When Liza Jessie Peterson began teaching full days at Island Academy, the high school for inmates on Rikers Island, she encountered teenage boys who were daily “navigating a plethora of legal, emotional, and family issues while also facing the pressure of jail life.” This “cocktail of stress” made depression, rage, and disruptive behavior a common part of her classroom experience.
Peterson valiantly tried to control the students and stimulate their minds, even as she struggled with feelings of inadequacy as a teacher and combatted bitter disappointment and depressing exhaustion. Still, she grew to deeply care about the boys, celebrating their sparks of creativity, intelligence, and motivation.
As Peterson learned her students’ stories of abuse, abandonment, crime, violence, and pain, she realized that “the challenge is to not get caught up and stuck in their woundology.” She determined not to allow their wounds to define them. Her goal was to encourage them to believe that the choices they had made need not determine their futures.
Peterson’s narrative, which contains offensive language and religious and political views that might be a hindrance to some readers, provides a compelling, raw, insider’s view of prison and the lives of traumatized youth. All Day offers readers an opportunity to learn more about the lives of prisoners, for whom Jesus taught us to pray. (Center Street)