All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island
Will Liza Jessie Peterson pursue her passion as a creative artist or become a practical civilian able to pay her bills? Or can she work her dreams and skills together? In All Day, Peterson takes on a challenging role many would shun: teaching minority adolescent boys incarcerated at Rikers prison. Her students, “drama kings, court jesters, flyboy gangsters, tricksters, and wannabe pimps” are a chaotic mix of “rug rats” among whom anger frequently erupts, a behavior she knows masks pain. She brings her poetry to the classroom and music as a reward, sharing her love of writing, encouraging each kid to do his best.
Peterson cuts no slack, harmonizing the four-letter words with the message that education is a privilege, and anyone having to be kicked out of her room will recognize the loss. They’re kids, they did wrong, but always she recognizes how poverty, violence, and racism are fierce obstacles. She acts tough, but it is hard to keep on an even keel when an 18-year-old is murdered in his cell, a new teacher makes her “spidey-senses” tingle, and formal lesson plans make so little sense in a constantly volatile situation.
Like Peterson’s job, the book is not for sissies. It’s a powerhouse for the energizing, fluent writing and as a lesson in “there but for the grace of God…” for high school kids blessed to live in a more comfortable setting.
Liza Jessie Peterson