Bridging Unlikely Gaps      by    Ruth Utnage

“Hey bro, we make a good team” said my co-worker who 6 weeks ago hated my guts and because he hated me, I kinda hated him. I didn’t get crunchy with him for calling me “bro”, I just said “yeah, we’re gettin’ after it.”

This guy doesn’t like the trans community, or anyone in the LGBT family for that matter. He’d much prefer to smite my existence before acknowledging I have a legitimate place in this world. But all that was before COVID-19.

Several weeks ago we we’re an unlikely pairing on a project to make face masks. Both of us had ideas on how to make them in mass. My prototype and his came together with our boss and a few hours later our boss says to us “Listen up, you and you, your new job is to make these as fast as possible, you will make 15 of these masks per hour in that little room that will be locked most of the time.” There was no questions to ask from either of us.

Neither of us said a word to the other for the first 3 days, which both of us were just fine with. We were forced to work within just a few feet of the other and we did what any two people who despise one another would do in this situation, we got competitive. My job was to create face masks, his job was to sew on the strapping. So I began burying him in masks, just to rub him the wrong way.

Then he got fast, fast enough to keep up. Then I got faster. By the end of week one we were cranking out over 40 dozen a day, a far cry from our 15 per hour quota. By week two we were talking. Kids, family, marriages, divorces, politics…we actually had a lot in common, surprisingly. By the end of the week, we were joking around. We were so fast that it didn’t take long before we knew that we were acing this job. As a team, we’re good, very good.

Food in prison is sacred. When people share food, it always means something, always. I brought in a Swiss Roll, I opened the package and carefully removed one roll, leaving the other untouched by hands and set it next to him, a notion that only means acceptance in prison.

What a cool gap to bridge. Glad it happened.

With Love
Ruth Utnage

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“A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, then by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.” (“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire )