When author Mark Salzman is half-cajoled, half-tricked into leading a creative writing course at a Los Angeles' Central Juvenile Hall, a prison for the city's most violent teenage offenders, he is full of apprehensions. Initially, he feels little sympathy for gangsters and criminals, and is not sure what he, as a successful white man from Connecticut, can say to connect with a group of boys from the LA ghettos.
His class begins with a group of four boys, but soon grows to almost unmanageable numbers; every student wants to bring along a friend or cellmate who is interested in writing. With simple prompts from Mark, the inmates write about their life experiences, thoughts, and fears through memoir, fiction, and poetry (excerpts of their work is quoted at length). Even though he knows that most of his students have been accused of murder and may spend the next few decades in prison, Mark finds many reasons to persevere. He grows to understand and care about the boys in his workshop, even to the point of attending a trial and offering to serve as a character witness.
This report prepared by Jacqueline West