I have been living in the California desert for awhile now, renting a room in a a family’s home. My almost seven-year marriage to a Turkish man broke up, and he is living somewhere on the streets of Los Angeles, stuck in his paranoid delusions that everyone is after him. He leaves voice messages on my smartphone, though I had to get a restraining order against him, and he should not contact me. I hope he goes home to Istanbul for medical help. I feel alone, as the desert wind howls across rocks and sand, as autumn sun cools beneath clouds. Better to be alone than yelled at, used . . .
My children are young adults now, and we stay in touch as much as possible in this Hollywood fantasy world we navigate. I hope we meet face to face soon.
The best part of my life is the prison where I teach male inmates what they need to get their high school diplomas: English reading, writing, social studies, and science (my inmate clerk helps with the math). My classroom is the last one on the left, near the moving white gate and blue door that leads to the desert yard. I must have my special ID and my keys on a chain to enter this prison. I must wear professional clothes (like black slacks and a collared shirt, sensible shoes, my hair clipped back, and no identifying jewelry showing). I pass through 9 gates. A young guard in his khaki uniform with silver badge says, “Morning, ma’am,” as he holds the heavy door for me at Central Control’s Sally Gate. I peer into the dim room filled with camera surveillance screens and many keys. I walk along a shiny hall kept clean by inmate porters, illumined by overhead electric lights. The morning sun almost blinds me as it slants through the yard opening. I reach for the metal door handle where up to 24 men wearing blue “CDCR” (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) uniforms that also spell out “PRISONER” are already using the computers that line 2 sides of the room.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” I say as I step in and move to my wood desk up front near the smart board and file cabinet. I carry no radio or weapons. A Correctional Officer (CO) is always somewhere nearby in the long hallway on the other side of the bar-enforced glass windows of the classroom. I unlock the file cabinet and take out the phone. I get a box of pencils, a few erasers, some whiteboard markers, calculators, and my flower-covered folder which holds papers I carefully marked so that my students can rewrite.
“Good morning,” they reply. My clerk hauls out the big plastic box with textbooks and sign-in sheets from the back cabinet that holds our little library of literature, novels, and dictionaries. “How are you, today, Ms. Williams?” one or two students ask.
“OK,” I reply as I organize items on my desk and sit down. “There are clouds outside. Do you think it’s going to rain?”
I like to think the clouds are angels hovering over this austere desert place, wings outstretched above anger, boredom, sorrow, loneliness. Wings that also bring hope–an elusive thread we all hold on to, the wispy white line that will lead us out of dark caverns and toward the light. Continue reading