I’m lucky. I teach a small class at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall on Saturday mornings with only a few students and a low turnover rate. One of my students has been in the class for over 6 months. Let’s call him Juan. Juan is 16 and is fighting his fitness to be tried as an adult. He might be in prison for the rest of his life or he might be out by the time he’s 25. Juan is a great kid. Intelligent, sensitive, generous, and an astute, engaging writer. He has a powerful voice which he accesses to tell stories about his best friend who was shot and killed when he was in the seventh grade, or about his time with a foster family in the Valley, or about how much he loves his brother.
We begin every class with ten minutes of stream of consciousness writing. When Juan first started coming to classes, he began the warm-up exercises writing what he thought I wanted to read. Now he writes down the thoughts flitting through his head, sometimes incoherent, sometimes beautiful, always coming from his center and core, from the secret place that makes him who he is. For the remainder of the class, we discuss how to construct a metaphor, we create characters and make them talk to each other, and we play with the difference between showing and telling.
Juan is a writer. He knows that whether he uses writing as a tool to express his inner demons or to communicate forcefully and clearly with authority figures, it can change his life and impact his future in tremendous, brilliant ways. I am so fortunate to have Juan and other students like him in my life every Saturday morning.
Most recently, Emmy Grinwis wrote the television pilot “Eye Candy” for Blumhouse Productions, based on a novel of the same name by R. L. Stine. She has also written and directed plays, short films, commercials and music videos across the US and abroad. After graduating from Hamilton College, Emmy joined the Peace Corps and lived for two years in Guinea, West Africa where she created and produced a riotously popular touring musical called Un grain d’espoire (A Grain of Hope). She has an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, and was one of eight women selected to be part of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, where she wrote and directed an award winning short film that has played at film festivals around the world.