Rathbone, Cristina 1966–
Rathbone, Cristina 1966–
Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, 1998; Radcliffe Institute fellow, 2000-01; Soros justice fellowship, Open Society Institute; Editor's Choice Award, Booklist.
On the Outside Looking In: A Year at an Inner-City High School, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life behind Bars, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Periodicals, including the New York Daily News, Miami Herald, American Way, and Outside.
Cristina Rathbone's own background prepared her for the experience that resulted in her first book, On the Outside Looking In: A Year at an Inner-City High School. The book is a study of New York City's West Side High School, where primarily black and Hispanic students who have been discarded by the system are collectively schooled.
Rathbone was born in London, England, of an English father and a Cuban mother. A rebellious teen, she was placed in an alternative school after being kicked out of five different London high schools. She survived her days of dealing drugs and feeling like an outsider because of her darker skin and came to the United States, where she attended New York University and became a journalist.
The West Side High School project came about when Rathbone saw a group of young boys beating a retarded man, an event she calls "the children's riot." When she realized that she and other New Yorkers were becoming afraid of these pre-adolescent boys, she wanted to learn who they were and what their lives were about. When she first arrived at West Side for the 1994-95 school year, principal Ed Reynolds told her that within the past year six of his students had been shot, one died of AIDS, and another lost his leg when he was run over by a subway car as police chased him after a robbery attempt. Reynolds held a daily discussion group that Rathbone attended. Here, students told about their home lives and of parents who were often addicted to drugs. In her book, Rathbone focuses on about a dozen students who told her of abuses they had suffered, selling drugs and substances that were made to look like drugs, and of prostitution and pregnancies. They also told her their dreams, but despite such hopes, of the 750 students at West Side only slightly more than ten percent graduated.
Felicia R. Lee noted in the New York Times that Rathbone "writes in the book about feeling nauseated as she made the daily subway trip to school, not quite knowing what she would find each day and feeling herself inexorably drawn into the lives of the students. She ended some days with a stiff drink, she recalls, and wondered how much of her own background and feeling she should share with students." Although the students' situations are grim, there are bright moments in the book. Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman felt that in addition to focusing on the "grace and resiliency" displayed by the young students, Rathbone writes of the "generosity of spirit possessed by truly heroic teachers and the school's tireless principal." Library Journal critic Terry Christner added that Rathbone "provides a history and information about New York City neighborhoods—the gangs, drugs, depression—as well as insight into a world many readers would like to believe doesn't exist."
Rathbone has also undertaken a study of Massachusetts' Framingham Correctional Institution, the longest-running prison for females in the country and the only such institution that state. A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life behind Bars, published in 2005, is based on interviews that she conducted with the inmates of the prison. Rathbone talked with the women during the period between 2000 and 2002, learning about their lives prior to their incarcerations and what it was like once they found themselves behind bars. Certain patterns appeared, such as the frequency of relationships between inmates and the prison guards, often abusive relationships but still attractive to the women who have no exposure to men on the outside. The women provide the guards with sex and in return receive favors such as better work assignments, extra blankets, cigarettes, and other perks. Rathbone goes on to discuss other misconceptions about women in prison, depicting them as people with lives who have simply committed a crime. Vanessa Bush, in a review for Booklist, dubbed Rathbone's effort as "a broad yet intimate portrait of life behind bars for women." Writing for the Women's Review of Books, Jean Trounstine commented: "What is most appealing is Rathbone's manner of revelation throughout A World Apart. She has a handle on the sadness of prison life, the infuriating nature of the criminal justice system, and the humanity of the women, as they strive for better futures."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Rathbone, Christina, On the Outside Looking In: A Year at an Inner-City High School, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Rathbone, Christina, A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life behind Bars, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, January 15, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of On the Outside Looking In, p. 753; July, 2005, Vanessa Bush, review of A World Apart, p. 1882.
Denver Post, March 5, 1998, Carol Kreck, "An Inside Look at Shunned Students. Author Spent Revealing Year at New York Inner-City School," p. E3.
Library Journal, January, 1998, Terry Christner, review of On the Outside Looking In, pp. 114-115.
New York Times, February 21, 1998, Felicia R. Lee, "Writer's Troubling Look at Face of Troubled Youth," p. B6.
Publishers Weekly, January 5, 1998, review of On the Outside Looking In, p. 54.
Wall Street Journal, March 23, 1998, Sol Stern, review of On the Outside Looking In, Leisure & Arts section, p. 1.
Women's Review of Books, May 1, 2006, Jean Trounstine, "Stories from the Big House," p. 8.