Nearly a quarter of a million youth are tried, sentenced, or imprisoned as adults every year across the United States. On any given day, 10,000 youth are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. In 1993, one of those youths was Karter Kane Reed, who, at the age of sixteen, stabbed another teenager to death in a high school classroom in a town outside Boston. Convicted of second degree murder, Karter Reed was sentenced to life in prison.
And that is where the dramatic story of BOY WITH A KNIFE begins. This emotionally poignant and informative book takes us on a twenty-year journey, from Karter Reed’s arrest and trial during the “tough on crime” 1990s, through his twenty-year incarceration, to his eventual release in 2013 after he became one of the few men in Massachusetts to sue the parole board and win his freedom. In addition to being a powerful portrayal of one boy trying to come to terms with the consequences of his tragic actions, BOY WITH A KNIFE is also a searing critique of the practice of sentencing youth to adult prisons.
In 2007, Karter began corresponding from prison with Jean Trounstine, one of the leading prison activist authors in the United States.  Jean and Karter wrote over one hundred letters to each other, and Jean learned the truth about the boy, who in news articles from the early 1990s, had been condemned as a “monster,” carrying out a “methodical crime.” Instead of a monster, Jean discovered a fallible human being, a teenager at the time of his crime, who had made a serious, life-changing mistake, but had spent his time in prison maturing into a man who thought each day about the life he had taken, while at the same time fighting the unfair and arbitrary justice of prison officials and the parole board.
Karter’s story raised a swirl of questions about juvenile justice for Jean, centered around the sentencing of youths to adult prisons, which lead her to write BOY WITH A KNIFE, a primer on why we must reform the juvenile justice system, and how we can do it.
Today, Karter Reed is a productive member of society, a homeowner with a steady girlfriend, a steady job, and a college degree. “Yes, he had murdered a boy;” Jean writes in the book, “yes, he had become a man capable of a truly meaningful life.”  Like Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Jean Trounstine’s BOY WITH A KNIFE is a timely and necessary book that places a microscope on the justice system in this country, revealing that the way we sentence and treat our youthful offenders must change. “If we hope to give kids a true second chance,” Jean writes, “creating a just juvenile system must be a priority.”