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My “prison look”

A few years ago, I was working with formerly incarcerated men who now work in public schools, connected and supporting teenagers in hopes of helping them avoid the same mistakes they made.

I was teaching them to tell stories.

During our lunch break, one of the men sat down beside me and said, “So where did you do your time?”

It took me a second to understand what he was asking. When I realized that he was asking where I had served my time in prison, I said, “Oh no. I’ve spent time in jail, but I’ve never been in prison.”

He looked at me for a moment, seeming to size me up, and then said, “That’s funny. You have a real prison look about you.”

It sounds ridiculous, but I loved that comment. Prison isn’t a place where you typically want to be associated, but the thought that I might look tough enough to possess a “real prison look” in the company of men who were formerly incarcerated and knew something about being tough enough to survive prison was thrilling.

I immediately told many of my friends about this comment, and they all agreed.

One friend texted, “You should have that sentence put on a plaque and hung in your living room.”

One of my school district’s administrators texted back, “You’re so lucky. I wish I had a prison look.”

This thought came back to me while visiting Alcatraz a couple of weeks ago. After touring the prison and listening to the former guards and inmates describe life in the prison via the audio tour, I realized that despite my possible prison look, I don’t think I’m tough enough to have survived a place like Alcatraz or perhaps any prison anywhere.

I spent a day in a jail cell before being arraigned before a judge, and that was hard enough.

Still… “You have a real prison look about you” is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me.