Concept of the Month -- August 2004

Reading and Poetry Do Not a Reformed Criminal Make

An article in the August 8 "Washington Post" reports youthful offenders spending time constructively reading and writing. These activities are acclaimed as providing good opportunities for thought and reflection. I have no quarrel with this. Any legitimate activity that occupies offenders constructively is a good thing. However, let no one confuse participation in such endeavors with what is necessary for fundamental and enduring change -identification of one's own errors in thinking and the learning of corrective thought patterns.

I have interviewed offenders on death row who read, express thoughts and emotions in poetry or rap lyrics, and compose essays and autobiographical statements. Despite having these skills, they continued to commit crimes.

For any of us to alter long-standing habits, we must become aware of the thinking that gives rise to the behavior we want to change. We have to be precise in pinpointing what is faulty about the thinking. We must become fed up with that thinking, and then learn to think in a different manner.

Given that this is true with respect to changing a specific habit, consider the scope of the task of changing the thinking of a life-time -- decision making, time perspective, expectations, and so forth.

What happens is the people become enthusiastic about certain programs such as training in literacy and written expression -- but their expectations are unrealistic. The fault does NOT necessarily lie in the program or in activity, but in the expectations of those implementing it. The program all too frequently gets dumped rather than the originators revising their expectations as to a likely outcome.

Stanton E. Samenow

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