All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island

Liza Jesse Peterson is a poet, actress and ex-model, a bohemian from Philadelphia, with an inspirational style and hard-nosed classroom control skills. All Day is her first book, about her year teaching a class of teenage boys full-time at Rikers Island after a few years as a visiting artist at the prison.

"I have quite a spirited group of drama kings, court jesters, flyboy gangsters, tricksters, and wannabe pimps all in my charge, all up in my face, to educate. Corralling this motley crew of bad-news bears to do any lesson is like running boot camp for hyperactive gremlins." Wild as the students are, she also sees them as confused children jailed as adults, with every reason to despair. Some work hard, some don't. She tries to give them fresh visions for their lives before they are released or sent to an adult prison. She is honest about her fears and mistakes, but her cultural understanding and experiences with teaching and performance serve her well. While preaching the gospel of education, she maintains order with her verbal fluency and rewards of music and magazines. An open letter from Obama in Vibe inspires an assignment to write back to him, and she includes several of the teens' letters here. Her work is ongoing, and she hopes to make a living from her art someday, but she makes a strong case for supporting creative sympathetic teachers for the most difficult students. "A little attention and compassion go a long way with a kid who's been ignored throughout his years at school and probably even at home. All kids want to be seen, heard, and encouraged, even the most thuggish of thug." --Sara Catterall

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