“The class started in chaos, as usual, with students dull-eyed, texting or talking. Luis was sneering at me, tattoos crawling out from under his t-shirt, his penetrating eyes challenging me. I gave him the attention he craved: I asked the other students to describe him. What about his look set him aside from the others? I indicated Luis’ tattoos: Where’d he get them? Were they homemade? Prison? Silence.

I asked Luis to describe the kid to his right. He did it, vividly, focusing on the strangely deep frown line that cut across the kid’s forehead. We went around the room, all the kids writing their descriptions down. Later, privately, I told Luis I expected he would do the best work in the class. He laughed and shook his head instinctively, but he couldn’t hide his surprise. His eyes were lit with excitement and interest. Over the next three weeks Luis wrote a personal, passionate and revealing script – a story of prison, and of starting over. I told him it was the strongest script in the class, and he laughed at me again—this time with warmth in his eyes.”

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