Speed Reads

unusual punishment

Teenagers who defaced a historic black schoolhouse were sentenced to read books. Here's what one got out of it.

Five Virginia teenagers who covered a historic black schoolhouse with racist graffiti last year didn't have to clean up what they'd done.

Instead, they had to read.

A judge replaced the vandals' community service punishment with a reading list and book reports. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's story of the Jim Crow South; The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini's novel of ethnic persecution in Afghanistan; and Night, Elie Weisel's Holocaust memoir, were a few of the choices.

The New York Times caught up with one of the teenagers a year later, as well as authors of the books that were part of the punishment, to see what they thought about the unusual mandate. The teenager passed his court-ordered essay on to the Times; in it, he describes how he didn't know much about the swastika he graffitied before reading Night.

“I was wrong, it means a lot to people who were affected by them," he wrote. "It reminds them of the worst things, losing family members and friends."

Marilyn Nelson, author of A Wreath for Emmett Till, said she wasn't "pleased to know" her work was used as punishment. But Hosseini thought otherwise.

“Books allow us to see ourselves in another. They transform us," Hosseini told the Times. "I hope reading The Kite Runner was a small step along that transformation for this young man.”

With book reports turned in, the teenagers had their charges dropped in January. Read more at The New York Times.