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“Hell’s Court,” 40 Years Later

Last month, I wrote a story on Hales Court.  Construction is well underway on 78 housing units there, transforming what was once a housing “project” into a 21st-century neighborhood.

To illustrate its previous incarnation, I said that Hales Court was “once derided as ‘Hell’s Court’ by a teenager living there.”

It was one quick line — but it resonated a month later with one other person, somewhere in America.

The other day, I got this email:

For some reason, I was thinking tonight about an essay written by a classmate in my 9th grade English class at Bedford Junior High.  The essay won an award and was published in the Westport News, if I recall correctly.

My classmate lived on Hales Court and was someone I thought of as a tough kid.  After he read his essay to our class, I saw him in an entirely different light. That 15-year-old boy was carrying more on his shoulders than any kid should ever be expected to bear.

The essay writer was the teenager who referred to the street as Hell’s Court.  Actually, he explained in his essay that his mother called the neighborhood “Hell’s Court” because of the misfortunes his family had suffered after they moved there.

I left Westport 36 years ago.  41 years have passed since that student read his essay to our class.  It was so moving, so powerful, that when I remembered it tonight, I googled “Hale’s Court” “Hell’s Court,” hoping that I might find it online. That’s how I found this blog post.

I won’t mention the writer’s name out of respect for his privacy, but for as long as I live, I will never forget him or that essay.

It’s been years since anyone referred to “Hell’s Court” — and, thanks to new construction, it’s doubtful anyone ever will again.

But one junior high essay, written by one marginalized boy, had such a powerful effect on one other boy that he remembered it as a man 4 decades later.

That’s powerful stuff.  And it’s a powerful reminder that everything we say, everything we write and everything we do, affects someone, in some way.

Sometimes, for the rest of his or her life.

Hales Court today -- a far cry from "Hell's Court."

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