I was looking on youtube tonight for a video by one of my students and, for some reason, thought about Carlos Contreras, a slam poet and teacher from Albuquerque. I ended up finding a talk he did at TEDx ABQ several months ago. In the talk, Conteras, who teachers at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, talked about the power of poetry in our lives. More than that, though, he talked about how much he has learned from teaching at the jail.
Contreras’ presentation is not at all dry. He speaks with the same rhythm that marks his poetry. And it conveys strong emotion, just as his poetry does. The words are punctuated by his contagious smile at just the right moments.
The talk made me a little “homesick” for my old job. I miss my students. I learned so much about myself teaching at the prison. And I learned about prison. I learned about what the system does to people. I learned about the effects of a smile and a simple hello in an environment where people are treated as less than human.
In the TEDx ABQ talk Contreras talks about the importance of rehabilitation for incarcerated men and women. He talked about the role of education and of writing and other arts in that rehabilitation. Too bad many people have to wait until they are incarcerated to have access to any of that.
“What I’m getting at is that we’re more alike than many of us believe or want to imagine. Poetry, in that room, for one hour at a time, is painting us as simply human.”