Be Careful What You Wish For (Especially When It Involves Prison)
It’s something many teachers will have said or though at some point, often in the aftermath of a confrontation with a particularly difficult or aggressive student.
Once they leave here, they’ll be in prison within a year.
There are some students who go beyond “normal” misbehaviour. The ones who radiate a real feeling of threat, the ones who honestly do seem to lack empathy for their fellow humans. I’ve encountered students like this on a handful of occasions and I’ve found myself imagining what they might get up to when they’re older and out in the big wide world. The whole “they’ll probably end up in prison” train of thought, cruel as it is, can be a bit cathartic if you’ve had a nasty encounter with a genuinely frightening young person.
I’d never really stopped to think about exactly what would have to happen for this relatively common prediction to come true.
Yesterday I met up with some old workmates from the supermarket where I had my first Saturday job. I was still in high school and I started working at the same time as several other guys my own age. We quickly formed a close group bond and we all became good friends. Time went on, we all left to start out careers, and we fell out of touch. Yesterday’s reunion was a chance to catch up and find out where everyone had ended up.
Not everyone could make it and quite a bit of the time was spent hearing about the lives of those who were absent. Someone was a school teacher on a tiny rural island; someone was an architect down in London; someone had gone on to become a manager for the supermarket chain. During the conversation my thoughts turned to one of our old colleagues who I had known but hadn’t exactly been friends with. He was the kind of guy who was always on the wrong side of jokey. He’d say and do things that seemed shocking and funny to an impressionable seventeen year old, but which seem creepy and aggressive in hindsight. He was the kind of guy who was always, always make lewd jokes about girls and women. I remember thinking that he was the kind of person who I would want to keep far away from my sister.
As a joke, I asked if that individual was in prison yet. I didn’t mean anything by it – I just intended to reference the fact that he’d always been a bit too extreme in his behaviour. My question was followed by one of the most awkward silences I’d ever experienced.
Turns out the answer is yes, yes he is.
For a series of utterly brutal rapes involving underage girls.
Apparently his crimes had been featured in the national news quite heavily last year and I had missed the connection. I’ll spare you the details, but the reports I read when I searched his name later that day sickened me more than I could have possibly anticipated. I always knew that he had an unhealthy attitude to women, even back in our teenage years, but the awfulness of what he ended up doing was staggering.
It made me think back to the whole “that student will end up in prison” situation. As I mentioned, I’ve been guilty of thinking that about the odd student in the past and I’m sure many other teachers have too. What I hadn’t thought about until today, however, was the actual specific details of what that might involve. I could quite easily have thought the same thing about this ex-colleague (and probably did), but now that I know that he did end up in prison I also know why he ended up there.
Most teachers deal with difficult and aggressive students on a relatively frequent basis, but not many of us are in a position to really see what becomes of these students once they leave school. My experience yesterday didn’t involve a student of mine, but I’ll bet that at least one teacher had similar thoughts about my ex-colleague when he was at school. I still feel sick when I think about what he ended up doing and I’ll be a lot less flippant about imagining the various fates of my most challenging students from now on. It might be briefly cathartic to imagine, in the throes of stress and frustration, where an aggressive student might end up in the future, but it’s all to easy to forget that when something like that does happen it is rarely victimless.
Maybe you’ve thought the same thing about a student. Maybe you’re appalled by the very idea. Maybe you’ve heard something depressing about the eventual fate of one of your troublesome young people, or maybe you know of someone who has gone on to turn themselves around in adult life. Let us know in the comments!