After reading an intimate account of a student cleaning his or her mother’s blood off the walls after her boyfriend hit her, this student concludes that Ms. Gruwell’s class is taking their writing project very seriously, writing freely about their personal lives. The students title their compilation “An American Diary . . . Voices from an Undeclared War” (after agreeing that they did not want to be called “victims” of a war) and want to send it to someone who could listen to them. They decide to share their stories with United States Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, and want to find a way to go to meet Riley in person in Washington, D.C., where the Freedom Riders themselves started their journey.
This student realizes that Ms. Gruwell has succeeded in creating a safe space where every student feels free to discuss any issue, including even the most personal details about difficult moments at home. Instead of seeing this project as an opportunity for other people to pity them, the students are presenting it as a form of empowerment, allowing them to share their stories with adults who might actually be able to influence their situation or that of other young adults like them.
Since the students united under the name Freedom Writers, students have stayed late at school to work on homework. One night, they are almost arrested after climbing out the window so that the after-school alarms wouldn’t go off. When policemen see them, they cannot believe that Ms. Gruwell—who is wearing one of the student’s pieces of clothing and looks very young—is the group’s teacher. That incident makes the entire group closer, as they realize their teacher is willing to risk being arrested so that they can finish their reading assignments.
Ms. Gruwell’s extraordinary devotion to teaching comes to light in this episode, as she is willing to sacrifice precious hours of her own free time in order to help her students with their homework. The moment in which they are almost arrested illustrates that Ms. Gruwell is fully part of the Freedom Writers group: she is not merely a teacher, intent on supervising and controlling students, but a full member—showing solidarity, not superiority, with her students.