Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite.
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Jane Guttman has taught incarcerated teens for decades. In Kids in Jail, she shares stories of some of the youth she has met over the years. Her approach is to take their thoughts and turn them into poem-type narratives. Thus, in Guttman’s own words, she has “used creative license in an effort to represent [particular students of hers] from . . . the countless youth who . . . endure these conditions.” In her words, she does this “not to speak for, but rather to give voice to, them, and to their experiences.” So, at times, Guttman shares the experience of a hopeful youth. (“See, I didn’t know when I was on the streets that I had gifts. I didn’t know. I learned about that in book club.”). Other times, she shares insight from one beyond hope. (“Not gonna be a teacher, or a dad or a doctor or firefighter, or tattoo artist. Gonna be an inmate.”) Guttman’s common theme is to illustrate the agony that many young ones contend with in the facilities in which they live, and the abusive manner in which some of the “professionals” responsible for them, approach their jobs. Essentially, she intends to present how necessary reform is to the current system, so that more youth do not fall victim to its cruelties and inadequacies.
The presentation Jane Guttman provides in Kids in Jail, is not scholarly in the sense of including information about statistics, or of what happens when/if a correctional officer is found to have crossed the line. (Indeed, I would have found such information very enlightening.) If a reader is looking to understand how frequent the events she tells of, occur, this is not the resource. But whether it is one youth that is hosed down, ignored while suicidal, or bullied by other youngsters at the behest of the “correctional officers,” or if it is thousands, it is too many. For this reason, Guttman’s attempts to advocate for improvement on behalf of her students is laudable—and it is done in a manner that I found, at times, hauntingly beautiful
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