The Teacher – Rhea’s Story ~ Poetry by Thomas Davison

The Heroines Among Us

A sweet and heartfelt writing, Thomas Davison’s tells the story of the woman who helped him learn to teach incarcerated students. He gives recognition to the heroine acts of Rhea Edmunds!


From the author: This poem is dedicated to Rhea Edmunds – who has taught in all-male prisons for 20 years with no recognition, support, and for very poor pay. Rhea, who is a woman of color – took me, a 63 year old white guy – under her wings four years ago when I started. Everything I know about teaching incarcerated students I learned from her. With deepest respect and love – Rhea this is for you. 


The Teacher – Rhea’s Story


She quietly enters the classroom
And finds thirty all-male
Blue clad inmates sitting
Patiently – waiting
Waiting for her arrival.
They all greet her respectfully
With great deference
Some even reverently.
She is a tall woman
Six feet one inch
With a lean muscled frame
Just beginning to soften
With thinning wisps of graying brown hair
Obviously past retirement age.
She holds herself erect
Her demeanor and temperament
Shout out to the world,
This was once – a very strong – proud women
Always in control
Unbreaking
Unshakable.
She wonders to herself – not for the first time
“Do I deserve all this praise and adulation?”

Today is green-book day
The last day of class
Of this sixteen week learning journey.
Bitter-sweet day – green-book day
Where each student must stand before the Teacher.
Speak to classmates
Speak with no restrictions
Speak with no boundaries.
Speak of knowledge
Learning – life – dreams – takeaways
About the real world outside.
Some speak well – polished – professional
Others stutter hem and haw
But all speak.

All have something to say
Many read straight from the green covered
Small paper journals.
Journals they received from the Teacher
On the first day of class
Just for this day.
Speakers – direct personal comments to the Teacher
Words of thanks – of praise.
Most recite the Teacher’s – First Day Words
Words such as honor – respect – integrity.
Some scorned – the Teacher’s First Day Words
Branded them – insincere – platitudes.
Now they preach the First Day Words by rote
As only true believers can articulate them.
All have changed because of the Words
Some have changed drastically
But all have changed.

After today – they will return to the daily routine
The broken long arm of the law
The Prison.
For most – the Teacher is the first true role model of their lives
A surrogate mother-figure.
After each has spoken
The Teacher delivers her Final Words
Much like the First Day Words.
She speaks of pride – duty – love of family and friends
She speaks of becoming a dependable person.
Her voice is melodic – soothing
Yet it rings with strength and power
That bely her aged body.
The students sit mesmerized
Listening like sponges
Soaking up the doctrine
The life lessons.
All inhabitants of this prison
Recognize she is a woman of honor
All know
She is The Teacher.
Incarcerated felons and prison staff – all
Appreciate and respect this quiet woman of learning.
The Teacher dismisses the class
But – no one leaves
All arrange in a line by her desk.
They remain for their turn
A personalized farewell
A firm handshake for each eager student.
The Teacher is finally alone
The last student has departed to his bunkhouse.
She collapses exhausted
Audibly dropping her tired old frame – into her chair
With a loud sigh.
She speaks aloud – “One glorious week off – to rest and recover”
Another expressive sigh.
Then it all starts over again – at the beginning
Thirty new felons – the First Day Words,
The sixteen week journey
The growth – development – transformation
The Final Words.
Craving – longing – almost overpowering need
From these men
The search for what exactly?
To locate – a person to teach and mentor them
Confirm by example
How to be – a good person.
She stands wearily and begins packing the tools of her trade
Perhaps it is time to truly retire?
Is it worth it?
She wonders – not for the first time
Little pay – less support – no recognition.

She appears her age now
Face lined with a lifetime of experiences
Protesting – fighting – causes – prisons.
Her tired eyes rest upon the heap of green-books
Slowly the internal fire returns to her eyes.
She straightens her back – her jacket – her scarf
And she straightens her mind.
She opens the classroom door
Exits into the dirty dimly lit hallway
Back into her persona.
She is the Teacher again
She embraces the ramrod – no-nonsense look
She breathes in the role.

She is greeted enthusiastically by staffers and former students
As she strides down the long hall of the education building
In the prisons center
It’s heart.
Her manner is complete calmness
She seems impervious to the dangers surrounding her.
She whispers aloud – not for the first time
“Who needs better – pay – support – recognition?”
She glances down at this semester’s stack of green-books she is carrying
Impressive – full – bulging.
Each book represents a life – a potential salvage
A victory over the system – a win.
Books she will add to the hundreds of others saved
Through her years teaching – in the prisons.
She smiles softly to herself
And mutters – not for the first time
“It is enough.”

“The justice system is broken –
I can never be powerful enough to change the system!”
She recognizes the system is too big – too powerful –
She would lose that fight.
She chuckles
“I can beat the system – one reformed inmate at-a-time.”
She considers the numerous green-books collected at her home
For the first time today – she smiles fully.
She understands – she can win
Make a difference
Help these young men to change course.
She walks boldly onto the prison Yard
She nods – in recognition – to former students.
Greeting each by their surname
Mr. Brown – a nod
Mr. Jackson – another salute-like nod.

A rookie felon – fresh to the prison
Is walking the prison Yard
With an older companion.
He observes the tall woman hauling a clear – see through plastic bag
Stuffed with something green.
He stops amazed
To observe the ritualistic greetings
The display of mutual respect.
The rookie – inquires of his walking companion (a lifer)
“Who is that woman?”
The lifer responds
“Her – you don’t know who she is?”
“Why son – she is theeee one and only!
“She is the Teacher.”

~ Previously published – Third Estate Art, Quaranzine, Volume 2, August 9, 2020


Poet:

Thomas Davison obtained his doctorate as a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership. Dr. Davison has been teaching entrepreneur-focused business coursework at two prison facilities in Marion, Ohio. He has been deeply moved by his personal observations and interactions with his incarcerated students and has been motivated to create poems and short stories about the day-to-day lives and experiences of his felon-students. Thomas has recently created a not-for-profit (NFP) business, Entrepreneur Services for Felons (ESF). Thomas has dedicated 100% of his writing profits to this NFP, which provides free, one-on-one support services for felons and ex-felons. 

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