I am about to book my third speaking engagement. It’s exciting to know that people are interested in hearing what I have to say, exploring my perspectives, and considering my solutions. But it is also humbling.
In letters I wrote to school districts and universities, offering to speak on the issue of unlawful teacher-student relationships, one specific point I was sure to make was, “These sessions are free of charge — payment for any speaking engagement will not be accepted.” And actually, some friends and family have questioned this decision to do these speaking engagements for free, at no cost, and often at a cost to myself. And it is difficult to describe specifically why I do not want to be paid for this, even though it’s my time, my efforts, my writing, my material, and my perspectives.
First of all, I never want it to be misconstrued that I am trying to make money off of my crime — I don’t, ever. But in all honesty, while that is an important reason regarding why I refuse to accept payment for a speaking engagement, it is not the paramount purpose for this decision.
Indeed, it is difficult for me to accurately relay why I am doing all this without any regard for profit or payment; so, like many things in the life of a movie buff (like myself), I suppose it can be best described by referencing one of my favorite films.
Perhaps it’s a bit cliche for a guy who spent time in prison to liken himself to Andy Dufresne, Tim Robbins’ character in The Shawshank Redemption, but there is really no better way to describe why I’m doing what I’m doing — and doing it for free.
There’s a scene in the middle of the film when the cons were tarring the roof of one of the prison buildings and one of the guards began to complain about paying taxes on the inheritance he was about to receive. And that was when Andy Dufresne, a former banker, makes a brazen suggestion. Watch…
The end of that scene makes perfect sense to me — now.
None of the cons were really sure why Andy did what he did, providing a service for the guard and getting some free beer for his fellow convicts, while accepting none of the proceeds in return — he never specifically says. But Red (played by Morgan Freeman) had his own theory as to why Andy did it.
“You could argue he’d done it to curry favor with the guards.
Or maybe make a few friends among us cons.
Me, I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while.”
-Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding
I love it when a movie says exactly what I’m thinking. It’s like going to church and hearing a sermon that feels like it applies exactly to what happens to be going on in life. It’s an existential reminder that everything in the universe is connected; it’s a humble reminder that none of us are the first ones to face the difficulties we face.
So, why am I giving these speeches? Why am I doing it all for free? Why do I flat-out refuse to accept payment for these speaking engagements?
Just to feel normal again.
When enough people, enough headlines, enough internet comments reiterate that I’m an evil person, it’s difficult to not take it to heart and even sometimes believe it. In reality, I really was a really evil person, really. And yet, the new life I’m living — the life I should have been living all along — is only defined in the context (or the shadow) of what I’ve done in the past. I am not a teacher who had a relationship with a student — not now. But I will always be the teacher who had a relationship with a student. Make sense? The past is gone; the stigma remains.
The evil I’ve done is irreparable. And as much as my friends and family try to convince me otherwise, I continue to carry the guilt of that with me every minute of ever day. However, knowing I cannot change the past, I also know that I can actively change the future.
The other day, I was talking to a guy I did prison time with and I was telling him about the book I’ve completed and the speaking engagements I’m slated to give. And he said to me, “You know, a lot of guys in prison talk a lot of shit and say, ‘When I get out, I’m gonna do this or that,’ but you’ve actually done it! I’m proud of you!”
There are plenty of people in the world who can see that I’m a good person now, nothing like I was when I committed my crimes. However, while their faith in my new-found goodness is appreciated, I often don’t share it — not because I think I’m the same evil person, but because I can’t let go of the guilt, the shame, and the self-hatred. But every time I am given the opportunity to speak to a group, to help prevent current and future teachers from making the choices I made, it honestly makes me feel just a little more human — a little more normal — again.
I’m doing this because it needs to be done. I’m doing this to make my loved ones proud. I’m doing this to change the future of teachers who might otherwise make those same choices I made.
I’m doing this — just to feel normal again.