Dad or "Cigo" as he's called by his friends, is so smart that other inmates use him as a reference. "Let's go to Cigo University," they say when a dispute arises. Dad says besides his general wealth of knowledge, he carries around three books for such occasions:
When Dad was first incarcerated, he was put through a series of tests to determine his physical and mental health and intelligence. This helps the prison determine where an inmate should be permanently housed. Results were as I expected: He was physically fit, deaf and had an I.Q. of 157. Genius level.
Yet when I asked him about taking classes, he said he didn't qualify. He had failed the written English exam.
See, Dad writes in American Sign Language (ASL) which, is actually not a written language. ASL itself was based on French and, therefore, has a different sentence structure than English. If you were to read Dad's letters, you might think Dad is bordering on illiterate. Not so. He's simply trying to put his native, non-written language based on a foreign syntax into printed English. Pretty difficult, as you can imagine.
Learning that Dad had failed his written English test was no surprise. It made me think of an episode of Good Times, one of my favorite sitcoms as a kid. Set in the projects of inner-city Chicago, the show follows the Evans family's struggle to survive.
In one episode called "The IQ Test" the parents of their exceptionally bright son named Michael take issue with standardized testing.** While their argument has its flaws, the episode and its basic lessons stuck with me.
When Dad mentioned failing the written test I thought, "Couldn't they test him another way? Take his IQ into consideration? This is just like what happened with Michael on Good Times!"
Today, years later, Dad's parole has been denied. He has two years to work on himself to improve his odds for release, so I suggested he take classes. Maybe learn how to use a computer. He reminded me that he'd failed his tests 10 years ago and is unqualified.
"Why not take the test again?" I asked.
Dad's mischievous grin appeared and he signed, "Nah, I'll wait till I'm free and go to Kambri University."
He did teach me how to use tools, drive a stick-shift and roll a joint. I guess I can manage teaching him how to use the Internet, copy/paste, and clear his browser history of porn.
*If they still don't know the answer, they write to me. So, what does that make me? The Library of CONgress?
**The entire Good Times "The I.Q. Test" episode can be watched on YouTube, but here's the final part which includes Michael's parents confronting the nerdy test maker with their argument.