The strangest but most gratifying ‘Thank You’ card I ever received by Deb Jess

Teaching runs in my family. After several decades in corrections, my father returned to grad school to earn his Master’s degree and now teaches theme-based writing to college freshman. My mother, in addition to teaching me many important things about life in general, spent several years as a CCD instructor. (Despite years of attending CCD classes on Saturday mornings, I still don’t know what “CCD” stands for.) My brother currently teaches high school English in West Chicago, my sister teaches art at a Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee, and when I was in college, I worked for nine months in a local prison as a teaching assistant with special ed inmates between the ages of 16 and 21. (I know, I know. It almost sounds like the set-up to a joke.) After I left I was touched to receive, by way of the fantastic teacher I worked with, a Thank You card signed by a number of these incarcerated students. I thought you might enjoy reading a few of their verbatim messages (and might I add, their penmanship–for the most part–kicks the snot out of mine):

“Ms. M (my maiden name): Stay in college and don’t quit school. We really apprecieate your help. We wish you could have stayed longer. Have a nice life. O___.”

(Isn’t that thoughtful? I wasn’t really considering quitting school at the time, given that it was my final semester, but this note sent me into an existential tailspin; thanks to O’s words of encouragement, I stuck with it.)

“Ms M: You was a kind person to take your time for given us a little knowledge that you had, that we didn’t have. Have a wonderful life. L___.”

(I should have more strongly emphasized subject-verb agreement in class. Dammit.)

“Ms. M: Hi How are you going? Take care and a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Peace, A____, aka Tae-Rock. ‘Remember’ that.”

(Yes Tae-Rock, a mind is definitely a terrible thing to waste. And I’ll certainly remember it.)

“Thank you, Miss M, for helping my Teacher Miss G and we is going to miss you. Your friend T_____”

(Again, subject-verb agreement. You drill and drill and drill and somehow it just doesn’t sink in.)

“Miss M, Thank you for being there for us helping us accomplish some work I wish you luck and hope you achieve what you are going to school for take care and stay strong. Your friend, R____”

(This was actually the second message encouraging me to “Stay strong.” These inmates must be on to something, I thought, so I began a weight-training program that summer that gave me the most sculpted shoulders of my life.)

“Dear Ms. M this is I____ writing to you for Thanks. Because you helped me a whole lot with the things I am going to need in life and you pushed for me to get my H.S.E.D. and not a lot of people would do that. thanks a lot for your support and care. I hope everything works out for the best for you. The world needs more people that cares. good luck … and take care. I____”

(Okay, this one actually made me a little teary-eyed, until I saw the poor subject-verb agreement again. I wish I could remember what he was in for; I think it was a weapons-related charge.)

It’s funny–I usually don’t get this kind of appreciation from people who haven’t been charged with a crime. Working with that population was challenging but incredibly rewarding. It also inspired the concept for my next book, and as I write it, I find myself frequently wondering what happened to my former inmate students. I really hope some of them made it.

8 Replies to “The strangest but most gratifying ‘Thank You’ card I ever received by Deb Jess”

  1. LOL–very funny yet touching at the same time. I iz imprest with the impreshun you leaved on you’re stutents.
    p.s. CCD=Crap Crap Day–from one who had to spend EVERY Saturday morning listening to hippy nuns who sat on desktops strumming guitars (hey, maybe they were cutting edge, years ahead of MTV unplugged!) and singing “Shout to the Highest Mountain the Praises of the Lord” while tapping their toes on the teacher’s seat and expecting us to clap along and join in the refrain, instead of watching Scooby Doo and Archie and Josie and the Pussy Cats and eating Apple Jacks in my p.j.s along with the rest of America’s happy school-aged weekend warriors…

  2. Thanks guys; I confess, I did cry when I got the card. The teacher I worked with was phenomenal, and started some amazing things there. She remains one of my favorite people today.

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