Dear Inmate 20162,
I became your teacher on your first day of eighth grade, and as soon as we met, in my small New Hampshire classroom, I knew you were special.
A month after we met, I told my husband that you were the kind of person I hoped my sons would become. You were kind, generous and charismatic. I gushed about your formidable mind and unlimited potential.
I grew to admire you more as a glorious fall faded into a gray New England winter, and I started to get glimpses of the adult you could become. Adolescence had begun to carve adult angles from your round, pubescent cheeks, and you grew taller than me somewhere between Thanksgiving and the winter holiday.
As winter melted away, I began crafting your high school recommendation. Teachers and admissions officers communicate with a tacit lexicon of restrained adjectives and euphemisms, a sort of recommendation-speak used to convey students’ vices and virtues, achievements and potential. Once, maybe twice a year, a few students grant me the opportunity to depart from that coded language and write freely, enthusiastically, in a genuine language of respect and admiration.
Letters written in this language puts admissions officials on alert, it says: pay attention, for this student has the potential to leave a permanent mark on the world.
That spring, you got into your dream high school, and the possibilities seemed spread out before you, the world at your feet.
Four years later, on a beautiful summer morning, I opened my newspaper and read that you had been arrested and charged with rape. The words “aggravated” and “sexual assault” were printed beside a photograph of you,…
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