Of all the names that have echoed off the walls of Virginia’s Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center over the decades, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky are among the least likely, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Beaumont, since 1918 the home for some of the state’s most dangerous youths, this year hosted a University of Virginia Russian literature class attended by 14 U.Va. students and 21 high- and medium-security offenders. The classic 19th-century stories served as vehicles for conversation about contemporary issues for two groups of students who at first glance appear to be peers in age only, said instructor Andrew Kaufman.
“Even though the common ground here is the discussion about literature, what makes the conversation so interesting is that they’re really conversations about life,” he said. “I think they’re discovering that great literature can be, and is, relevant, personally, to an unusually wide range of people.” Every week, Kaufman and his students — most of them women — passed through chain-link gates and reinforced, electrically operated security doors to get to the classroom. The university funded the course, called Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature and Community Leadership. Bayly Buck, a senior from Chevy Chase, Md., said students were extremely curious about Beaumont. “These men genuinely wanted to take part in these discussions and they wanted to learn from us and I think they wanted us to learn from them,” Buck said.