Forthcoming creative non fiction from Deerbrook Editions
New Memoir About Teaching Incarcerated Teens at Rikers Island "Our best hope is that the system is broken. If it's not, what we have is intentional." –Jason Trask
New Memoir About Teaching Incarcerated Teens in a Racist System
Our best hope is that the system is broken.
If it's not, what we have is intentional.
New York City: on June 21, 2019, Deerbrook Editions will release The New Plantation: Lessons from Rikers Island, a memoir by novelist Jason Trask chronicling his experiences as an English teacher of incarcerated teens in a public high school on Rikers Island. During his three years on the island, over 200 students passed through his classroom, but only five were non-Hispanic whites.
When his position out there began, the only students he had taught were college students. It quickly became clear to him that he would have to forget everything he thought he knew about his profession. We witness his attempts to cross the cultural divide between his students and him. While he is a white guy from rural Maine—among the whitest states in the nation—nearly all of the young men in his classroom are African Americans or Hispanics from New York City.
In the process, we see him break a number of rules, not only those established by the Departments of Correction and Education, but also many of the rules of tradition and, in some cases, common sense. We see him fall on his face time after time, but in the end, though his educational methods seldom meet the standards of orthodoxy, he connects with his students in a meaningful way, and in the process, helps many of them to pass the GED. Trask delivers to us the sights, sounds, and even smells of a world known only to those with personal experience of the Prison Industrial Complex.
During his first day on Rikers Island, as he walks down a long corridor, he passes a group of adult inmates:
"The men look me directly in the eye. I mean directly. They look at me as if they can actually see me. Not the details about me that middle class people use to judge one another—looks, class, intelligence, ethnicity, money, education. There's none of that. These guys are looking deeper than petty details of that sort. They're looking at my central nervous system—somehow they've hacked their way in and they're examining it through the lens of a single question: how afraid is this guy?
"It feels to me that they know more about my fears than my mother does. I look back down the corridor, and as I pass the last man in line he yells to me in white-man-ese:
About the Author
Midway through his sophomore year, Jason Trask quit college and joined the army, spending most of his next two years in Giessen, Germany. Following his discharge, he studied German at the Akademisches Auslandsamt, and later philosophy at Justus Liebig Universität, also in Giessen.
Returning to the States, he completed his BA in philosophy at the Columbia University School of General Studies, and later attended the City College of New York graduate writing program. Upon receiving his MA, he taught English as an adjunct at CCNY, FIT, and NJIT. He later taught English to incarcerated high school students on Rikers Island.
He now writes full time in the Western Foothills of Maine where he lives with his wife Eliza Beghe. He has three adult sons. His novel I'm Not Muhammad was published in 2011 by Red Wheelbarrow Books.
The New Plantation: Lessons from Rikers Island by Jason Trask
CONTACT: Deerbrook Editions, PO Box 542, Cumberland, ME 04201
Publication Date: June, 2019
Price: $20.95; Paperback
Distributed by Small Press Distribution