Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 2nd 2014 Contents LAA: When you said yes to the
request to teach the lads, did you
have any idea this book would come
out of it?
DJ: Never in my wildest dreams
did I think that I would have a
book---or even columns---out of my
experiences at YTC. People nudged
me in that direction, but I didn't
think I could relive that intense emo-
tional experience.My editor at the
time, Arthur Dash, told me I should
write columns when I told him some
of the funny stories.
I casually mentioned writing about
the boys' progress to my mentor
inside prison, Sterling Stewart, the
deputy commissioner of prisons,
who was supervisor of YTC at the
time I taught that first class, and he
enthusiastically embraced the idea.
My friend, fellow journalist and
attorney Kathy Ann Waterman kept
saying, "You should write a book."
I needed that kind of support to
write this book.
This is a harrowing book in many
ways. How did you manage the
emotional fallout of dealing with
the physical environment and the
emotional condition of the lads?
Prison is no picnic, and that goes
for YTC. It's not meant to be a place
anyone would like to be. Everyone
does his or her best to deal with the
social, emotional and hygienic chal-
lenges of having many angry
teenagers crammed into a limited
space. It's bad, but it's also
remarkable on some level that it's
not even worse.
I can't imag-
ine being a prisons officer and work-
ing in such a challenging environ-
ment every day. I know I didn't deal
well with such an emotionally
charged place. I just cried a lot.
The book emerged from your
T&T Guardian columns. From a
technical point of view, talk about
putting the book together.
After I had Mr Stewart's and my
students' blessings to do the
columns, I wrote four columns
before the first one appeared in the
Guardian. This meant I never had
the constraints of writing for a dead-
line. I decided to start at the very
beginning of the experience.
I decided I wanted to capture the
essence of each student, and I want-
ed to capture many of the experi-
ences and feature their great writing.
Different experiences kept popping
up and they became columns or new
chapters in the book. I had saved
much of the students' work.
Wishing for Wings is the only
book I ever wrote without doing too
much thinking or planning.
The columns sat there for about
two years because I was working on
a history book.
One day, quite impulsively, Isent
a proposal to Ian Randle Publishers
because I had always wanted a non-
fiction book published here in the
West Indies by Ian Randle. In less
than 24 hours, Ian and Christine
Randle had responded to the pro-
posal, asked for sample chapters and
agreed to publish Wishing for Wings.
That just doesn't happen in pub-
There s a tradition of this kind
of story that might be familiar to
movie fans: film adaptations like
Freedom Writers, the Dead Poets
Society, and Precious all talk about
education and specifically an edu-
cation in English as a kind of sal-
vation for children who have been
marginalised, in one way or the
other. Are you familiar with these
books and films, and did they
inform the shape of your own
I loved The Emperor's Club, Stand
and Deliver, Blackboard Jungle, and
most of all To Sir, with Love.
Strangely enough, I didn't think of
any of these movies when I wrote
Wishing for Wings. If I had, I might
have felt intimidated and I probably
never would have made the attempt
because I would have felt there was
no way for me to capture an expe-
rience like those great movies did.
Wishing for Wings was such an
intensely personal and emotional
experience for me that I could think
of nothing but my students when I
The book has had a very positive
critical reception. How does it feel
to be the author of a non-fiction
hit, particularly a book about read-
ing in what is widely considered a
nation of non-readers?
I am stunned at the reaction to
the book. It is a humbling, exhil-
arating and fulfilling experience
because I expressed everything I
wanted about reading, writing and
the importance of a relevant edu-
cation in this book. On some level,
I feel fear because I don't know how
all this happened so quickly and so
intensely. I am afraid of not being
able to ever feel this level of hap-
piness and fulfillment ever again.
Are you working on any new
I'm completing the book I was
working on when Wishing for Wings
took off: A Sundry Way to Sea: How
the West Indies Shaped the USWe
have to stop thinking about this
region as a passive place where his-
tory just happened to it. The West
Indies played a vital role in American
history and our students need to
Two days after the launch, jour-
nalist, filmmaker and university lec-
turer Dr Kim Johnson contacted me
about doing a docudrama on Wish-
ing for Wings. In one fell swoop Kim
enlisted Spanish-born Miquel
Galofre as director of photography.
Miquel is known for his exquisite
camerawork and remarkable stories
in Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast
and Songs of Redemption.
If they get funding they're deter-
mined to produce a world-class
docudrama for major film festivals
like Cannes and Sundance. I'm
involved in the production, and we're
just about to complete the trailer.
Wishing for Wings continues to take
off in new and unbelievable direc-
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt February 2, 2014
Sunday Arts Section Book Club columnist Debbie Jacob has
been lauded for her latest book, Wishing for Wings. Based on a
series of columns she wrote for the T&T Guardian, Wishing for
Wings documents her experience as a part-time English teacher
at the Youth Training Centre (YTC), a penal facility for boys. A
touching, sometimes heartbreaking book, it looks at the desperate
lives and circumstances of several boys she taught there; yet it
manages to be uplifting as Jacob sees the best in and seeks the
best out of every one of her charges.
LISA ALLEN-AGOSTINI talked to her about the book.
• Debbie Jacob will read from
Wishing for Wings at Paper
Based bookshop, the
Normandie, St Ann's, on
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