Here’s another reading story: As many of you know, I teach reading to the students at GBCS. We use an online program that helps them with reading mechanics and comprehension and reinforces skills related to test taking, but there’s one thing it can’t really teach. How reading relates to morality. As part of their requirements for exiting my class, each student has to read a book on his own and write about it. One of the things I ask them to do is to tell me how the book relates to their lives. I get a lot of initial resistance from them regarding this requirement.

 “How the hell am I supposed to know how this relates to me? I’m a guy. The main character is a woman!”

 “Man, this shit never happened to me, so how am I supposed to relate this to my life.”

 “This shit ain’t about me,” all are typical responses. But I just calmly tell the guys that 50% of your experience of a novel is what the novel brings to you and 50% is what you bring to the novel. Writers rely on shared experiences to make their books come alive. Otherwise you’d have no reference point, and the whole thing wouldn’t make any sense, so be patient and think about it.

Recently, I’ve been getting some pretty poignant responses to this requirement, and it got me to thinking about how much of my own moral base comes from what I’ve read. The Grapes of Wrath taught me about the dignity inherent to all people. The Old Man and the Sea taught me about perseverance even when the chips were down. Othello taught me about loyalties, love and lies. But what about “lesser” works of literature. Can we really learn something from Stephen King? From James Patterson? Apparently, yes.

Once again, I think the guys’ words speak for themselves, so here they are in all their uncensored glory. In response to Stephen King’s story “Big Driver” one student wrote, “The story that I just read is about a woman who got raped and instead of calling the cops she took care of herself. The way this story ties into mine is not because I’ve been raped but what did happen to me was that my father used to beat me up badly… and I never spoke up about it til I got older, and the way I got my revenge towards my dad was not by hurting him. It was by talking to someone about it and sharing the pain that was inside me. When I did that, I felt a relief, so when I read this story, I had something to relate to this woman.” 

Or here’s one about King’s “1922.” “This story relates to me because I once had a family, house and career, and I lost it all because I was too selfish and stubborn. I made the wrong decisions like Wilfred in the story, and that ultimately cost me everything I loved.”

Finally, a student read James Patterson’s Midnight Club and had this to say, “I think this story relates to my past life, as in selling drugs, being homeless, losing my parents and many other fucked phases in my life. but at the end of the tunnel there is light, and I continue to march forward and give life my fullest.”

I’m not so naive as to think that reading has somehow “fixed” all these guys’ moral issues, but I do believe that reading has got them thinking about their lives in a way that perhaps they seldom have in the past. At least that’s my hope.

Oh, and incidentally, I had a guy come in today and tell me he read 300 pages of The Stand last night in 3 hours. He fell asleep with the book on his chest. Eat your heart out John Steinbeck, or Stephen King will send one of his minions to do it for him!

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Posted by: krusty505 | November 5, 2011

E-harmony, Jail Style

Disclaimer: The following post contains explicit language and graphic images. Seriously, if you’re going to be offended by that, don’t read it. If you’re intrigued, you know what to do…

You know, it’s not always singing whales and half broke horses and visions of inspiration out at the jail. Sometimes it’s visions of a more hilarious nature, but in a slightly disturbing way. For instance, last year one of my students received a “love” letter from one of his girlfriends. He was so excited, he rushed into class and threw it down on my desk. “Read that, Pauls!” My initial impression was that the penmanship was straight out of mid-school (yet this woman was apparently in her 30’s) replete with all the swirly and curly loops you can imagine, but the content was downright pornographic, so much so that I can’t even quote it. Suffice to say there was bondage, bizarre positions, extremely naughty language and images I prefer not to recreate. Yes, it was that bad. For me the best part was that this student was perfectly willing to share the letter with me, his ‘teacher.’

He asked me what I thought, and my response was that she was very skilled at creating imagery, but that her mechanics needed work, so I corrected them and handed it back to him. What else could I do? Of course, he thought this was equally hilarious, and claimed he was going to send it back to her with the corrections as a joke. Go figure.

Yesterday, one of my colleagues told me that a student left his work folder in her class. She fished through it, hoping to find a name somewhere, but instead she found yet another infamous love letter. It’s unclear whether this letter came from the outs or was written by someone inside the jail and was simply a kite that floated its way back to this guy. Anyway, when she (the teacher) picked it up, this line jumped out at her, “I can cook my ass off from dope to enchiladas.” Put that on your Match.com profile! Or better yet, include it in your next rap song.

Another thing that just slays me about the guys is that they are completely open about their various bodily functions. Some euphemisms for going #2: “I gotta drop a deuce.” “I need to break one off” (as if their sphincters are some wacked out form of the guillotine?”); if we are at command call and someone isn’t out of his cell and lined up, I ask, “Where’s so-and-so?” His celly invariably will yell out in front of 90+ guys, “He’s takin’ a shit!” No qualms about that one. This, by the way, is a daily occurrence during command call.

I won’t disgust you with a complete low-down of their lovely sexual quotes, but they are utterly forthcoming about that topic as well! This one, however, is too good to pass up. The other day I was in the sally port with a bunch of guys. One of them said, “Man, some of you guys need to take a shower!” One of the other guys told him to mind his own business. The first guy responded, “I’ll throw you in the fucking shower!”

“That’s gay.”

“It’s not gay if your bodies don’t touch!” I have to admit I’m intrigued and utterly amused by the concept that it’s not gay sex if there’s no intimacy; it’s just sex. Honestly, it sounds gratuitous, but the unabashed openness of this particular population is like a no holds barred breath of not-so-fresh air.

Just my random thoughts on a Friday.

Posted by: krusty505 | October 30, 2011

Surfing the 1Cloud

The following are my first impressions of the Hoka One One Mafate trail shoes. This is my first attempt at an actual gear review, so bear with me.

The Backstory

I’m going to keep this relatively short for those of you who have heard this more than once. I’ve been struggling with injuries since April of this year. I had to abandon an attempt at a 100 mile ultra as a result, and I haven’t been able to run like I’d like to since hurting both my back and my knee. Both of these issues have plagued me for decades, but they have become chronic and debilitating this year. I finally found a physical therapist just this week who seems to know what the hell he’s talking about, and he is having me work on my bio-mechanics.  Hopefully, I’m on the right track and on the mend.

As a result of this lengthy rehabilitation process, I’ve been trying different types of footwear. What started as a movement toward minimalism, has turned a full 180 degrees. A few weeks ago I stumbled across Hoka One One (pronounced Onay, Onay), and I think this company is on to something. In a nutshell, these shoes provide mega cushion but promote a natural mid-foot strike by having very little heel-to-toe drop. They also provide excellent support and awesome traction by providing 30% more contact with the ground. For more information on how they work, check out their website.

I got really intrigued by these concepts, which seem valid and well thought out, so I decided to bite the bullet on the super pricey price-tag and try a pair. Unlike shoes from major brands, my local running shop does not allow me to try these shoes for 2 weeks to see if I like them, so I’m stuck with them whether I dig them or not. Fortunately, my first impressions are extremely favorable, and I’m hoping this is the beginning of a beautiful love affair.

My First “Run”

Because I’m still technically injured, I haven’t been truly running per-se, but I’ve been power hiking steeps and sort of trotting the more gentle downhills. Today I decided to hike up the CCC trail in the Sandias and jog down the South Crest Trail back to my car. For a profile of that effort click here.

As you can see, the bulk of the 2,700ft of climbing occurred in just 2 miles, so this is a seriously steep hike followed by a more mellow, but still significant, downhill trot.

Yes, they really do have that much cushion!

My initial impressions were that my feet were definitely going to have to get used to these shoes! They were a bit bumpy and lumpy underfoot, but I was trying to remain open and allow them to “break in,” as I’ve heard that they do require some getting used to. Many people have commented in other reviews I’ve read that the built in rocker in these shoes really helps on climbs, and I have to concur. These shoes are total mountain goats. Aside from my aerobic system, the hills felt almost effortless. Another thing I’ve read about the Hokas is that they are like riding a full suspension mountain bike; that is, rocks and other inconsistencies virtually disappear under your feet. Again, I’d have to whole-heartedly agree. At first I thought this might be a detriment; I mean, don’t we want to feel “connected” to the environment when we are out in a natural setting pushing our bodies to their limits? But honestly, about 45 minutes into the uphill, I had a complete about face on this point. I actually felt MORE connected to the environment because my feet didn’t hurt (by then the bumps and lumps in the shoes had all but disappeared, and I was feeling pretty comfortable in the Hokas). I was looking around at trees, rocks, the sky and just enjoying the hell out of a beautiful fall day, not worrying about my next misstep or fretting over how sore I already was.

They look a bit more "normal" from above.

Another concern I’ve read about with these shoes is the possibility of rolling an ankle because they are so tall, but I didn’t find this to be an issue at all. You sit really low in the shoes, and they are mega wide underfoot, so in actuality, they feel very sure-footed and stable. They don’t bend and flex like a regular running shoe, and certainly not at all like a minimalist shoe, so that does take some getting used to, but basically the floaty feeling was really enjoyable. Again, I think the full suspension mountain bike analogy works here.

I arrived at the crest of the Sandias about an hour and a half after starting and stopped to take a quick pic of my gear:

The tools of my trade today.

Now, came the downhill, my bodily curse! I decided that no matter how good I felt, I would take it easy and keep my pace light and easy. I began a comfortable jog down the crest trail. I could tell immediately that these shoes were going to be superb downhill companions. For those of you who know this trail, it’s rocky and rough, but I could barely feel the rocks as I cruised the 6 miles back to the car. One negative is that because the shoes are so tall, you really need to relearn your stride. Thank God I had my trekking poles because they saved me numerous times when I probably would have taken a serious digger otherwise. You really have to pick up your feet with these shoes and think about placement. I’m sure I’ll get accustomed to it, but for now it’s a bit of a detriment that I have to think so much about how high I lift my feet. One thing I didn’t mention earlier is that these shoes are absurdly light! I think they weigh as much if not less than some of my minimalist products, so you really don’t feel like you’re lugging around giant Frankenstein shoes. In fact, they feel very light and lithe.

OK, now for the other negative. Yes, they do look a bit ridiculous. As Natalie says, they look like “marshmallows.” But hey, people thought that Vibram Five Fingers looked ridiculous, too, and now every other employee is trundling around the local REI outlet in what I think make your feet look like gorilla feet, so I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

Post Run Impressions

So how do I feel now? I’m a little stiff and sore in the back, but my knee feels great! I hope that with my current physical therapy program and the Hokas, I’m actually on the mend. Am I ready to start training for 100 miles? Definitely not, but I’m thinking about it…

Posted by: krusty505 | October 6, 2011

The Calls of Distant Whales

The stories the guys can select from the web-based program we use to teach them reading are many and varied. They range in topic from NASCAR to Frida Kahlo, from the rise and fall of the Aztecs to the emergence of the hotdog as a popular food in American cuisine. One story in particular often catches their fancy. It’s about whales and the history of whaling in the US. Personally, I love whales, so I always supplement the whaling story with knowledge I’ve acquired about whales over the years: a blue whale’s heart weighs 4000 pounds, and it’s the largest animal that’s ever lived on our planet or any other planet that we know of; a female blue whale produces almost 100 gallons of milk a day, and it’s the consistency of yogurt; whales use their tails for defense from enemies, and they can crush every bone in a human’s body with one blow; a sperm whale can dive to depths that no large-scale submarine could even imagine diving to, over 10,000ft.

Usually the guys love these anecdotes, but one guy in particular seemed especially smitten with the whole concept of whales, so I decided to bring in Roger Payne’s book Among Whales and read a bit of it for them to see if I’d have as much success with it as I did reading Half Broke Horses. (For those of you who missed my blog The Dugout, it might shed some light on their reading tastes.) Anyway, I brought it in today and read a bit. Yeah, they were mesmerized! Again! Of course, Payne is an incredible writer. His blend of science and art is nothing short of poetry, and his descriptions of the ocean and life in it are so eloquently and beautifully constructed that you are absolutely transported into every scene he creates, so I guess it was an easy sell.

After I was done, the guy who was enamored with the whales in the first place came up to me and said, “I think my granddaughter would love that book. I wish I could read it to her.” This guy is in his 50’s, he has barely reached the 2nd grade level in his reading, and he has a tumor in his chest the size of a softball. We have been trying to get him into medical for weeks. He finally got taken to UNM’s cancer center where they did some tests. That was 2 weeks ago, and he has yet to hear any results back from them. Meanwhile this “lump” is growing, and he is vomiting and defecating blood, so the chances that he will ever get to read this or any other book to his granddaughter are slim to none.

It really pulled on my heartstrings, so I looked up from my computer and asked him if he’d ever heard a humpback whale sing. “No. What does it sound like?” I Googled humpback whale song, plugged in my external speakers, cranked the volume and hit “play.” When the plaintive sound of that whale singing hit my jail classroom in the middle of this desert, I kid you not, you could have heard a pin drop.

This dying inmate looked at me and said, “Mr. Pauls, that sounds just like a baby crying!”

Singing whales, crying babies, dying grandfathers, half broke horses. The jail’s got a little something for everyone.

Posted by: krusty505 | September 15, 2011

Half Marathons and Bee Stings

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that right now ultramarathons are out of the question. Between my back and my knee, going more than half marathon distance just doesn’t seem reasonable. However, given that I have run 50 miles at a stretch in the past, I’d like to think that a half marathon wouldn’t totally cripple me. To wit, I signed up for a trail half marathon last weekend. It was a little short notice, but I’ve been training to do the Duke City Half Marathon, and a 14 mile run was on my schedule anyway, so I figured ‘what the hell, how hard could it be?’

Turns out pretty hard! I did respectably overall and in my age group, just missing 3rd, but the run left me limping rather badly and basically set me back on my road to “recovery.” I have, however, decided that it’s time to see a knee surgeon and try to get this thing addressed. Ibuprofen, ice, ART therapy, yoga, being barefoot, and steroidal injections are not cutting (pun intended) it. I think it’s time for some real cutting.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I came down with a cold on Friday. At the time, I thought it might be allergies, but as I progress into a week of coughing and being congested, I’m again forced to resign myself to the fact that I’m actually sick!

To top it all off, Natalie and I harvested honey on Sunday after the half marathon. We went over to another bee keeper’s house because he has an extractor with an electric motor attached. We met up with 5 other bee keepers and figured that splitting the labor up would cut our work time. In fact, there were so many people there extracting honey that I think it actually slowed us down. Of course, the resident bees were super attracted to the honey, which wasn’t a big problem until we started packing up our honey frames to leave. At that point the bees went berserk and started stinging everyone! Turns out I’m allergic!

This was my face Monday morning. I’m still a little swollen. Still limping. Still sick. Yeah, it’s been a hell of a week!

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