Justin Jacoby Smith is an organizer, web geek, Buddhist, and poet.

'so i taught an ax murderer. no, really.'

Brian, who always sat two rows to the left and a little behind the accused murderer, raised his hand: "That was him, wasn't it?" He continued, "I'm sorry. I haven't said anything in this class all semester, because I was scared. I usually talk a lot."

And so it began. A discussion of truth and fiction, of lies and vengeance, of evil and good, of families. Questions about bad seeds, greed, and money's role in success, corruption, and ruin. Those themes were all there in the stories we were reading, and most certainly in the story that was continuing to unfold in real life that had affected us so directly in our classroom. Students spoke—some for the first time all semester—with passion, fear, confusion, relief, and deep, deep concern. All of us wanted answers; none of us had any.

Ellen Laird spends a semester teaching literature with an accused axe murderer in the second row. Through the work explored in the classroom Laird & the students find themselves drawn, again and again, to the difficult and dark questions brought about by unspeakable crime and great literature.

Prime Suspect, Second Row Center - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education.