From My Bookshelf: The 57 Bus

By Lynn Willoughby

The 57 Bus ~ Dashka Slater

This is the true story of two teenagers “…and the crime that changed their lives.”  It is a non-fiction narrative with lots of statistics on juvenile crime, populations, detention centres  and rate of recidivism.

On January 31, 2015 Sasha Fleischman was riding the 57 bus home from school in Oakland, California.  He considers himself “agender”.  He is dressed as a male above the waist and is wearing a skirt.

Another teen, Richard Thomas, flicked  a cigarette lighter several times at the hem of Fleischman’s skirt, while he was asleep.  Eventually the skirt caught fire, severely burning Fleischman.  He had second and third degree burns on his legs, spent several weeks in hospital and endured multiple surgeries and grafts.  

Thomas, who is black, was sixteen at the time.  With his history of truancy and time spent in a juvenile detention home, he struggles with the violence that surrounds him every day.  Two of his aunts were slain before he was a teenager and his best friend was shot and killed in 2013.  He has been robbed at gunpoint.

Thomas was charged as an adult for this crime and sentenced to seven years at a state juvenile centre.  The question we need to consider is “How much does instability weigh into the decisions teens make?”

The fact is that Fleischman, named Luke at birth but calling himself Sasha and referring to himself as agender, thrust him, – or “they” as he prefers to be called, into the spotlight.  Much of this book is about gender non-conformity and how various states have handled the bathroom, passport, ID issue for non-conformists.  

Parts of the book were fascinating and parts were just a lot of statistics about the the US justice system, and juvenile detention centre reforms.

Who Knew?

The cost of incarcerating one juvenile for life, in the USA, is $2.5 million.