Virginia Vandals Sentenced to Read

Teenagers who vandalized the Ashburn Colored School assigned to read Richard Wright, Margaret Atwood and Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Ashburn Colored School, or the Ashburn Old School, now being restored by the Loudoun School for the Gifted.

A county prosecutor in Ashburn, Virginia, has designed an unusual plea deal for two young men who vandalized a historic schoolhouse with racist and anti-semitic graffiti. According to a report from local news outlet WUSA-9, the defendants have been given a list of thirty-five books and will submit monthly book reports from that selection. As part of the deal, they will also visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of American History, which is running an exhibit on the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and will submit to the court research papers on the use of hate symbols. The young men were charged with spraypainting the side of the Ashburn Colored School, which is currently being restored, with swastikas, dinosaurs and slogans such as “white power” and “brown power.” The community was outraged, but goverment officials came to believe the vandalism was an example of dumb teenagers who did not understand the significance of the hateful crime they were committing.

Alex Rueda, the county prosecutor who conceived of the deal, said that because the young men had no criminal records, “it would be very easy for them to to just walk into court plead guilty and the judge would just put them on probation and then they would just be meeting with a probation officer once a month, and…peeing in a cup to make sure they weren’t smoking weed.” Instead, she wanted to seize on “a teachable moment.”

Rueda is the daughter of a librarian and went about creating a list of thirty-five books and fourteen movies for the defendants’ edification. The list includes Richard Wright’s Native Son, Elie Wiesel’s Night, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as contemporary work from Colson Whitehead and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Rueda expects that the reading will change the young men’s outlook more than any probation or diversion program could. “Hopefully,” she said, “what they get out of this year is a greater appreciation for gender, race, religion, bigotry. And then when they go out in to the world, they are teachers.”

Below is the complete list of thirty-five books assigned. A little Leon Uris heavy, you say? How about subbing in some Baldwin? Just remember, justice takes many forms, and punishment is more art than science.

1. The Color Purple — Alice Walker
2. Native Son — Richard Wright
3. Exodus — Leon Uris
4. Mitla 18 — Leon Uris
5. Trinity — Leon Uris
6. My Name is Asher Lev — Chaim Potok
7. The Chosen — Chaim Potok
8. The Sun Also Rises — Ernest Hemingway
9. Night — Elie Wiesel
10. The Crucible — Arthur Miller
11. The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini
12. A Thousand Splendid Suns — Khaled Hosseini
13. Things Falls Apart — Chinua Achebe
14. The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood
15. To Kill A Mockingbird — Harper Lee
16. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings — Maya Angelou
17. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — Rebecca Skloot
18. Caleb’s Crossing — Geraldine Brooks
19. Tortilla Curtain — TC Boyle
20. The Bluest Eye — Toni Morrison
21. A Hope In The Unseen — Ron Suskind
22. Down These Mean Streets — Piri Thomas
23. Black Boy — Richard Wright
24. The Beautiful Struggle — Ta Nehisi Coates
25. The Banality of Evil — Hannah Arendt
26. The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead
27. Reading Lolita in Tehran — Azar Nafisi
28. The Rape of Nanking — Iris Chang
29. Infidel — Ayaan Hirsi Ali
30. The Orphan Master’s Son — Adam Johnson
31. The Help — Kathryn Stockett
32. Cry the Beloved Country — Alan Paton
33. Too Late the Phalarope — Alan Paton
34. A Dry White Season — Andre Brink
35. Ghost Soldiers — Hampton Sides

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