Walter Mencken 7 p.m., Dec. 10
Tony Montana was my T.A. (Teacher's Assistant)
At least, Mr. Montana helped me teach the Cold War. As a Cuban refugee in the movie Scarface, he was a rare reference point I could find with my students-incarcerated male teenagers in a boys' prison camp on the outskirts of San Diego. They could argue about anything and often did.
One day, a boy who always showed me respect and even said 'good morning', (trust me, that was rare) handed me everything from the pockets of my blazer which I had never taken off. They pickpocketed me as I taught. In his hand were my car keys, a chapstick and the empty wrapper for my energy bar. "He had already eaten it," he told me "but I got the rest of your stuff back." I could have been fired for losing my car keys and told him so. I did write him up in a favorable memo and tried to get him a phone call to his mother which was all he ever wanted.
Porn, porn and more porn-That was the number one request-never granted of course. Over and over, they asked for anything I could find. I still think it's funny that they thought I would have any.
Their music really stays with me. I traded eight minutes of lecture time for one song on Youtube. Everything had to be negotiated with these boys.
During a recent 2-year stint as a substitute teacher en route to a credential, the County asked if I would be willing to work with "at risk" youths. I was sent to numerous facilities for troubled, addicted or convicted high school-aged teens. My last stop was a lock-down, razor-wire facility for the "bad boys."
Everyday I marched past probation guards, through multiple locked gates into barren classrooms that reeked of pepper spray. Many times, there were blood splatters on the floors and desks. They broke into fights with no warning.
The boys told me that I looked like an undertaker because I wore all black. After showing up to teach one day in what I would call "Bob Marley colors," probation quickly informed me that they were also the gang colors for many of the detainees. I had to teach in an overcoat that day and played it safe with all black after that.
Every hour, a guard would deliver a new group of inmates. They were marched in with hands out, heads down and an arm's-length apart. If there was any tension or the boys seemed anxious, one or two guards would sit next to my desk while I taught. When it was calmer, probation officers stood outside and watched through mesh windows.
Trying to teach World War ll to students who had never heard of the Holocaust was challenging. Explaining genocide to gangbangers was odd. They liked how Socialism sounded until we studied the resulting hell on earth.
Wiz Khalifa, Dr Dre and Nipsey Hussle will ring in my ears forever. Snoop Dog turned into Snoop the Lion and brought the allegedly deceased rapper Tupac back to life (and on stage) in hologram at a concert in Coachilla. The audience went into shock. If you can get past the language, it's an interesting look at revival.
These boys are bursting with warrior energy and we cannot afford to cage them forever. The answer lies in some kind of mentoring program. Most did not forget the rules: they never knew them. These kids are feral. When they are re-introduced to society, each one needs at least one role model to pattern his behavior or we will have lifelong detainees instead of taxpayers.
That's My Take On It, Teacher Daniel