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Jail or Read :: Changing Lives Through Literature

The History of Changing Lives Through Literature
An Alternative Sentencing Program

“Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) is a program that began in Massachusetts in response to a growing need within our criminal justice system to find alternatives to incarceration. Burdened by expense and repeat offenders, our prisons can rarely give adequate attention to the needs of inmates and, thus, do little else than warehouse our criminals. Disturbed by the lack of real success by prisons to reform offenders and affect their patterns of behavior, Professor Robert Waxler and Judge Robert Kane discussed using literature as a way of reaching hardened criminals.

“In the fall of 1991, Robert Waxler, Robert Kane, and Wayne St. Pierre, a New Bedford District Court probation officer (PO), initiated the first program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where Waxler is a professor in the English Department. Eight men were sentenced to probation instead of prison, with an important stipulation: they had to complete a Modern American Literature seminar run by Professor Waxler. The seminar was held on the university campus and included Judge Kane and PO St. Pierre. For 12 weeks, the men, many of whom had not graduated from high school and who had among them 148 convictions for crimes such as armed robbery and theft, met in a seminar room at the university. By discussing books, such as James Dickey’s Deliverance and Jack London’s Sea Wolf, the men began to investigate and explore aspects of themselves, to listen to their peers, to increase their ability to communicate ideas and feelings to men of authority who they thought would never listen to them, and to engage in dialogue in a democratic classroom where all ideas were valid. Instead of seeing their world from one angle, they began opening up to new perspectives and started realizing that they had choices in life. Thus, literature became a road to insight (see the New Bedford paradigm).”

Read more about the program here, including information on how to start a CLTL program in your own community.

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