Full-Time Faculty, Criminal Justice
I walked into the classroom feeling as I always did at the start of the semester; excited and overwhelmed. I saw her at the back of the class sitting at the table in her very used coat and torn jeans. There was a hint of recognition in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen her before. And then she smiled at me and that toothless grin immediately reminded me where I knew her from. She had been an inmate at the facility where I had spent my days working.
I was a part-time instructor and there was always a chance that instructing in my life’s work would intersect like this. I admit I was more than a bit apprehensive. Was I supposed to acknowledge where I knew her? I didn’t want to embarrass her if she didn’t want anyone to know. I needn’t have worried. From that first day of class, Omay was forthright in letting the people in class know about her background. Day after day during the semester, she would come up to me and let me know that it was her intent to show her grandchildren that she was going to make something of herself after all of the years that she spent addicted to drugs. Her goal, I remember her telling me, was to become a substance abuse counselor, to help others get off drugs as she finally had.
I assigned the class a research paper as a final assignment of the semester. I explained that it could be on any topic in the corrections field. I knew Omay would struggle with this, and indeed she did. Many times she approached me with rough drafts and asked for my help in correcting the grammar she knew was bad. Patiently I would assist her and let her figure out for herself better ways to express this thought or write that sentence. By the time the paper was due, she handed in her paper with a toothless grin. I remember reading and grading and proudly giving her a well-deserved B. She was truly appreciative of that and told me that she had always considered me a fair and respectful officer and know she considered me a patient and caring teacher. That was the last class I had with Omay.
I was part-time and many of the students I had in the one class I taught, I never saw again. But for that one semester, Omay taught me that it’s never too late to change your life’s path.