I spent a lot of Thanksgiving day reading a powerful and moving collection, Letters to My Younger Self, which was co-edited by Jayne Thompson and Emily DeFreitas. The book ... consists of letters written as part of an English class that Jayne taught at Graterford Prison; they are written from the perspective of the students giving advice to themselves at a younger age, or sometimes to their children or parents. I highly, highly recommend the volume. The letters are powerfully and beautifully written and set loose a wide range of emotions. You really get a sense of how the students have thought about what set them on the path they're on and how they'd try to redirect others. Many sometimes talk about the extraordinary violence of their pasts and they in no way are making excuses or minimizing their violence -- but you do get a powerful sense of the humanity of the authors, which I don't think often comes through in the academic writing about the prison system in our country.
Several of the letters particularly stuck in my mind -- one is about a child who received a dog (a pit bull, as it happens) for his eleventh birthday. He took the dog with him when he fought other children because it wouldn't run away -- as his friends did; and when he got in serious trouble a few years later and was sent away, his grandmother got rid of the dog. The last line of the letter is "when I realized the dog was gone for good, I realized my heart was gone, too."
Another letter is about life inside Graterford, where the writer observes a flock of canadian geese flying overhead. "Beauty knows no boundaries" is one of the writer's insights from this.