listen

My daughters are very invested in my incarcerated girls. They write them notes. They suggest the playlist of songs I use for our dancing (a playlist that many a time are way to white for my homies). They rejoice when I tell them someone got out, and they know on Thursday nights to watch my mood because inevitably, I will be profoundly something from my day in juvie.

My daughters are avid readers and love to tell stories. My girls in juvie finally have the time and a library, and they read.

When I once mentioned in juvie reading to my girls before they go to bed, it became very quiet and they were in awe; this is not something from their world.

I have one very avid reader in my Thursday group .When I asked her what she was reading she smiled and told me she reads Louis Rodriguez who writes about life in the streets.

“You should read this book it is really good Ms.”

“OK, how about you give me your book and I bring you a book to read too?”

She gave me a book about the gangs. I gave her a book about cancer (The Fault in Our Stars).

I am having a really hard time reading her book. It is violent and heartless. It is cold and harsh. It shines a light on the darkness of our world. Every few pages I have to put it down and regroup.

I promised her I’d finish it soon, and she was happy to tell me that she can’t wait to give me the sequel, Oy!

She asked me if I could bring her a book. She didn’t know the name of it but she knew what is on the cover and that it is about the Mexican Mafia. Amazing how Google can find anything.

When I bring it to her, I find out it is banned from the facility. I am holding it in my hand but can’t give it to her. She looks at me with big eyes.

“I don’t understand. That is my life. Why can’t I have it?” I think of the book I am having trouble reading, and crap, that is her life.

“Do you understand Ms.? I love those books ‘cause they are me.” Double crap. I’m standing there, trying to figure out what to say, and she continues, “They give us all this ‘happily ever after bullshit’ books here. They give us books about white people and lives I can’t relate to. If they can’t deal with my story they shouldn’t read the book.”

I still have nothing intelligent to say.

“Well,” I take a long deep breath. “You know the rules are the rules and I cannot brake them, but I can promise you that I will keep the book, and when you get out I will give it to you.”

She smiles. “I like that you wanna hear my story.”

I sit in my car and look at the book that is banned. It has really, REALLY intense photos. I read some of the pages and I close my eyes.

I understand, don’t know if I agree, I need to think.

I hear her words again, “I like that you want to hear my story.”

And I know that this is what it’s about. Listening to stories we don’t want to hear. Even if that means we have to put the book down from time to time. Telling the stories we are afraid to tell.

Because the more stories are told, even the worst of stories, the better and deeper we listen. The deeper we listen, truly listen, the world will, and can be a better place.