The stories that follow, my portrayal, my narrative of kids in custody, dignify the magnitude of so many lost lives. In the telling, I honor my wise, bright, wounded, courageous, troubled, creative, and often broken students. My words for their heartbreak, their struggles, their tears, stand in tribute to their woes and to their redemption. I marvel that they are still standing after walking the brutal and burning sand of their lives. With my rendition I leap into the fire of truth and trust that my verse will find just the right eyes, ears, and hearts.
Jane Guttman
Correctional Educator

Listen to me, please listen.Someone’s gotta

Acclaim for Kids in Jail

Thank you for shining a light on one of the greatest travesties of our time- the violation of youth rights

Mary Beth Tinker-RN
Plaintiff- Tinker v Des Moines Independent School Board
Landmark Students' Rights Case (1969) 

Jane Guttman champions incarcerated youth in her book, Kids in Jail.  The pages exude her compassion, courage and love as she chronicles the harsh and traumatic journey of incarceration for kids.  I applaud her refusal to walk away from even one injustice for kids.  Her voice resounds with innovation, grace and mercy, while her vision for justice honors every youth behind bars.  

Scott Wyatt, Ed.D
Educational and Social Justice Advocate 

Jane Guttman gives voice to one of the 21st century's most marginalized populations--incarcerated children--and she does so with compassion and great insight.  The result is a powerful narrative that provides a rare glimpse of what life is like on the inside for more than 70,000 kids across the United States.  It is beautifully done. 

Tamar R. Birckhead
Director of Clinical Programs
Associate Professor of Law
University of North Carolina School of Law 

In her powerful book, Kids in Jail, Jane Guttman captures both spectral edges of this population, bringing to life the fragility and woundedness that carry these young people to places of deep despair as well as the resilience and determination that will lead many of them out. Beautifully written and with a pitch-perfect ear for the voices of her subjects, Kids in Jail serves as a brilliant tribute to the lives of our nation’s most underserved children.

Bethany Casarjian, Ph.D.
Clinical Director of Youth Services
The Lionheart Foundation                                                                                            
Kids in Jail, so eloquently and poetically conveys the capacity of children to effect positive change.

Xavier McElrath-Bey
Youth Justice Advocate / ICAN Coordinator
Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth


"I read Jane Guttman's Kids in Jail with great interest and understanding.  Her words should be mandatory reading for anyone dealing with marginalized those kids in our society who, through no fault of their own, have been cast into the 5-H club. They are Helpless, Hopeless, Homeless, Hungry and Hug-less. We must recognize the need to inspire kids, even those trapped in the "system" to educate themselves. Without caring adults to help those kids along the path, we are setting them up for doom. Dr. Jocelyn Elders, the Surgeon General during Bill Clinton's presidency, once said to a group of at-risk youth and their parents, "Kids can't be what they can't see." It's obvious Dr. Guttman is someone kids can keep their eyes on. Again, Kids in Jail is a must read. "

Steve Nawojczyk

Juvenile Justice Advocate

Youth Violence Specialist


What a beautiful tribute to your street soldiers, including the young women. Your prose is as lyrical and haunting as your poetry. Your language lets the reader viscerally experience the soul of your students. As I read your poetic narrations, I wanted to share them aloud with whomever was around. Enlightening.

Lesley Farmer
California State University Long Beach
Librarianship Program/ Dept. Chair of ASEC

First Words

Juvenile hall will always be a bleak, cold, tumultuous and painful experience for children, sparking criminals and often, writers. It’s a fierce setting in which to generate accomplishment, but we have all seen the weeds emerge between cracks in concrete, trusting the power of seeds to override obstacles of the greatest magnitude.

The rose bushes that once lined the walkways have long since disappeared. They vanished in the angst and reverted to ash as all things do. That pretense of beauty has been replaced by the harsh view of bars, barbed wire and razor strips to keep offenders in and outlaws out.

Student achievement rises out of the dust of broken dreams and lost childhoods, promising something more, something real, something proud. Their stories become an anchor to hope, a torch for a better tomorrow, a chance finally to be heard, with tales that carry a troubled teen to dignity's shore, giving birth finally to that creative spirit, long buried and now emerging, shackles and all.

 Kids in Jail is a book that needs to be read, not just by the “choir” but by anyone who claims to care about kids. When kids are abused and neglected all too often they encounter the criminal justice system. Unfortunately it is more the rule than the exception that they are then further broken by an American justice system steeped with a passion to punish----but not rehabilitate. . Jane Guttman’s  poignant prose combined with the poetry for these wounded children should stir the most cynical heart. There but for the grace of God go all of us. 

Cindy Sanford
Author-Letters to a Lifer


When I grow up I’m gonna
have kids
and you can be sure
I’ll take care of them.
I won’t leave them
and at night I’m gonna
tell them a story
or even two.
I won’t kick or punch
or let hot water fly across a room,
landing on their silky baby skin.
I won’t smash my hand into
their sweet faces
my fist shattering their teeth.

hear me.  Just want my mama.  sophie

"KIDS in Jail gives voice to the experiences of thousands of young people languishing in the juvenile justice system and demands that we create a brighter future for them. To do so, we must reimagine our system to build relationships, caring and opportunities that safely pave a path to a better life."
       Nate Balis, Director,

       Juvenile Justice Strategy Group
      The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Photo Courtesy of Bob Riha Jr.

From "Books Behind Bars", NEA Today