93 pages 3 hours read

Edward Humes

No Matter How Loud I Shout

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1996

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Summary and Study Guide


No Matter How Loud I Shout is a work of nonfiction written by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes and published in 1996. This work comprises the author’s ethnographical observations and participations in the Los Angeles juvenile justice system for the year of 1994. Humes asserts that the names of juveniles have been changed in accordance with state laws regarding confidentiality; however, everything else is true, and reported in the allegedly unbiased style of 1990s investigative journalism. Humes mostly leaves himself out of the narrative, although he worked with many of the characters as the writing teacher at Central Juvenile Hall. Occasionally, Humes makes it seem as though characters—especially adult characters—are speaking to an unknown individual who is, of course, Humes himself, much in the style of Truman Capote, in In Cold Blood. However, Humes inserts himself into the narrative in dealings with minors, often showing himself in conversation with them about their lives, hopes, and crimes.


The book itself is organized into four parts with a kind of narrative nonfiction preface at the beginning. The Preface serves to set the dismal scene of juvenile hall and the decaying juvenile-justice system, introducing the readers to several adolescent characters as well as the writing class in general. The Preface focuses on sensory details in order to elicit the reader’s disgust at the conditions in which justice is supposed to exist, while simultaneously forcing the reader to empathize with the juveniles who are incarcerated through a look at some of their most personal secrets.


The first section involves the futility of the juvenile-justice system in all of its aspects, the ramifications of which are seen as negatively affecting the lives of various children. This section serves as background for many of the juvenile delinquents as well as characterizes several adults, namely ADA Beckstrand and Judge Dorn, but primarily serves to indicate their relation to the kids who are being subjected to the system. The first section sets the stage for the rest of the book, including multiple references to the conflict that will paralyze the system.

The second section proposes the disparate solutions various factions have in attempting to remedy the grave problems associated with the juvenile-justice system. It mainly focuses on the various adults who are involved within these children’s lives, as well as provides some modicum of hope that change might actually be possible.

The third section takes an in-depth look at the political in-fighting that occurs as a result of the pettiness of adults in the juvenile-justice system, examining the ramifications of the war between Dorn, the DA’s office, and defense lawyers, for example. This section also concludes several trials, including those of Ronald Duncan, John Sloan, and George Trevino, all of whom have vastly different outcomes.

The final section is the Epilogue, occurring a year after Judge Dorn has returned from his forced exile. Humes argues that not much has changed about the juvenile-justice system in the time he has spent observing it, other than an increased focus on punishment instead of prevention as required by the increasingly tight LA County budget. Humes concludes with a kind of laundry list of the characters he has mentioned throughout the book, detailing where they are now. He ends with an assertion that the system was able to save less than half of the children whose lives it touched and that those whom it saved seemed to be saved entirely at random, demonstrating the inherent futility of the system itself.

The historical context within which the book is set provides for interesting critiques of the work itself. The book takes place during 1994, although some instances occur both before and after this calendar year. Legislature and writing during the 1990s has been widely criticized, especially within the academic community, for its promotion of colorblind ideology; that is, its inattention to race as a systemic factor that shapes the lives and laws of people in the United States. This colorblindness is reproduced throughout the book as Humes repeatedly refrains from addressing the race of various people, even within his characterizations. It is only through detective work that the reader is able to understand what race various characters are, and race is often used as an ancillary and not an identifying marker.

This is especially problematic considering the exponential incarceration during the 1990s of black and brown men as a result of the so-called War on Drugs, which Humes does not mention. Despite drug-related felonious offenses accounting for a large majority of convictions, Humes mostly focuses on children who have been arrested for assault or murder. There is little discussion of drug-related offenses or convictions concerning drug laws; instead, Humes only acknowledges drugs as being related to other problems exhibited by children. Humes also does not mention the rise of the for-profit prison industry, which coincided with the conservative get-tough policies on crime, thereby inherently linking capitalism to the justice system. Rather, Humes sees the juvenile-justice system as entirely separate from the justice system itself, despite the many characters who cross over between the two.

Humes also rarely questions the increasing gun availability to minors, instead blaming gangs and not the gun industry, for example, for the prevalence of gun-related armed robberies, assaults, and murders. It is interesting to note that this seeming lack of attention paid to the prevalence of drive-by shootings directly precedes the advent of school shootings and mass murders involving guns that becomes so common in the 21st century. Indeed, the increased availability of guns to minors in urban areas that Humes dances around can be seen as being a precursor to the dramatic increase in school shootings, which arguably began with Columbine in 1999. Of course, Humes would have no way of knowing this harrowing trajectory, although modern readers can easily trace the spread of guns in urban areas—wherein it seems as though there was little, if any public outcry—to their modern suburban proliferation, which is now at the root of a large anti-gun movement.