All Day

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


By Liza Jessie Peterson

Read by Liza Jessie Peterson

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ALL DAY is 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 workshops at the correctional facility, Peterson was ill-prepared for a full-time stint teaching in the GED program for the incarcerated youths. 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.



All Day is a tremendously powerful story of a warrior writer, Matrix Momma, beautifully bold and blessed sister who has an undying love for her people fueled by her passion to make a difference in the lives of Black youth in trouble. Liza Jessie Peterson has captured the essence, the humor, the intellect, and the psychology of the lives of young people (especially young Black men) trying to survive in the penal systems of America. Her narrative takes you to Rikers Island and into the classroom—into the minds and souls of some of our most precious treasures, the children. I was captivated by the characters. I could see them, smell their musk, feel their attitudes, and hear their voices to a point where I felt I knew them and would recognize any one of them if I bumped into them on the street.

Peterson's perspective and the insights and wisdoms she so powerfully shares will make any teacher a better teacher and any person a better person. It was a pleasure and very refreshing to know that there are real, live angels among us who are doing God's work, which is to bring out the God in each of us so in some way we can be a blessing to ourselves. Liza Jessie Peterson is a tall Amazon, caramel-brown, laser-eyed sister who also just happens to be very attractive. Her presence alone is positive and powerful. She presents herself in such a way that demands respect. Her words are sharp, witty, provocative, passionate, and Black. She is not afraid to show love in a way that is never misunderstood.

The stories, the characters, the talent, the conflicts, and the love are all there with a message: 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. The number of young Black men in jail is embarrassing. This country was built on the backs of many of these young people's ancestors. For them to be labeled as bad seeds or as incorrigibles destined to a life of crime speaks volumes about the shame and callousness America has shown its benefactors. All Day is a must-read for anyone who cares about children and believes in the possibilities that arise from affording them the opportunity to have the brightest of futures.

Abiodun Oyewole

Founding member of the Last Poets

Author of Branches of the Tree of Life


Most New York City transplants come to the Big Apple with a dream of doing something extraordinary. I first came to New York by way of Philadelphia with a dream of becoming a supermodel. I did the Paris–New York–Milan couture romp for several years, not achieving supermodel status, but I managed to walk the runway for some of the fashion industry's best designers. The luster and glam quickly lost its shine, as I found it unfulfilling to be judged solely on my looks. I was searching for my identity, my voice, my calling. Walking away from modeling, I decided to take a theater class and immediately felt alive and a spark was lit. I experienced an unshakable desire to express myself; I had something to say and it was through character that I discovered a passion for acting and journaling, which would quickly unveil my dormant poet and playwright. Both the stage and the page became a refuge for my creative spirit. I studied classical theater at Stella Adler and the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York and later with the legendary Susan Batson (acting coach for the stars). I took classes religiously, auditioned frequently, and landed several independent feature films. But it was at the renowned Nuyorican Poets Cafe in lower Manhattan that I would nurture my calling as a poet and playwright. I performed on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, on PBS's Between the Lions, and virtually all over New York wherever there was a mic reserved for poets. The poems evolved into monologues, which evolved into plays, and when I looked up I had a one-woman show under my belt with a second one gestating. When my sophomore solo show, The Peculiar Patriot, was born I performed it in more than thirty-five adult prisons around the country. From model, poet, and playwright to teaching in prison, this book is a testimony about my experiences once I stumbled upon teaching incarcerated boys as a full-time GED teacher at Island Academy, the high school for inmates detained on Rikers Island. Initially starting out as a teaching artist conducting poetry and creative writing workshops, I was merely looking for a steady job that would pay more than the poetry gigs, enabling me to pay my rent and get on my feet financially. It was supposed to be temporary, but a funny thing happened when passion met purpose, and so it's been eighteen years and counting that I've been working in multiple capacities with incarcerated youth.

My hope is that this book will give you an insight into a draconian subworld where so many of our children languish and allow you to understand the plight of adolescent boys behind bars and feel, as I do, that they are worth our love and attention. All Day is a story of my journey finding love and purpose in an unexpected dark place.


Summer Substitute


As I make my way down the dingy gray hallway of Rikers Island C-74 at 7:30 a.m., correctional officers (COs) are already stationed at their desks on the school floor while other staff are gathered in the poorly lit teachers' lounge, putting their lunch in the large refrigerator as the TV plays a random, early morning news show. I pop my green tea into the microwave so I can have something warm and comforting to hold on to in hopes of easing my anxiety. I notice most teachers are carrying large, hideous "Department of Corrections" see-through plastic tote bags, which I later find out are mandatory for security purposes—to make visible any contraband that might sneak in and inadvertently wreak havoc, like cell phones, matches, cigarettes, sharp objects, pocketknives, glass bottles, and aluminum cans.

The microwave beeps. I grab my tea and head to the main office, which is across the hall from the teachers' lounge, to clock in. I search for my name on the row of time cards hoisted on the wall. The teacher behind me introduces herself. "Good morning. I'm Ms. G." She is a tall, thin, sassy fashionista with perfectly manicured sandy-brown dreadlocks pulled up into a perfectly coiffed chignon. She appears younger than she probably is and I wonder how she navigates the boys crushing on her.

"I'm Liza Peterson," I reply as I slide my time card into the clock, which punches 7:38 a.m. A lump forms in my stomach. Time cards. I am officially a time-card-punching worker bee, a common pedestrian. For any hardwired artist like myself, creativity and freedom is paramount. I have an aversion to time cards. I associate them with assembly line jobs, factory culture, and becoming so mechanical that creative expression is replaced with groupthink. The shit makes me anxious. I swear I can faintly hear the clink of a chain gang in my head. My breath gets shorter. This is going to be a major adjustment. I take a deep breath and tell myself, This is a blessing, girl. You were broke and now you're able to pay your rent, and you're even eligible for benefits. This is a blessing.

There are only two more weeks left in June before summer break starts for all New York City public schools, and Phil, the principal here at Island Academy, the high school located on Rikers Island, asked if I could substitute for a teacher who couldn't finish the semester due to a family emergency. The gig lands me back on my old stomping grounds. I first touched the Rock* back in 1998 when I taught poetry workshops over in the Six building (C-76), where most of the sentenced adolescent boys are housed and attend classes. What was supposed to be just a three-week teaching-artist gig turned into three years straight, and I became the unofficial poet in residence at Rikers. When I first started, I was a bright-eyed poet who had never been to prison for any reason, ever. Rikers Island became my introductory crash course about the prison industrial complex and, over a span of ten years, I evolved into a seasoned vet working with incarcerated teenagers. Barbed wire, correctional officers, and the sound of gates opening and slamming shut had become routine—familiar even. But the river of Black and Brown boys streaming up and down the hallways was unsettling and pricked at my spirit. With a daily inmate population of roughly 12,300 at any given time, approximately 800 of the prisoners at Rikers Island are sixteen-to eighteen-year-old kids; 746 boys and roughly 45 girls. The adolescents are housed separately from the adults until they turn nineteen, and even though they can't legally buy alcohol until the age of twenty-one, in jail they're considered old enough to be housed with the grown-ups. Rikers Island is its own altered reality, a sub-universe, an ugly island surrounded by dookey-brown stinky water. It's a mammoth jail, one of the largest in the country. It's where I planted seeds and grew roots. A lotus in the swamp.

I've always enjoyed being an artist who teaches poetry and theater. It's a really cool gig with flexible hours. I can prance from class to class and school to school and never feel stuck. I'm the rocking, cool poetry lady who comes into the class for one or two periods and wows the kids with my poetry mojo. I tap into their creative self-expression, inspire them to write, and get them hyped about poetry. My workshops are a break from their regular academic class schedule. I bring the magic and the fun. As a teaching artist, I'm in and I'm out, spending no more than an hour and a half, tops, sometimes just forty-five minutes, in each class. My poetry teaching artist swag is tight. I flow like honey and the kids gravitate to me like bees. I rock that shit.

But today, the next day, and the next three weeks will be very different. I will be teaching incarcerated boys a pre-GED curriculum all day. From 7:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I'll be with the same group of boys in the same class teaching all subjects, all day. Jesus, take the wheel. Lord knows I don't want to do this. I'm an artist! I love the freedom of making my own schedule and not being confined to any one place for any extended length of time, like being in a classroom all day—or worse, sitting in an office cubicle, a graveyard for dreams. But dammit, I need the money, and my artist coins aren't consistent enough to support me on their own. I find myself frequently jumping from teaching-artist gig to teaching-artist gig like an urban frog on a concrete lily pad. And summers are always financially tight because there's no school. No school generally means no teaching gigs. Summer school teaching-artist programs are scarce, and I have only one lined up, with just a couple of paid poetry performances sprinkled throughout the summer to help me eke through till September. It's a constantly unpredictable hustle. Landing this temporary substitute teaching gig at Rikers was perfectly timed. The universe has thrown me a three-week money branch. I should count my blessings. Punch the clock, heifer.

I was drifting when Ms. G brought me back: "Whose class are you covering today?"

I'm not sure how she knows I'm a sub, probably because I'm a new face among the regulars who are greeting each other with familiarity. It takes me a second to remember. "Umm, I'm subbing for Ms. Morgan until the last day of classes."

Ms. G looks at me with pity. "Oh God, they put you with the goons. That's a tough class. Good luck, girl!" My deer-in-the-headlights expression beckons her to continue. "Put your foot down right away, and if you have any problems, don't hesitate to call a CO." She smiles and tries to reassure me. "You'll be fine, though." Ms. G is Brooklyn-fly, talking to me with Gucci sunglasses perched on her petite cinnamon face. And her shoe game is tight. I know we're going to be cool. Sometimes divas clash, sometimes they connect. We connect.

I stand there trying to convince myself she is right, that I will be all right. Hell, I've worked with these kids before; I've been teaching poetry workshops here at Rikers for ten years. I have nothing to be afraid of. Ms. Barron was never afraid. She was a teacher I worked with back in 2002 when I taught an eight-week poetry workshop with her class. I remember watching her on this very same school floor wield her iron fist in a velvet glove.

Ms. Barron had a way of nurturing the boys with tough love. She said things like, "I don't care if you try to intimidate me, but there are certain things I won't allow in my class! You might want to punch me in my face. I might want to choke your neck. But the bottom line is I care about you learning and getting an education. I want you to get to know who you are and learn to like yourself! I care enough to say no. It's much easier for me to sit back and let you do what you want. But that's not who I am. I'm consistent and persistent. And you will most certainly work hard and use your brain while you're in my class. Believe that. If you can't get with the BOE [Board of Education], then you'll have to deal with the DOC [Department of Corrections], and I'm team BOE."

Ms. Barron would frequently bring the boys breakfast bars because they often came to class hungry, complaining they hadn't eaten. Some mornings they'd have to wake up at four thirty for breakfast. Since most of them stayed in bed, the boys generally wound up missing morning chow. She knew it was impossible for them to focus and learn if their stomachs were growling and ribs were touching. "Make sure I get every wrapper back. If the officers find out I'm giving y'all snacks, I could get in trouble, and they'll dead the snacks," she'd say. They would gobble up the breakfast bars and diligently return the wrappers.

I'd met Ms. Barron through a mutual friend and, after talking with her at length, I couldn't wait to teach a series of poetry workshops with her class. She was the real deal. Her love for her students was palpable and, coupled with her passion and brutal honesty, it created a unique bond between her and her students. She constantly challenged them to think critically. She'd tongue-lash them when they were wrong and praise them when they were right. And, in a place where they were seen as criminals, dangerous minds, a booking case number, and a menace to society, she saw them as her sons.

Ms. Barron taught at Rikers for over fifteen years and felt God put her there for a reason. Her son is incarcerated, serving a twenty-five-year-to-life sentence in a maximum security adult penitentiary. He was convicted when he was sixteen, the same age as many of her students. When she shared that information with her class, it got so quiet you could have heard a mouse piss on cotton. Heads just nodded, followed by a couple of "wows." Losing her only son to prison when he was a teenager was the catalyst for her embarking upon a deeply personal journey to teach incarcerated adolescent boys, in an attempt to heal. It was a classic case of transference indeed, and yet every boy who came through Ms. Barron's class was better off because of it. She was a stand-in mother; she stood in the maternal gap when their own mothers could not.

Whenever some of her students would get on her bad side, their act was nothing short of self-sabotage, because they'd be denied the mother's love they all craved and needed. Even though many of Ms. Barron's students rebelled, they soon found themselves back at her door like hungry puppies, humble and apologetic, wanting her thug mama hug, which she always gave.

Ms. Barron was genuine and real and, in spite of her going ballistic on her students at times, they knew she cared. Urban kids recognize real and pick up on phony instantly. They are masters of quickly reading and sizing people up—a skill they need to have in order to survive the streets. Ms. Barron left an indelible imprint on my teaching style, and thinking of her gave me a boost of confidence. If she could run a classroom without being afraid, why couldn't I?

I was trying to convince myself but couldn't, because teaching in this capacity, as a full-time teacher, is still terrifying. It's a far cry from a poetry workshop; this is the Marine Corps for teachers. Plus, I was going to be a substitute teacher, aka a "sub," the lowest level on the teacher food chain. Even the kids know it. When I went to school the same was true… substitute teachers always got played and suckered, all day, every day.

"Girl, you'll be just fine," Ms. G said as I took a sip of tea. She sucked her teeth. "You ain't no punk. Where you from?"

"I'm originally from Philly, but now I live in Brooklyn."

"Awww yeah, Brooklyn in the house!" Ms. G made me laugh. "You got this, girl, but they're gonna test you, so remember it's better to start off hard at first and then soften up. Not the other way around. If they see you're soft, then it's game over and they run the class."

"Okay" is all I can manage to say. My head is still spinning from punching a time card in a time clock at seven-fucking-thirty in the morning.

"I'm two doors down from you," she continues. "I'll check in on you during my prep."

I'm glad I met someone who clearly knows the ropes and is friendly to me, willing to guide me through this morass of I-don't-know-what-the-fuck-I-have-gotten-myself-into.

"Oh, and one very important thing to remember… see that class list you're holding in your hand? Don't lose it. You'll need it to take attendance so you know exactly who's supposed to be in your class and who's not. They know you're new so they're gonna try to have all their little friends up in your class, and you'll have more drama and ruckus than you need. Take attendance first thing when they come in, and don't hesitate to send whoever is not on your list out of your class, immediately."

"Thanks for that, Ms. G, will do."

She proceeds with the warning: "You don't want to be caught with a student who's not supposed to be in your class, because if a fight breaks out and one of them is not on your student roster, you're gonna be the one asked why was so-and-so in your class in the first place. Get to know who's in your class ASAP."

"Thanks for the heads-up, Ms. G. I really appreciate it."

"No problem, Ms. Peterson. I got you, girl. I'll stop by your class later," she chirps in her friendly way as she struts out of the office.

I walk down the hot, musty hallway to my classroom thinking, Oh great, I've got the thuggest of thugs in my class. Well, isn't this just dandy? Thank God it's only for three weeks and, since it's the end of the school year, I'll just be babysitting until June 23 anyway. I can manage that, goons and all.


Sizing Me Up

By 7:50 a.m. the class begins to trickle in as the students are brought up from their respective housing areas to the school floor. They are much more quiet and orderly than I expected. But it's early, too early for me, and they seem to be feeling the same way. They shuffle along, escorted by correctional officers. Some enter my class and sit, while others linger in the doorway, talking to other students who pass by on their way down the hall. Most of the boys have on their street clothes because they have not yet been sentenced and are detainees, not city or state property. Their fate is still being gambled and negotiated in court. New York is one of two states in America that try sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds as adults, even for nonviolent crimes. Some kids have been sentenced to serve a City Year* at Rikers (which is eight months); some will be released on their next court date; some have been going back and forth to court for over a year; some are waiting to be sentenced. Very few are able to post bail, and most just sit in jail while their court dates get repeatedly adjourned month after month after month. The majority of the kids have an overworked, underpaid, inattentive, court-appointed Legal Aid lawyer, which means they will likely wind up taking a plea deal* from the district attorney, who wants a conviction and usually gets it. Around 90 percent of all criminal defendants in the United States plead guilty without a trial because they can't afford a paid lawyer. The risk of taking it to trial to prove your innocence means the defendant will languish in jail, sometimes for years, awaiting trial and the DA will raise the stakes very high by offering a horrendous amount of time for the crime should the jury reach a guilty verdict. Blowing trial is way too risky so plea deals are the norm, especially for a kid who is scared and wants to go home, even if it means they'll have a felony on their record.

From misdemeanors to felonies, and from criminal mischief to murder, all the guys on the school floor have one thing in common: They are embroiled in a justice system that criminalizes Black and Latino youth. As I look at the faces of these kids, still young enough to outgrow their shoes, I wonder what they did to land themselves in jail.

I am stunned to find out how normal adolescent rebellious behavior can land a Black boy in prison. A school fight can brand him a criminal with an assault charge, whereas white kids are often easily forgiven, getting nothing more than detention and a slap on the wrist. In predominately Black schools, discipline-related issues that a school dean or principal should normally handle are now handled by police officers and settled in a court of law.

Jerome, a tall, lanky skater boy, was charged with assault and petty larceny because he got into a fistfight at school and stole the other kid's phone… Bernard jumped the turnstile and had a warrant for missing a court date… Kevin sold drugs… Maurice got caught with a gun… Cedrick smart-mouthed a cop… Russell stole a car… Victor set a trash can on fire… Sammy graffitied a wall… Johnathan snatched a purse… Daniel robbed a bodega… Nasiem got caught with illegal firecrackers… Jeremy violated probation… Wilson had dirty urine… Shaleik hustled bootleg DVDs… Stephon got caught with a gun… Craig tried to kill somebody… Shane did kill somebody… James refused to snitch… Michael didn't cooperate with the cops… Devante took the fall for a gang member in order to protect his family… Kevin had mistaken identity… Jalil was a booster*… Tyshaun was a burglar… Kareem sold weed…

The list goes on and on, but one thing connects them all: Whether innocent or guilty, charged with crimes that are violent or petty, they are all in the same boat: teenagers at Rikers Island mandated to go to school—and to my class.

Several students are wearing state-issued, beige khaki pants with matching khaki button-down shirts, which indicate they have been sentenced and have a release date. The khaki kids are sprinkled in with the vast majority of kids, who haven't been sentenced and are wearing the clothes they were arrested in. Most have on jeans and T-shirts. Despite the semi-freedom of the nonsentenced kids, who are able to wear their street clothes, giving them some semblance of individuality, there are still very strict Department of Corrections regulations that prohibit certain colors (no red, no blue for obvious Blood/Crip gang-related reasons), and no brand-name labels (a restriction that reportedly reduces violence).

For adolescents, not being able to wear designer labels is a painful sentence to no-frills purgatory, since they are all at that annoying stage of being what they wear, equating designer tags with personal value and self-worth. Sad but true. (I too succumbed to that teenage malaise and became a proud victim of materialism. I was a high school Gucci girl, to be exact. Without my Gucci bag and gaudy labels, I felt incomplete, naked, less than, and corny. It was a phase.) I can relate to their materialistic pain.

Almost all of the kids are wearing state-issued, bright neon orange slip-on canvas sneakers, but a few of them are sporting regulation black Reeboks or the old-school white-on-white Nike Uptowns. The Reebok/Nike kids were either wearing them at the time of arrest or a loved one had been kind enough to send them a pair so they could avoid the mandatory super-ugly, nondescript canvas slip-ons. Most of the fancy designer sneakers have removable innersoles where contraband and weapons can be hidden, making them a security risk. But since the black Reeboks and Nike Uptowns don't have removable insoles, and because of their generic color (all black or white), they're allowed. Timberland boots are banned because they have steel toes. When it comes to security, the DOC leaves no stone unturned. The fancy, trendy, fresh, fly sneakers the boys might have been sporting out on the town and at the time of arrest wind up being taken from them and placed in property, along with other items like their wallets, jewelry, and jackets (including money). Sometimes items in property turn up "missing," and an inmate rarely has recourse. Almost all of the boys wind up being issued the Patakis,* which the kids brilliantly nicknamed pumpkin seeds because of their neon orange color and shape. By the end of my three weeks, I will have a complete jailhouse lexicon. The poetry and figurative language that flows effortlessly from their foul mouths amazes me.

The first student who makes his way into my class is Naquan, wearing a brown extra-large sweatshirt and gray sweatpants too tight for his big ass. He takes the seat closest to the door, stretching his oversize body across the desk, peering out the door to see who's coming down the hall. He occasionally throws up gang signs to his comrades, who briefly enter my class to give him the ritualistic handshake that resembles a funky finger-puppet soul minuet.

"Nigga, that's why your breath smells like diaper shit!" yells a short skinny kid with his hair half-braided and half-afroed before flipping Naquan the middle finger. Naquan jumps up and runs to the doorway yelling, "Nigga, that's why I saw you in the town with a patent leather Wu-Tang jacket on, nigga!"

The entire hallway cracks up laughing.

Naquan is sizing me up now. More students come in. As I continue taking attendance, about eight guys are sitting in my class who aren't supposed to be. I shoo them out.

"But miss, this is my class, my name's just not on the list cuz I just got here…" One of the guys tries to swindle me.

"I was born at night, but not last night. You can't stay in my class. Go where you're supposed to be."

Surprisingly, he doesn't give me much of a fight as he swivels from out of the desk he tried to occupy. "Yo, son, she don't play, but she mad cute though, ya heard, miss?"

"Ummhmm, go where you're supposed to go," I say in a stern voice with an ice-grill face.

"Good morning." I make it a point to greet each young man who comes in the room. "Good morning," I repeat, sometimes with a soft smile. "Good morning," sometimes with a stoic face. This is a balancing act. Can't appear too nice, but can't be too mean at first. I have to be flexible, keep them on their toes so they can't peg me right away. Most don't respond to me, some grumble, and some return the greeting.

I put my name, Ms. Peterson, on the board, but immediately they begin to call me Ms. P, since they refuse to try to remember my name, and nicknames are standard hood ritual. Ms. P. I guess I'll have to be.

"Yo, Ms. P, where you from? Brooklyn I bet," asks one kid.


  • "When in 2008 the opportunity arises for poet and actor Peterson to teach a pre-GED class to male teenage inmates at Riker's Island, where she'd previously worked as a teaching artist, she jumps for the shot at job stability. Beyond trying to maintain general order in her classroom-no small task-she must knock down hurdles that these boys, (her "rug rats," "rascals," and "bad-news bears") have been dealing with for ages: unwarranted special-ed designations, social promotion that left them at sea, and an education thus far that did not include the history and gifts of their black and brown ancestors. Occasionally, the boys lure "thug mama genie" from her lamp, and Ms. P goes off; other times, her sweet, cool-headed alter ego, "Miss Crabtree," is in charge. Unwaveringly, Peterson tries to reach and teach her young men, honor their stories, and counteract the traumas that have led them to her classroom. She has teacher's pets and perpetual thorns in her side, but there's love all around. Peterson's unique experience, care for her students, and quick-flowing poet's prose do justice to these young people who've been let down, while addressing the system that let it happen, and the only possible way out: love plus compassion and education."—Annie Bostro, Booklist
  • "Liza Jessie Peterson's ALL DAY is a must read for anyone who has ever cared about young people - and all people. Peterson brings amazing warmth, love and laughter to the devastating state of our juvenile justice system. In her able and gifted hands, we meet young people we will not soon forget. So glad this book is in the world."
    Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award winner for Brown Girl Dreaming and New York Times bestselling author of Another Brooklyn
  • All Day takes your breath even as it makes your heart beat faster with tension, fear, desperation and outrage. Liza Jessie Peterson's writing is magical, poetic and haunting. Her words force us to live as she lived - as teacher/artist/warrior fighting with all of her talent and power to help incarcerated youth escape the cycle of poverty, pain and oppression to stay "alive and free." Her lessons of liberation to her students become personal revelations that can help us move toward personal liberation.—Jamal Joseph, professor at Columbia University, author of Tupak Shakur Legacy, Academy Award nominee, activist and former Rikers Island Inmate and Rikers High School Student
  • "It's a really bad idea to send children to prison. It only breeds a criminal class. Liza Peterson has spent most of her adult life working to undo the harm done by the prison system, working one-on-one from the bowels of the notorious Rikers Island. She has poured her heart and soul into guiding and loving these young people who, if directed, can make miraculous contributions to society. Read her journey and know that we as a society have to do better for these at risk children."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 24.0px Calibri; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Russell Simmons, entrepreneur, author, activist, philanthropist
  • This remarkable work of witness, testimony and empathy by Liza Jessie Peterson is a literary gift which could not be more precipitous. We seem to be reminded near weekly now of how disposable and hated young black men are by powerful sectors of this society. Peterson challenges us to see and feel beyond dangerous tabloid stereotypes. This feat she accomplishes with exquisitely flowing, pungent prose. All Day is a generous bouquet of hip, laconic storytelling informed by big-sisterly-love and a compulsion for social justice.
      Greg Tate, author of Flyboy in the Buttermilk and Everything But the Burden
    1. Liza Jesse Peterson speaks the recipe of all of our freedom into existence. And magnificently so!

        asha bandele, author of The Prisoner's Wife
      1. Liza Jessie Peterson has captured the essence, the humor, the intellect and the psychology of the lives of young people (especially young Black men) trying to survive in the penal systems of America. I was captivated by the characters. I could see them, smell their musk, feel their attitudes and hear their voices to a point where I felt I knew them and would recognize any one of them if I bumped into them on the street. The stories, the characters, the talent, conflicts and the love are all there with a message: There must be a better way to raise our youth who have gone astray than to warehouse them in penal institutions. All Day is a must-read for anyone who cares about children and believes in the possibilities that arise from affording them the opportunity to have the brightest of futures.
        Abiodun Oyewole, founding member of The Last Poets, author of Branches of the Tree of Life
      2. In a very real voice Liza Jessie Peterson recounts her days teaching young men imprisoned on Rikers Island awaiting trial. She switches between her street wise motherly voice to the voices and inner thoughts of young men struggling to maintain identity, dignity, credibility and sanity. Her interactions with them and them with each other are both heart wrenching and chilling at the same time. She peels back layer upon layer of these kid's reality and exposes the humanity and vulnerability of young men who are scared, beautiful and dangerous. As an educator and quite often a mother fiqure she steps inside their comfort zone and often brings out the very best these kids have to offer. The book is in many ways a teacher's quide of how to gain the trust and respect of kids who often see themselves as societies throwaways. Liza educates with a stern and loving hand and often brings about a meaningful change in these kids but also finds insights into herself about how to truly make a difference in the lives of children lost in the matrix.
          Danny Simmons, executive producer Def Poetry Jam
        1. "ALL DAY is a gem, a honest look at our all too often forgotten youth. Liza Jessie Peterson takes us on this journey in a way that only she can, holding up a mirror and forcing us see what we are allowing our fellow citizens to go through. Her journey is as remarkable as the way in which this book was crafted. It's truly a must read."
          D. Watkins, author of The Cook Up

        On Sale
        Apr 18, 2017
        Hachette Audio

        Liza Jessie Peterson

        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.

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