a couple of long days of thinking, I came to a decision. I told Ms. Chaison that I wanted to do her college classes, specifically, English composition and creative writing.
It’s slightly embarrassing and doesn’t apply to any conventional logic within a normal life, but it had been so hard for me to decide that I wanted to do it. I was afraid of what my family and friends would think when they would hear I was in college. The fear was that they would judge me as too smart and pretentious for the family—different—and I was afraid they would socially exile me from the family, because the family business was lobstering, weed, spice, and methamphetamine hydrochloride. And no one I knew wasn’t in the “business” out of all of my friends and family, other than the girls and women.
Breaking the route was a huge step for me. And it felt fantastic. From then on, I decided—due to the fact I was taking such a leap of faith—that I may as well put my everything into these classes. I didn’t have much else to do anyway. I chose primarily writing classes because the subject was particularly intriguing ever since I first came to LongCreek, and I spent the long, sleepless nights refreshing my childhood love of reading. I also had encouragement from Ms. Chaison, after she had seen my writing and reading tests and the scores came back so high. And for some reason, writing was just calling to me.
About a week into the first semester, my best friend left to go to Wellspring, the same adult drug rehabilitation halfway-house that I had applied to, where I had been pending on the waiting list. At first I had been sad that he left, but it only took a moment to realize that I should really be happy, for two different reasons: I could finally be myself and feel completely free to apply everything I had to those classes, as well as see exactly how much potential I had by pursuing a college education. I also realized that he would have been a distraction from the classwork and homework, because we were in the same classes, and I knew that he barely skimmed through them,with minimal work.
For the first time in my life, I invested myself wholeheartedly into a positive cause, in a one-shot attempt at seeing if I had a chance at a normal life. And for the first time in my life, I had a chance, so I took it, in case I never got the chance again. And I wanted it; I wanted so badly to have my life another way: the good, whole, happy way of success and career.
Ms. Chaison seemed to enjoy reading my essays and told me I was one of the best writers she had ever taught in her twelve years of being a professor and author. My progression as a writer was incremental and highly motivating. Before meeting Ms. Chaison, I had no idea whatsoever that I had the skill of writing. So when shetold me, it gave me a hope I had never experienced before. Writing not only gave me a release from my constant thoughts, an outlet formy emotions, and a therapeutic device I enjoyed, but writing also gave me a positive usefulness in this world, beyond the drug-riddled lobster boats and streets of Rockland. And writing wasn’t only a beautiful career path that I was good at, could make a living off of, and could make me happy (as well as sober for the rest of my days),but it connected me to the biggest support of my life: Ms. Chaison.
I completed the first semester of college with a 4.0 GPA, the first thirteen chapters of my first book I had been planning on publishing, and my GED completely finished. But what confirmed everything was when Mr. Hennessey and Ms. Chaison told me I had gotten the highest score on my GED in the history of kids that had completed their GED at Long Creek. No longer did I have the negative mindset I had been stuck in at the beginning of this letter’s story. For the first time in my life, I had attained what I always wanted: hope, support, and a positive career I love.