2
min

What Is Courage

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Joe

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Courage is defined as the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. I never knew what that meant before I came to prison. I grew up in a loving, average home. I made good grades, was involved in sports, and went to college. Later, I was married, had children, and led the normal, soccer mom life. I had a great job and a beautiful home. Of course I faced challenges along the way, but I never really considered what it took to be brave. I guess I had led a sheltered life as you would call it. I never had to leave my “bubble.” Until one day I did, and it changed me forever.
I came to Leath Correctional Institution in November. By the end of the moth, I had been placed in the education department as a GED tutor. At first, I was overwhelmed. I had been a pharmaceutical sales representative for thirteen years and a Sunday school teacher for twenty-five. I had developed and delivered presentations to conference rooms full of physicians and sang biblical songs with four and five year olds but being put in front of a chalkboard with sixteen women staring at me like I knew what I was doing, was intensely terrifying.
I became responsible for teaching Science, Mathematics, and English. Part of receiving a GED depends upon successful completion of a writing assignment called an extended response. So as a class, we began writing. As the assignments began to come in and trust grew between the students and myself, I began to learn more about these women and what they had been through. I read about homelessness, hunger, physical and sexual abuse. I read about incest, beatings, and child loss. I learned that many of these women had not only never been told they were ever loved, but were often told that they were stupid, unable to learn, and worthless.
The vast majority of my class never expected to be successful; thinking at least they were able to be off of the building and receive school credits for time. But every day they returned, and hope grew. As the days passed, more students began paying attention. Less love letters and canteen lists were being written, and more math problems were getting solved. And by the end of the first month, these women began to believe in themselves. By month two, they were no longer concerned with being cool on the compound, but with good test grades and progress reports. They demonstrated confidence and courage to everyone around them and it became infectious. Our school waiting list grew and as more and more GEDs were awarded and announced, more and more women wanted to be in school.
I am now in my third year at the school. I have shed so many tears behind my desk as I read their stories, consoled them through losses, encouraged them not to give up, and waited for their final scores. I have watched scarred, scared, and battered women who barely spoke a word, stand before a room full of peers, family, and administration, and deliver competent, compassionate valedictorian speeches. These women are the true definition of COURAGE... and they inspire me every day to be a better person.

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