Published in the New York Times Magazine:
Together, they excavate a home, a reference point, a goodness that was sown, a point at which they lost the way. They discover something to draw upon in a world defined by absence, where they grapple with the pain and loss they have suffered and caused. We push on, identifying ways to make the leap from life to fiction, and coaxing out detail. They probe for what matters, showing compassion, owning responsibility. Writers dream of going to the heart of things, and I am amazed at the brief access I’m given to the inner lives of men.
Early on, I struggled to reconcile what I knew about their crimes with what I saw and heard in that classroom. Now I try to hold before me the truths of their offenses, alongside the truths of the brotherhood, honesty and generosity I see them call forth. The forces that bring us to our present lives are tangled and complex. Each of our stories contains both wrongdoing and grace, and it is not my job to unravel the skein of their guilt, to judge or absolve. I am here as a witness. I am here in the name of story and its power to transform.