SOL: BAD … but not to the bone.

We’re reading BAD, a YA novel by Jean Ferris about a sixteen year-old girl who, after a series of unwise choices, winds up in reform school. (Only, they don’t call it ‘reform school’ these days, and I don’t have any idea what they do call it because I’m really just too far out of that loop.) It’s a great book, and the class is into it, even the students who I know have always been good-good-good and can’t imagine being anything like Dallas, the main character.

Tonight we were talking about the rules at the GRC, the Girls Rehabilitation Center. (Can that really be what reform school is called nowadays? It just doesn’t pack the same punch. Oh. Maybe that’s the point? Hmm …) There are a lot of rules at the GRC:

No arguing, no insulting anyone, no talking in the halls, no profanity, no talking about our crimes, present or past, no touching, no food in the rooms, no sharing food at meals, no letters to people in penal institutions, no guns or glue or aerosol cans, no alcohol or gum or Satanism.

And that’s just a sampling. Everyone agreed they didn’t want to have to live with so many restrictions. “They might as well send her to jail,” Tariq said. Josefina argued that it was jail, that it needed to be harsh. “They don’t want her to think it’s nothing to come back there, right? And she’s only there for six months, anyway.”

Six months. There’s strong feeling in the group that Dallas didn’t get nearly enough time. I’m not surprised: when we did our predictions after the first chapter, the consensus was that she’d get three to five years, so her six-month sentence continues to be a thorn. The class is convinced that any of them — with the possible exception of Laila, Jamila and Haila — would have been slapped with a much stiffer penalty.

I say six months sounds plenty long enough to me, that it would feel like six years. Haidar agrees. “When I was in the bookings, it felt like a year,” he says. “And how long was it really? ” “A day.” Ok, yes, we all laughed at that, but then he went on to tell us almost hour by hour what his experience was like being held for a day. And then it wasn’t so funny.

“That six months is no joke,” Desirée said, and everyone nodded. Yeah, six months of lock-down? Six months of having to be searched every time someone from the outside comes to visit? Six months of not being allowed to touch another person? Right. I am officially scared straight!

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5 thoughts on “SOL: BAD … but not to the bone.

  1. So great Stacie,
    To hear the voices of your students. This is a perfect reason to be writing regularly, to capture the moments of your teaching life and to include in your “book” .Seems like a great issue to revisit.
    Bonnie

  2. Thanks, Bonnie. This group is really opening up. It’s taken them a little longer than last term, but it’s been really interesting and fun to watch the transformation from a room of people who were placed in class together to a a group of people getting to know one another and forming a little community.

  3. juliebrock

    We read Twisted and were talking about punishment and had a similar conversation about consequences…I love the building of the community aspect of teaching – it is what brings me back every year.

  4. The power of literature is to bring its focus into your own life and it seems like that is happening here, whether the memories stirred are good or bad. In either case, it is powerful, it seems to me.
    Kevin

  5. Julie– I’ll have to look up Twisted … is it a YA book? The question of consequences for our actions is constant with this book, and it would be interesting to continue that conversation even after we’re finished with this novel. There’s so much that keeps teaching fresh for me, and the community-building part is definitely one of the important pieces. I love to see how students begin to rely on one another, how they embrace the ‘different’ student, how they learn from each other.

    Kevin– Yes, it seems powerful to me, too. The text-to-self connections the students make with a book like BAD are priceless. One of the things S, my supervisor and very good friend, said to me when she first started working in this program was that almost all of the kids had some kind of experience with the criminal justice system (deservedly or not). I had half forgotten that until I started teaching there last year and started hearing students’ stories. I think it’s interesting for them to find such strong similarities between their own lives and the work we read. I want them to read other works (you know, the classics and all), but for so many of them this is the first time they’re seeing themselves in the books they read for school, and that’s too valuable just now to set it aside for Shakespeare. I slip in some of the other stuff (especially during Nat’l Poetry Month), but they don’t resonate in the same way (yet) for my students.

    –Stacie

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