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Poet and former inmate visits school

Betsey Bennett

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Former prisoner Ian Manuel, once condemned to die in prison at the age of 13, shared his perspective on the injustice of the criminal justice system with students in the Recital Hall and in several Upper Division classes.

Although Manuel is now a client of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), he was originally convicted of shooting a mother of two as a young teen and became one of the youngest children sentenced to die in prison in the country. He was held in solitary confinement for 18 of his 26 years in prison, and was released in November last year at the age of 39.
The woman survived the shooting, and while incarcerated Manuel cultivated a friendly relationship with her. She was one of the people who fought to get him released.
Student Body President Daniel Posner (12) heard about Manuel’s story through a mutual friend who is close to EJI’s founder Bryan Stevenson. He invited Manuel to the school as a part of the SBP Speaker Series.

“Ian has such a compelling story about our justice system and its failures,” Posner said. “Hearing his story and the court case that saved him from a life behind bars raises our awareness of some of the fundamental pitfalls to achieving justice in our legal system.”

“I came to Horace Mann to speak mainly to expose its students to a world it is far removed from, the cruel criminal justice system, as well as to dispel the stereotype that someone like me was unfit to ever re-enter society when I have so much to offer the world,” Manuel said. “I hope I was able to plant seeds in the young minds of future decision-makers of what good can happen when you give someone a chance.”

During his I period speech on Monday, Manuel showed a video exploring the issue of child imprisonment, shared two of his poems, and answered questions.
“I was tortured, gassed, beaten, denied food, whatever could be done to add to my misery is what they did,” Manuel said in his speech. “But writing is what I turned to help me get through some of the difficult times.”

Beatrix Bondor (12) thought that Manuel’s readings of his work were very powerful, she said.

“When he read his poems out loud, they just exploded and came to life, and I thought the performative nature of how he presented it was incredible,” Bondor said. “It really spoke to me the way he talked about the effect poetry had on him.”

“I was surprised by the way he described the relationships that he had,” Oldham said. “He said that he had associates but no one that he would call a friend.”

The drug addictions of his fellow inmates prevented him from forming deep connections with them, Manuel said in his speech.

In addition to his I period speech, Manuel spoke in English Department Chair Vernon Wilson’s 12th grade English elective, an AP English class, and the Comparative Race and Ethnicity history elective.

Students took away a variety of lessons from Manuel’s visit. Some were exposed to a side of a system that they knew little about, and others were spurred to action.

“I think it gives another perspective into the United States criminal justice system,” Gabby Fischberg (9) said.

Gupta was moved to take an active role in the issue, she said.

“I like Ian’s idea of sending pictures of the outside world to people who are currently incarcerated,” Gupta said.

According to Posner, Manuel had a positive experience at the school and would be open to returning as an assembly speaker.


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Poet and former inmate visits school