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Entry date: 2-20-2022 - Continuing the Path - Letter to My Friends

Dear Friends,

The department of health services was in charge of doling out VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) funds and Casa was receiving over $100,000 to do the POWER program in the early 2000s. We had a small team of four of us who would go out and do the sexual assault prevention program in junior high and high schools. I had started to become close to some of the people who were on the team and when they had an opening, I went for it.

By that time, I had learned a few things about going into classrooms, but working with teenagers was a whole new ball game. My boss, Judy, liked us to look very professional and when I started doing POWER, I would always get asked, “Are you a cop?” I’m pretty sure a number of students didn’t believe my answer and treated me with an obvious air of mistrust. This was a major drawback and I started getting a little more casual in my look. As I did this, the students started opening up to me a lot more and eventually no one said anything about it at the office.

I loved doing the POWER program. It gave me four or five days in the classroom with the students and I could get to know them a little bit. I have a gift for remembering student’s names so I would learn about who they were and get them talking as much as possible. This is when I realized that the best teachers are the ones who can get their students talking about the subject, whatever it is, and then just guide the conversation.

With POWER, we were talking about how to prevent rape. This is not an easy subject for adults to discuss, so imagine what it is like with 12–19-year-old people? Most of the time I was working with PE classes or Home Ec and they were a little bummed to be stuck with me, but I did my best to make it fun and interesting for them. It was a nice break for the teachers, too, and most were very appreciative.

I would start the week out by asking the students what made a relationship healthy after I had introduced myself and Casa and explained why I was there. The students would brainstorm a list and I would write everything they said on the board, even snarky comments which there always were a few. My goal was to get them to come up with Respect, Communication, Trust/Honesty, Boundaries, Equality, and Self-Esteem. Later, I added Responsibility and Empathy to the mix, too.

I would then go through what these words meant with the students, sometimes doing role plays with them if the group needed to move around a bit. I liked starting with healthy relationships because it gave me a base to work from and I could go back to the terms I listed previously throughout the week. I got to a point where I would leave them on the board all week so I could ask the students how they could avoid the other situations we would talk about as we went on.

Sadly, this was often the hardest discussion to have. I usually had to add a few things to the list they would come up with and I learned to challenge them to come up with at least ten things that would make relationships good for us, whether it was a friendship, family, or dating relationship. Some days it felt like I was doing a stand-up routine as I went through the lists they would come up with and I even toyed with the idea for a while of making it into a stand-up routine, but I never had the guts to give it a try.

Day two would be the other side of the coin and we would talk about unhealthy and abusive relationships. The brainstorming was easier and the lists of ideas they had were always longer than the healthy ones. My goal was to get them to discuss Miscommunication, (extreme) Jealousy, Controlling/Possessive behaviors, Low Self-esteem, Excessive Mood Swings, Violent Tempers, and Abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, and substance). If space permitted, I would have both the healthy and unhealthy lists side by side so the students could see the parallels and I would draw a double line between them and put the words “Tension” and “Frustration” within the lines.

I would tell the students that the main difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships is how people handle tension and frustration. I think they sometimes started to conclude that healthy relationship meant never having problems and that is simply not true. I made a point to tackle this as I got more experience under my belt. I wanted students to realize that everyone deserved a healthy relationship and could have one, even if they had never seen or been part of one.

These were an eye-opening couple days for the students and for me. One of the things I began to realize as I taught this program each week was that I was not in a healthy relationship and didn’t really know how to have one. That was a hard pill to swallow, and I started to really beat myself up about being a hypocrite every day. The kids would ask me about my relationships, and I would find myself lying to them when I talked about how things were between my ex-wife and me.

Those first years I was teaching POWER were the years she and I were married. I would have realizations daily that I was a fucking fraud. I hated feeling that way and it eventually became unbearable.

As I look back, I can see clearly how POWER saved my own life. Eventually, I did start to practice what I preached and, prior to meeting Rhondi, decided I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite any longer when it came to standing in front of the students. There was a lot of power in teaching POWER openly and honestly.

See you tomorrow.

Another image that doesn't relate to the story or does it? Portion of a photo by Rhondi.

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