Karyl's Reviews > True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall

True Notebooks by Mark Salzman
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Jan 24, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read from January 22 to 24, 2011

In True Notebooks, Mark Salzman gives a fascinating look at young men in LA's criminal justice system. Salzman goes to Central Juvenile Hall, where these boys have been locked up to wait for their trial or their sentencing, in order to teach a writing class. Most of them are there because they have killed someone. It's easy for the rest of us to dismiss them as callous monsters who made a conscious choice to take someone else's life, but Salzman does an excellent job of showing that most of these boys felt they had no choice. Few of these boys had fathers in the home, and those that did were usually abused or ignored by them. Most felt that the only family they had were the gangs they belonged to, and the only answer when you're in a gang is violence -- a point driven home during the trial and sentencing of one of his students. These boys pretty much have no chance at life when they're young, and when they enter the criminal justice system, they're there for the rest of their lives. Clearly there's something wrong here, but I have no idea how to fix it. Salzman did not turn his book into an indictment of LA's justice system, however; he simply presents the writings of his students and how they enjoyed the chance to write whatever they felt like, instead of submitting to yet another command. It's quite amazing to me how well some of these kids can write when they've probably never had a writing class before.

It becomes somewhat obvious that the time to rescue these kids is well before they end up killing someone on the rough streets of LA, but at the same time, we shouldn't turn our backs on those that did go down that road -- which is exactly what Salzman refused to do.
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Reading Progress

01/22/2011 page 15
4.0% "As we shook hands the alarm went off over the metal doors [of juvenile hall] again. The concrete monster opened its mouth and spat the police cruiser out. The boy was gone; he, I presumed, needed to be digested for a while before being shit into the adult prison system or puked back onto the streets."
01/23/2011 page 172
49.0% "The irony of it! A group of delinquent teenagers weighing the merits of smoking dope in jail--at the risk of adding more time onto their sentences--as opposed to accepting the psychotropic medications handed out by the nurses. The legal drugs, the boys felt, were too dangerous."

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