This Freedom Writer describes being used to telling her story to various audiences, but that telling it in front of the camera for their documentary is a new experience. She describes the pain she feels every time she tells her story, as she is forced to relive the wound of her childhood, but then notes the satisfaction she feels in seeing her own pain reflected in public, as someone identifies with what she has been through.
Like many others, this Freedom Writer explains that the emotional vulnerability involved in recounting her past finds its full meaning when it elicits the same emotional vulnerability in the audience, as it allows others to identify with her story and, hopefully, to draw courage and hope from this process.
When the documentary director asks her how her life was before the Freedom Writers, she is transported to her twelve-year-old self, when she lived in a camper by a gas station. She ate cheap bread and Vienna sausages every day, and since they never had money for pads or tampons, she had to use uncomfortable wads of toilet paper when she had her period. At school, her teacher humiliated her publicly for being dirty and not being able to buy a bar of soap. She felt constant envy at knowing that the other children at school had an actual shower, and, overall, felt deeply alone.
By implying that poverty is both a source of shame and the student’s fault, this teacher shows deep ignorance and cruelty, adding emotional pain and social isolation to the student’s pre-existing material discomforts and deprivation. This teacher’s brutality demonstrates that, unlike Ms. Gruwell, some educators are interested not in helping their students, but in egotistically proving their own superiority.
She is brought back to a moment when she accompanies her mother to a donut store. She describes the vivid sensation of wanting a donut terribly, but making the mental calculations and realizing that they did not have enough money. The director’s voice suddenly brings her back to reality and, when she later looks at herself in the mirror, she realizes that she still feels the same pain after seventeen years. However, she finds comfort in being able to share her difficult story.
The vivid nature of this student’s memories shows that her feelings of longing and sadness have not disappeared. Her story also suggests that material deprivation can be a source of long-term emotional trauma, on par with violent events such as physical violence or domestic abuse. While telling her story does not heal these wounds, it does allow her to use them for a greater purpose.