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Falling more in love with the power of words

Volunteer Michael Monarrez Puckett, who teaches an adult literacy class at Orange County Corrections on the mens side, shares his thoughts on teaching, vulnerability and the power of words.

As I write this, the day before Valentine’s Day, I reflect on an invigorated love for the power of words to have a profound impact on a person’s sense of self, hope, and place in the world. 

Over the last four weeks, I have walked into the Orange County Corrections Main Facility and navigated the halls to a brick room where I teach an adult literacy class on Monday and Tuesday mornings. I have spent 14 hours with a rotating roster of nine inmates that has led to a cluster of five individuals (for now) who have given me a new appreciation for literacy skills (reading, writing, speaking) that so many take for granted.

For my five current students–the Orator, the Philosopher, the Poet, the Listener, and the Scientist/Jester–I am more than a literacy instructor. To me, these individuals are more than just my students and by far more than just County inmates. They are also my teachers: instilling in me a sense of purpose and meaning that I have for many years sought in my own life. 

During our classes, we have read and written about various civil rights activists and influential people, including Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Medgar Evers, Gilbert Baker, Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, and more. We have read poetry, written stories about the people that have impacted our lives, and discussed countless topics from US history to interpersonal relationships to personal views on spirituality. 

Within the four walls of my classroom, I have witnessed connections made between individuals from different backgrounds who professed their initial hesitancy toward each other. I have heard stories of struggle and success and encouraging words shared between peers. I have seen compassion, respect, and understanding grow among the group–for each other and for themselves–united by an interest in learning. 

Within the four walls of my classroom, we are safe to explore the meaning of words, to reflect upon our thoughts, and to even speak on our feelings. For two hours twice a week, we are free to be ourselves, to share our vulnerabilities, to enjoy a sense of peaceful amity, and to even cry. Apart from a single instance where I was holed up in a security room for 30 minutes during a shakedown, it’s easy to forget that I’m inside a jail when we’re discussing our interpretations of the image of a still lake.

Today is a day that I don’t think I can ever forget. I am still in awe over the emotions that I find challenging to name. A man told me that in his 39 years of life, he has never been able to look at a stranger and call him a brother from another mother. Another man told me that he started writing again, filling 14 pages overnight with countless poems and story ideas. And yet another shared with me that he looks forward to our class all week and wished we could hold class everyday. 

I was overwhelmed by their gratitude and humbled by the opportunity that I’ve had over the last four weeks to bring about some change to their lives. I am also grateful to my class for affirming for me a heartfelt lesson about the significance of words (written, read, or spoken) to not only inform and entertain, but to also heal wounds, form bonds, stimulate learning, establish fellowship, and support community. 

Today has been a beautiful day to fall in love with words all over again. I look forward to falling in love with words tomorrow, the day after, and every day to come.


  1. Deborah 2 months ago February 13, 2024

    Michael is a wonderful writer ,You can certainly feel his love of words as he writes. So happy that teaching gives you the purpose and appreciation that we all need!
    Love, Mom

  2. Bertha garcia pulido 2 months ago February 14, 2024

    GOOD JOB MY SON PROUD OF YOU THat your taking time too help everybody that has the opportunity.For you help them


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