I’m trying to remember the last time that I read a book without a third-grade related motive. It’s been a while.

I checked out Mark Salzman’s True Notebooks yesterday from the library and finished it this morning. Salzman, an author living in Los Angeles, teaches (taught?) a writing “class” for teenagers confined in the Central Juvenile Hall in East L.A. The class wasn’t so much a technical exercise for the students as it was a shot at experiencing something beyond the gang life that typically led his tried-as-an-adult students to incarceration. The book was good. Written as “a work of nonfiction, but not of journalism” (author’s note), the book is an unvarnished look at the life of incarcerated teen offenders (with murder being the prevalent crime). It’s not a work I’ll recommend for my daughters (the language is enough to make a former Marine wince), but it does provide a glimpse into the lives of young men deemed by the justice system to be reprobate and beyond short-term rehabilitation.

I think that Salzman’s goal for the work is to show that a mistake (though I realize–as does the author–that murder isn’t just a “mistake.”) committed by a youth doesn’t always require 45 to life to move beyond it. Salzman doesn’t provide an answer (he does recognize the price paid by the victim) but he does provide something to think about. He also inspires his readers to do something, even if the effort seems inconsequential.

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