True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall

True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall

by Mark Salzman

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In 1997 Mark Salzman, bestselling author Iron and Silk and Lying Awake, paid a reluctant visit to a writing class at L.A.’s Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for violent teenage offenders, many of them charged with murder. What he found so moved and astonished him that he began to teach there regularly. In voices of indelible emotional presence, the boys write about what led them to crime and about the lives that stretch ahead of them behind bars. We see them coming to terms with their crime-ridden pasts and searching for a reason to believe in their future selves. Insightful, comic, honest and tragic, True Notebooks is an object lesson in the redemptive power of writing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307429841
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/18/2007
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 404 KB

About the Author

Mark Salzman is the author of Iron & Silk, an account of his two years in China; Lost in Place, a memoir; and the novels The Laughing Sutra, The Soloist, and Lying Awake. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the filmmaker Jessica Yu, and their daughter, Ava.

Read an Excerpt


Mr. Jenkins unlocked the bolt and pushed the steel-frame door to K/L unit open with his shoulder.

"Look who's back. Nice trip?"

"Very nice." I had just returned from my sister's wedding in Connecticut. "Did we lose anybody while I was gone?"

"Paulino's in the Box, but he'll be back."

"Hey Mark! Whassup?"

Three of the boys in my juvenile hall writing class were already in the library, their folders and notepads spread out on the table. Toa, a seventeen-year-old Samoan with a linebacker's build, stepped forward and gave me a hug. "So you bring us any maple syrup, or what?" he asked.

"Maple syrup?"

"I know 'bout that 'cause a watchin' Mr. Rogers when I was a kid."

Raashad's eyes opened wide. "You seen that show too?"

"Every kid seen that show, fool. Nothin' else to do in the mornin' 'cept break toys an' shit."

"Yeah, I was always like, where that neighborhood at? Nobody got drunk or beat his ass or nothin'."

"Yeah," Toa said, "but check it out: that show be fake. Know how I figured it out? People always be walkin' in and outta his door and he never locked it. He'd'a had all his shit jacked if it was real."

"Yeah! Homies be like, 'It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood--now gimme that train set, fool.'"

"So how was your sister's wedding?" Antonio asked me as I handed out pencils.

"Beautiful. Perfect weather, too."

"Any fights break out?" Toa asked.

"At the wedding?"

"Nah, at the reception."

"No, no fights. Where are the rest of the guys?"

"The chapel. They got some kinda meditation retreat over there this morning. Could you gimme another pencil, Mark? This one don't got no eraser."

Toa frowned. "'Cause you bit it off, fool. I just seen you."

"I didn't bite nothin' off. It was already gone, I was just chewin' on the metal part."

"I went to that meditation thing once," Antonio said. "I went 'cause I heard the instructor was this hot female, but then I got there and it was some bald guy in a robe playin' a harmonica. Fuck that."

Raashad checked the eraser on his new pencil, then said, "Yeah, you suppos'ta close your eyes an' picture yourself goin' down some stairs into your workshop in the cellar where you got all yo' tools."

"Your tools?"

"Yeah, 'tools for life.'" Raashad rolled his eyes. "You suppos'ta choose what tools you need and put 'em on your belt, like you some kinda superhero. First of all, I say to myself: What nigga you know got a workshop? What nigga you know got a cellar? Right off I knew this shit ain't for me."

We joked around for a while, talked about a former class member who had just been sentenced to fifty years to life, then the boys settled down to write. After forty minutes, when they had all written something, I asked who would like to read aloud first.

"Let Carter start," Antonio said. Although I addressed them by their first names, the boys followed the example of the staff and referred to each other by last name only. "Carter got some good news last week."

Raashad nodded, propped his notepad on one knee, and read:

At about 2:33 a.m. the night staff came to my door and unlocked it. The sound of the key turning woke me up immediately, that sound always wakes me up alarmingly. The staff said, "Hey Carter, get up." I said, "Man what the hell." He said telephone. The first thing I thought was it was the police telling me someone in my family was dead. As I'm walking to the phone my heart was beating extremely hard like if you could see it beating through my shirt. When I picked up the phone I was relaxed by the sweet soothing sound of my companion and fiance Amika telling me she just gave birth to a little girl. The feeling inside me was indescribable. It was amazing, she said she weighed in at 8 lbs 4 oz. I felt so happy my body felt so numb. I was astounded by the information I had just received. I feel so great. Ever since that day I've been happy and just waiting to see her. I heard her giggle on the phone the feeling was great. I can't wait until the day when I can hold my daughter.

"Congratulations," I said.

He half smiled. "I'm pretty excited about it. I just pray to God I win my case so I can get out soon."

Toa volunteered to read next, promising to take everyone's mind away from prison and back to the freedom of "the outs."

My family weddings are cool and all but my family can't get along. During the wedding it's cool and all but the party that's after it ain't nothin' nice. It's like warfare. As soon as they down a few cases everybody all of a sudden feels like Superman. For example my cuzzin's wedding was beautiful, everything's going smooth, even the party until my brothers showed up. Apparently my brother had shot one of the groom's cuzzins and he was paralyzed. And the best man was that fool's older brother. They weren't trippin' but my brother was. He banked the best man up on the dance floor in front of everybody. People was already drunk and shit so they start jumpin' in wanting to scrap too. My stupid ass cuzzin threw a chair in the crowd and it hit this old man. Everybody stopped right then and there because the old man was the priest. The priest's son started trippin' so we fucked that punk up in the parking lot. That's why I kinda hate family weddings.

As promised, the essay took Raashad's and Antonio's minds off their surroundings. They compared stories of family gatherings that had turned into brawls until we had only five minutes left for class, then Antonio read last.

I am lying in my room incarcerated at Central Juvenile Hall looking at the white painted walls in my room, and how my door is shut with a steel bolt lock to show that I am locked up. It's weird but this room relates to my life I once lived outside, over the walls laced with barbed wire. I was locked in a world where nothing would come in and nothing would go out. I was trapped in my gang life, that's all I knew and all I wanted to know. I chose to stay in my room and not let anybody control me. I had too much pride to open my door and let somebody in. I neglected the people who really cared about me, my family and my loved ones. Sure, at the time it was all fun, but was the consequences really worth it? To me, no, but I was the steel bolt that kept myself from realizing that the world is a lot bigger than a room (my gang). There are a lot more things out there than your homies and homegirls. Don't get me wrong, I got love for them, but how are you going to be with people that are holding you back from blossoming and showing your full potential? I now realize how precious life really is. It's too bad that I am probably never going to be able to show the world what I have to offer. As I sit in my room thinking what would have happened if I would have opened my door and not just stayed in my room.

"This is why we get into so many fights around here," Raashad said. "You don't wanna be thinkin' shit like that, it's too depressing, so you start somethin' with your roommate, and before you know it you both be poundin' on each other till you fall asleep. It's a distraction."

Mr. Jenkins tapped on the glass, letting us know it was time for the boys to return to the dayroom for lunch. Meanwhile, the inmates who had attended the meditation retreat were just returning. They shuffled across the yard single file with their hands clasped behind their backs and most of their heads bowed forward. When everyone had come inside and the door to the unit was closed, one of the boys crossed the dayroom to say hello to me.

"How you doin', Mark? We missed you."

"I missed you, too, Santiago. It's good to be back."

"Sorry about not comin' to class today. I wanted to try meditation, see if it could make me relax."

"How was it?"

"It kinda sucked. The instructor was a guy."

"But you look happy," I said.

"I am happy! Something good happened to me today, Mark." Santiago grew serious for a moment. "I been feelin' really stressed 'cause I started trial last Friday. This morning the chaplain saw me and he asked me what was wrong. I said, 'I feel like a piece of shit stuck under somebody's shoe.' I told him how I had to hear the prosecutor say all this bad stuff about me in front of everybody. It was the worst day of my life. My whole family was there. I felt like I let everybody down. So the chaplain looks at me an' he puts his hand on my shoulder like this, an' he says, 'Diaz, you gotta remember something: You are somebody. Don't ever forget that.' So I thought about it, and I realized--damn, he's right! Nobody could take that away from me. I am somebody! I--"

"Diaz, get your ass over here so we can eat."

Santiago glared at the messenger and gave him the finger. The messenger pointed at Santiago and yanked his hand back and forth to simulate masturbation. The two boys exchanged threatening looks until honor had been restored, then Santiago turned his attention back to me.

"What were we...?"

"The chaplain," I said.

"Oh yeah! I am somebody," he said once more, grinning this time. "Somebody awful!"

2 .
Just Say No

When I can't make up my mind about something, I start a notebook. I use it to think aloud; I fill it with questions, arguments, and reassuring cliches. My notebook from August 1997 read:


--students all gangbangers; feel unqualified to evaluate poems about AK-47s --still angry about getting mugged in 1978 --still angry about having my apartment robbed in 1986 --still angry about my wife's car being stolen in 1992 --wish we could tilt L.A. County and shake it until everybody with a shaved head and tattoos falls into the ocean --feel uncomfortable around teenagers

On the next page, I wrote:


--have never seen the inside of a jail --pretended to be enthusiastic when Duane mentioned it

The trouble started after I mentioned to Duane Noriyuki, a friend and writer for the Los Angeles Times, that I was having problems with my novel about a cloistered nun. "What kind of problems?" he asked. I didn't want to reveal the full extent of it: the plot had collapsed, the main characters seemed lifeless, the dialogue rang false, I had lost sight of the theme, and the setting felt wrong--so I limited myself to telling him about Carlos. Carlos was a minor character in the story, a juvenile delinquent with a terminal illness. Although I had given Carlos tattoos and a bald head, he failed to impress my editor. She thought he needed a personality. And "please please please," she urged in one of her notes, "give him a different name."

Los Angeles is the youth gang capital of the world, so I figured Duane must have had to write about them at some point. I asked if he could recommend any good books about juvenile delinquents that I could use for research. He thought about it, then answered, "Not really."

I figured that was the end of that, but then he said, "But I volunteer down at juvenile hall twice a week. I teach a writing class there. If you'd like to come down and visit sometime, the guys could tell you more than any book."

I didn't respond immediately; I wanted him to think I was giving it serious thought. Then I asked, "Are you sure you can't recommend any books?"


--Jack Henry Abbott/Norman Mailer debacle. Who cares if thugs write well? They're still thugs. --Crime victims don't get free writing classes, why should the criminals? --I gave free readings for the L.A. Library and Planned Parenthood this year, I did my bit.

And then there was my deep-seated prejudice against writing classes. I taught creative writing once; at the end of that semester I vowed never to put the words "creative writing" and "class" together in the same sentence again. During our first meeting, a female student read aloud a nonfiction piece about the day her mother discovered her father had been having an affair. As she came to the part of the story where her mother, driven hysterical with anger, scratched her father's face and drew blood, the memory was so painful that she burst into tears and barely made it to the end. When she finished, an uncomfortable silence hung over the room. I was the teacher; it was my job to think of something to say that acknowledged her grief but kept the focus on writing. Should I compliment the way she made the scene more immediate by putting it in the present tense? Should I praise her use of dialogue without tags, i.e., how she always managed to keep the two voices distinct through style and context?

"I have no idea what you're--"


"You're not letting me--"


Before I could decide what to say, a shrill male voice rose out of the silence:

"Your mother scratched your father's face just because he was having an affair?"

The man who was to make the next three months a living hell for me--a middle-aged adult education student who wrote stories about middle-aged adult education students living in Japan who discover love with underage, gender-unspecified Asians with skin like bean curd milk and hands like lotus buds--rolled his eyes and hissed, "She sounds like a real bitch to me."

The class was supposed to run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., but I concluded that meeting at seven-thirty, went out to the parking lot, and hyperventilated in my car.

Most of the students were taking the class because they needed a minimum number of English credits to graduate. They turned in handwritten assignments on paper torn out from spiral notebooks; they came in late and wandered out of class early; they wrote about dogs that could water-ski, memorable hangovers, and the true meaning of love:

I'm there for you And your there for me Our beatiful baby Makes three.

The student who wrote the poem about her beatiful baby was a senior, one semester away from her goal of becoming a public school teacher. I asked if, in her next draft, she could perhaps tell us more about her baby. Describe the baby, tell us how the baby is beautiful, make us see the baby--avoid generalizations, be specific. She shrugged and said, "I don't have a baby."

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True Notebooks; A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
ClaRitySpeaks More than 1 year ago
True Notebooks is the story of high-risk offenders in LA's Central Juvenile Hall exposing their vulnerable selves in a writing class. This one opportunity to share their thoughts literally gives the few who attend room to breathe and a window to the sky instead of a tenebrous 10 by 12 cell abutting a brick wall. For their efforts, the prisoners unearth pain and fear and find joy and understanding. Salzman pens the sojourn without pity, emitting the raw energy of these prisoners, showing through his eyes and their voices that they are like so many teenagers we know.they think about girls incessantly, they clown around, they make mistakes, they have yet to discover their true selves. The author moves through scenes with dexterity as he shares his journey­ in a world not his own while contextualizing the stories of his students for whom life is a sentence not an abstraction and endings are rarely happy. Read True Notebooks and remember that life is less black and white but so many shades in between.
iifym_fred More than 1 year ago
True notebooks is not only an inspiring book but also an uplifting reading experience. This novel is very similar to the movie "Stand and Deliver". Except in the novel, Mark Salzman teaches a group of inmates about writing. The books contains several writing pieces created by the teens. Whenever I read the stories that the inmates created, It felt so real, I felt like I was there in the room hearing them talk. My favorite part of the book is that the teens weren't afraid to express their true feelings. They let aside their "tough" appearance to write about how they really felt inside, weather it was being sad, angry, or happy. This book lets you explore their minds, how they really feel. Especially because their essays are unedited. It changes your perspective on young criminals. You'll end up hoping for the best for the inmates in this novel. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who is curious about how a young criminal really feels inside. To me, True Notebooks was definitely a lesson. It made me become more grateful about life. About the things I have, the people I get to see everyday. Just the fact that I have the opportunity to wake up in a regular house, not in a cell with four white walls. I’d recommend this books for anyone, but specifically teenagers who are having trouble trying to appreciate the small things in life. This book will make you value life, school, and family a lot more. 
47fred More than 1 year ago
True notebooks is not only an inspiring book but also an uplifting reading experience. This novel is very similar to the movie "Stand and Deliver". Except in the novel, Mark Salzman teaches a group of inmates about writing. The books contains several writing pieces created by the teens. Whenever I read the stories that the inmates created, It felt so real, I felt like I was there in the room hearing them talk. My favorite part of the book is that the teens weren't afraid to express their true feelings. They let aside their "tough" appearance to write about how they really felt inside, weather it was being sad, angry, or happy. This book lets you explore their minds, how they really feel. It changes your perspective on young criminals. You'll end up hoping for the best for the inmates in this novel. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who is curious about how a young criminal really feels inside. 
Fl0 More than 1 year ago
Great book, it'll leave you wanting to know more about the students. Pretty sad at thee end recommend it to the high school group and above. Ir's an easy read
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an absolutely riveting read. Took me one plane flight--and I don't usually read much on planes. The boys are marvellously rendered--often simply by giving room for their writing. Indirectly this book says more about why writing should be a big part of EVERY child's life than any curriculum guide you'll ever find.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although the language was at times crude I absolutely loved this book. It made me see that just because you wear an orange suit that says INMATE on it doesn't mean that you can think for yourself. I love the examples of writing presented from the boys in the K/L unit. This book was very heartfelt and by far one of the best books I've read over the summer.
karriethelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Inspiring and eye-opening.
Djupstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very interesting project. It is kind of like Freedom writers, but with juvenile offenders. It proves that there are no "hopeless" cases. Funny at times, tragic throughout.
tibobi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to be honest, True Notebooks is not a book I would have picked up on my own. As far as childhoods go, mine was pretty rough. There were lots of opportunities for me to give-in to my surroundings, to let the environment dictate the type of life that I would live down the line, but for whatever reason, I chose not to go that route. I made a choice.For this reason, I was not excited about True Notebooks. Reading a bunch of essays written by juvenile delinquents that are being tried for murder? Not my cup of tea but I dug in and read a chapter or two and before too long I was hooked.Mark Salzman was writing a book on nuns and was completely stuck. His friend suggested that he visit L.A.'s Central Juvenile Hall because there was a nun there by the name of Sister Janet Harris that ran a writing program for the inmates. Perhaps he could talk to her about her experiences as a nun, and the writing would begin to flow more easily. Mark could also sit in on one of the writing classes he teaches, just to experience the program. Reluctantly, Mark makes the visit. What he finds there, so moves him, that he decides to teach his own writing class and quickly becomes an active part of the Inside Out Writers program, offering classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays to the male inmates of the K/L unit.True Notebooks is a collection of Salzman's thoughts as he struggles to gain their acceptance. Each chapter includes samples of the writing which is unaltered except for the spelling and punctuation suggestions made by Salzman. For this reason, there is profanity and crude dialogue but as the reader gets to know each boy through his writings, the language used, loses its punch. I learned not to pay too much attention to it.As the students learn about themselves through their writing, Salzman also grows as a human being. Since many of the inmates in the K/L unit are being tried for murder, they are often transferred to County once they are old enough, or transferred to prison once sentenced. Since their outcomes are often bleak, Salzman had many opportunities to wonder about these questions: What are the values of a positive experience if it is only temporary? How do you weigh the advantages against the disadvantages of affection, or as aspiration? His answer, "A little good has got to be better than no good at all."Here's a brief passage of one of the student entries:"Deep down inside, this angry person awakens. Another day facing perpetual incarceration behind no mercy walls, as we are inmates.Deep down inside this angry person there is an image of a rejoiceful person who's facing perpetual incarceration behind no mercy walls. Just like your fellow inmates, as you think about the happiness in the past you'll like to shout out for mercy upon your life. But living in darkness for so long, you are taught not to express certain emotions. The voice no one hears is the voice that yells out for freedom in the mind of a forbidden child."After reading this book, I do feel as if I am more understanding to youths that have been dealt a tough hand. They had choices, but without role models they often made the wrong choice. Even though I did not have strong parental role models growing up, I did have the kindness of strangers that touched me and taught me how to be a good person. Many of these boys did not have that.I'm so glad I decided to read this book and I will be recommending it to the panel come our meeting in January.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mark Salzman is one of the authors I'd have never found on my own. He is unusual in that he writes both fiction and nonfiction equally well. True Notebooks opens with Salzman having trouble with a character in a novel he's writing. Almost before he realizes it, he somehow finds himself teaching a class to a group of teenage boys in a juvenile detention facility. All the boys are under age seventeen and all are facing murder charges. Though Salzman is at first apprehensive, he is amazed at the quality of the boys' writing. Last November, I carefully set So Many Books, So Little Time aside, to be saved for my first read of 2004. But I picked up True Notebooks late on New Year's Eve and couldn't put it down till I finished it on January 1st.
Laurenbdavis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like Mark Salzman, and liked his novel LYING AWAKE very much. This book is a memoir of the year he spent teaching creative writing in a juvenile detention center. He is candid and honest about his fears and concerns going into the project, and watching his prejudices melt away is quite fascinating, as the reader can't help be identify with the emotional ride. Where the book is less strong, in my opinion, is in the writing from the actual students, which takes up probably a third of the book. I understand Salzman wanting to 1) give these boys a voice and 2) reveal something of the boys' interior landscapes. The problem is the writing is repetitious after a while, and since it isn't very good (although some does have undeniable impact) it begins to feel tedious. Salzman's portraits of the boys themselves, as well as those of a fiercely activist nun, and several surprisingly sympathetic staff members, is much more rewarding, and poignant.
livebug on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't think True Notebooks, wherein Mark Salzman teaches a writing class to kids in youth-prison awaiting trials mostly for murder, really breaks any new ground. Guess what -- the kids in his class really want to learn, and in their hearts they are still kids, no matter what they've done, and their writing is deeply moving and echoes the harrowing losses they've already experienced and the fear of what's to come. But wow, was it ever inspirational. For one, it made me want to parent my own child better -- live up to my own responsibilities and be an adult, which in many cases seemed to be all these kids originally needed. Plus it was really funny in parts. Delinquent kids can lay down some freestyle rap!
sumariotter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book really moved me. What makes it so moving is the spare, unsentimental way Mark Salzman tells the story. I haven't read any of Salzman's other books but I see mention of Zen in a couple of the titles. This does not surprise me at all, because there Salzman is such a clear observer. This is the kind of book that makes you want to get involved, somehow, anyhow in prison reform/outreach. I highly recommend it.
missmel58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mark Salzman paints a vivid and engaging portrait of the young men with whom he works in California Juvenile Justice System. The violent offenders come alive and appear endearing, with the stroke of his pen. Salzman approaches his subject matter with his readers in mind; he appears to be aware that we will agree with his father in thinking that perhaps this is a little insane and very unsafe. But by the time we arrive at Kevin¿s trial we are rooting for him. The project that the book presents, represents, Inside Out Writers remains successful in the Los Angeles area despite the fact that most of the adolescents the program works with are violent offenders with little hope of moving outside of the system. From a craft perspective, I did not expect to find the text engaging. I was impressed with Salzman¿s insertion of his personal notebook entries. He related his fears and hopes on a very intimate level. He kept his reader aware of his own ambivalence towards this project while never letting go of his desire to support these broken children in our society. The juxtaposition of these opposing feelings make the read profound and engaging. Throughout, Salzman reminds the reader that he understands his reader may think him irrational. He allows his reader to scrutinize him and make their own judgments about how rational or irrational this endeavor is. I have not read any of Salzman¿s other work, but would be surprised if he did not use this approach elsewhere it seemed such a natural fit to his writing style. He chose from what had to be depressing visits to a maximum security juvenile facility moments of brightness and humor. The Mr. Rodgers episode springs immediately to mind. In one small scene he conveys the painful past these young men have experienced as well as their tender years and jaded perspective on life. Salzman has a sharp eye and a keen wit ¿both of which served him well in the situation.
EricaKline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book, about a writing program given in Juvenile detention in Los Angeles, reminded me of the human side of "criminals".
Alirambles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book manages to be inspiring without anything resembling a happy ending. The kids Salzman works with are almost all awaiting trial or sentencing for murder. Salzman can't save them from that. But he can treat them with respect, he can teach them the joy and sorrow of writing from the heart, he can be someone they can count on to show up. Does it make a difference? Salzman doesn't claim that it did, except in his own life. But reading the words of these kids, both spoken and written, you have to believe that it made a difference to them, too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
tjtrigg More than 1 year ago
Salzman depicts young men, trying to find themselves through writing, though they are locked up. The novel is often humorous and always sincere. The dialogue is not forced it is natural, and sometimes sweet but extremely raw.  Salman's book contradicts stereotypes of  young people in Juvenile Hall. Their stories, are heart-breaking. However Salzman recognizing the reality of crimes they've committed.  The Narrator does a great job in creating the voices of the boys. The student's writings were incredibly honest, raw. Mark Salzman, who is "one of us", lead us the journey of discovery into the psyche of these gang members, and put human faces to the "monsters". The characters seem to come to life and you'll wish you knew what "they grew up to be".  It was a fantastic book and I really enjoyed reading it. 
AllTheStoriesAreTrue More than 1 year ago
I am graduating high school now and I still remember reading this book my freshman year. My English teacher at the time had this ongoing assignment where we had to continuously be reading a book. As soon as we finished one we had to start another one, and each day at the end of class she would give us time to write in our reading journals. I loved this because I read ALL the time anyways, but my point is this: one week she told us we had to read at least one NON fiction book. So I found "A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall" in my school library. I fell in love the with the book right away, from the way it is written, to the 'characters' and their sometimes hilarious sometimes thought provoking and touching banter. There's no other word to describe this book except perfect. The fact that it was nonfiction constantly blew my mind as I was reading it because it genuinely feels like you're reading a novel. I recommend this book for anyone, from teens to adults, to senior citizens. It really is a good read, and it is one that I will never forget the experience of reading. I thank my 9th grade English teacher for that assignment because it helped me discover that nonfiction can be just as wonderful, if not more wonderful fiction at times. It is now four years later and I have my next nonfiction read on my summer reading list: "When Elephant's Weep" by Jeffery Moussaieff. I cannot wait to crack it open! Give "A Writer's Year At Juvenile Hall" a chance and don't be intimidated by the fact that it is nonfiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the book True Notebooks by Mark Salzman. True Notebooks is about Mark Salzman who visited L.A.'s Juvenile Hall writing class. At the L.A. Juvenile Hall writing class, are teenage kids, many of them who were charged with murder. These boys write mostly about what led them to their crime and about the lives that they have behind bars. Throughout the book, these boys learn what they did wrong and try to believe in their future selves. One character from True Notebooks is Mark Salzman. He is the author of the book and also the main character of this book. He was the teacher of L.A.'s Juvenile Hall writing class. I would describe Mark as courageous and he changed people's lives with his class. He inspired his students to move forward with their lives and to start over. Another character from this book is Raashad who is one of the students in Mark's writing class. He is very honest when he writes papers about his life. Also he has a fiancé who had a little baby girl and hopes to be a part of her life very soon. Another character from this book is Kevin. Kevin regrets everything he did to get himself into Juvenile Hall. He takes his writing very seriously and is very compassionate about writing. "During difficult times, I think about freedom and what it really is. Some people say that I don't have freedom because I'm in jail but I have freedom and lots of it. I may not have as much as a person on the "outs," but I have enough to make life enjoyable. I can read and write or just sit back and do nothing. Back when black people were slaves they were killed of whipped severely for trying to educate themselves, and that right there helps me to recognize how much freedom I do have. I have spiritual and mental freedom. I can lay on my bed knowing I may never be physically free again, but the Lord allows me to be at peace and have that sense of freedom. Writing also helps me be free. I can create anything with my imagination, pencil, and paper, and before I know it I've created something that was in me the whole time, my pencil and paper just helped me let it out, freely." This passage was spoken by Kevin. I feel the passage I picked in this book is very important because it explains that even though these teenage boys are behind bars they still have freedom. Kevin was trying to make a poing that inside every good there's some bad, and inside every bad there's some good. Most teenage boys in this juvenile hall feel that their lives are over, but if you look at it in Kevin's perspective, you still have a chance to start over and do things right. I strongly agree with most points in this book because the writing class is making a point that everyone has freedom in their lives, even if others have a harder life to live. Also, there are no serious errors the author made in this book. And there are no new and unusual ideas. This book relates to my life and the lives of people I know because even though these teenage boys in the book are in jail, we have some of the same emotions they have and some of the same obstacles they have to deal with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
True Notebooks brings heart and sensitivity to a Los Angeles juvenile detention center. Author Mark Salzman uses compassion and honesty to describe his experience of teaching a writing class to a group of young men who were lost in the criminal justice system. Through their writing, the boys were able to express themselves and find peace amidst their anger and sorrow. As confined criminals, they could have easily been ignored and forgotten, but because of the Inside Out Writers program they were given a voice, as well as a chance to be heard. Throughout the book, you get to know each individual. Salzman personifies those who would most commonly be labeled as 'just a criminal.' Although each of the boys¿ stories are sad and disheartening, you find yourself applauding their efforts at redemption. True Notebooks is a must read and will open up your mind and your heart.