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

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

by Liza Jessie Peterson


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A behind-the-bars, personal glimpse into the issue of mass incarceration via an unpredictable, insightful and ultimately hopeful reflection on teaching teens while they await sentencing.

Told with equal parts raw honesty and unbridled compassion, All Day recounts a year in Liza Jessie Peterson's classroom at Island Academy, the high school for inmates detained at New York City's Rikers Island. A poet and actress who had done occasional poetry workshops at the correctional facility, Peterson was ill-prepared for a full-time stint teaching a full GED curriculum program for the incarcerated youth. For the first time faced with full days teaching the rambunctious, hyper, and fragile adolescent inmates, "Ms. P" comes to understand the essence of her predominantly Black and Latino students as she attempts not only to educate them, but to instill them with a sense of self-worth long stripped from their lives.

"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," Peterson discovers. "Corralling this motley crew of bad-news bears to do any lesson is like running boot camp for hyperactive gremlins. I have to be consistent, alert, firm, witty, fearless, and demanding, and most important, I have to have strong command of the subject I'm teaching." Discipline is always a challenge, with the students spouting street-infused backtalk and often bouncing off the walls with pent-up testosterone. Peterson learns quickly that she must keep the upper hand-set the rules and enforce them with rigor, even when her sympathetic heart starts to waver.

Despite their relentless bravura and antics-and in part because of it-Peterson becomes a fierce advocate for her students. She works to instill the young men, mostly black, with a sense of pride about their history and culture: from their African roots to Langston Hughes and Malcolm X. She encourages them to explore and express their true feelings by writing their own poems and essays. When the boys push her buttons (on an almost daily basis) she pushes back, demanding that they meet not only her expectations or the standards of the curriculum, but set expectations for themselves-something most of them have never before been asked to do. She witnesses some amazing successes as some of the boys come into their own under her tutelage.

Peterson vividly captures the prison milieu and the exuberance of the kids who have been handed a raw deal by society and have become lost within the system. Her time in the classroom teaches her something, too-that these boys want to be rescued. They want normalcy and love and opportunity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781455570928
Publisher: Center Street
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 343,692
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

LIZA JESSIE PETERSON has worked with incarcerated youth-both male and female-in various capacities for twenty years as a teaching artist, poet-in-residence, NYC Board of Education full-time GED teacher, re-entry specialist, outreach coordinator, and most recently as a program counselor with the NYC Department of Corrections. She appeared on two seasons of HBO's groundbreaking Def Poetry and was featured in Ava Duvernay's critically acclaimed film The 13th. Her one-woman stage play, The Peculiar Patriot, toured in more than thirty-five penitentiaries across the country and the full production premiered in New York at the National Black Theater in 2017 and received an Agnes Gund Art for Justice Fund grant. Liza is a writer, actress, speaker who lives in Brooklyn.

Table of Contents

Foreword Abiodun Oyewole ix

Introduction xi

1 Summer Substitute 1

2 Sizing Me Up 8

3 I Got This, Not 25

4 Danny Gunz 43

5 One, Two, Poof 62

6 Rug Rat Roll Call 83

7 Africa Prince tha Don 94

8 King Down 114

9 This Is Some Bullshit 143

10 Artist vs. Civilian 171

11 Paradigm Shift 188

12 The Hardest Part 193

13 MoMo and Friends 203

Afterword 231

Acknowledgments 237

Rikers Rug Rat Slang 239

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All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
CisnerosCafe More than 1 year ago
Poets and educators are among the most underrated professionals of my time. I've seen firsthand what a poet educator can do for a group of teenagers eager to expand their conscious and their place as children of color in our public school system. "There must be a better way to raise our youth among us who have gone astray than to warehouse them in penal institutions throughout the land" (Peterson). Liza Jessie Peterson doesn't mince words or play subtle when it comes to her testimony on teaching incarcerated boys in All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island. Her activism is at the heart of her novel. We meet boys like Tyquan, Danny Gunz, Leaky, and others as she brings to light how young men of color are educationally and "culturally malnourished." Peterson argues that the curriculum is not relevant, antiquated, and stale. I, along with the boys, learned that Malcolm X had five names. It was a history lesson for me and well-timed with date night. My husband purchased tickets for us to view a documentary on Malcolm X. I felt like the kids did in the classroom discovering new histories. It couldn't have been timed better. While Peterson's novel begins like the beginning of a conversation with a stranger - clean, repetitive, and lighthearted - she quickly moves into conversational writing. Peterson's use of curse words and "jail talk" make the novel rich in tone. It adds a depth that would not otherwise be felt if she had kept her tone clean and safe. She sings to my heart when she states the truth: "People who are paralyzed by poverty, racism, and lack of access to adequate educational resources and employment opportunities, and are depressed, are much easier to control and exploit in order to maintain a permanent underclass" (Peterson). And we must do better by our children. Sometimes we need someone to encourage our dreams. This is where the boys' "Nubian Queen, Ms.P" comes into their lives allowing them to dream outside of the bars where society has placed them. I recommend this book if you're comfortable with language which makes you uncomfortable. I challenge any educator or librarian to pick up this book and learn what it is "to show up, daily and consistently, for something greater than" yourself. I gave it three stars out of five because I wanted to hear more stories about the boys and I feel the book trailed off into another story in the end. I would purchase this book for my poet friends.