I used to try to brew the perfect cup of coffee. I'd grind fresh beans
purchased from a man who roasted them in small batches using only the finest Arabicas grown in volcanic soil at high altitude on an Indonesian Island. Next, I'd pour near-boling mountain spring water over the grounds perking it through a brown chemical- and bleach-free filter into a favorite mug decorated with two hand-painted wolves in full winter coat. My ritual ended with a half-teaspoon of canned milk imported from Holland. I thought I was close to achieving perfection. Then I met Marian.
I met her my first night teaching at the Manzanita Women's Unit of the Arizona
State Prison outside Tucson. It was my first teaching job, and I think I got it because of my enthusiasm and there's a short list of people waiting to teach in prison. That night a guard let me in to what looked like a typical classroom--chalkboard, desks, bulletin boards displaying colorful construction paper flowers and thumb tacked student papers with large encircled "A"s and hand-written comments like GOOD WORK BRENDA! in bright red ink. The only difference between this room and classrooms in the world outside were the windows: two floor-to-ceiling vertical slits so narrow they offered no hope of escape to even the thinnest body.
Three women in prison-issued denim shirts and jeans entered, noted me with
half-interested nods, then continued their conversation at the back of the room. Though I tried to look calm as ...