Basic Writing Skills
For their final papers, they had to write 
a thesis and a counterargument. Anything. 
Up to them. Forced narcotics counseling is wrong.  
Getting raped by your stepfather can make you gay.  
A letter to the parole board balancing 
innocence and remorse. One prisoner  
did all his assignments in Spanish, translated them  
at night instead of sleeping. His argument 
was to his son, in a Puerto Rican juvie on a drug charge. 
  
While I was not there for you when you were growing up,  
you should not make the same mistakes I made.   
  
He worked on it for weeks, paragraphs with claim,  
evidence, and analysis to say he was sorry, he thought  
it was easy money, knows his son still thinks  
it is, though no money could be harder: mothers  
dead, fathers separated from sons, imprisoned  
in different countries, unlikely to ever see each other again.  
The last day they all read their papers out loud 
while I stood with my back to the bumpy chalkboard.  
When he finished I was too choked up to talk, 
and they were watching when I wiped my eyes.  
  
Hey, professor, what, we gotta make you cry  
to get an A in here?  You want to cry? 
I could tell stories that’d make you sob.  
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