Literary Sentence?

By MJ

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Recently the New York Times highlighted the Changing Lives Through Literature alternative sentencing program in an essay titled Read a Book, Get Out of Jail

Amnesty International sites that between 1986 and 1996 women charged with nonviolent drug-related offenses increased 10 times over and 1 in 3 women in prison are incarcerated for drug related offenses.* Considering the cost and overcrowding running the prison system and the needs and life opportunities for women outside, it would make sense that nonviolent offenses could be offered alternative and creative sentences that increase ones quality of life.

From my understanding of the CLTL program, it sounds like a well coordinated and carefully screened program for offenders , both women and men, who would benefit from such a structure while being academically rigorous.

“Changing Lives Through Literature is based on the idea that literature has the power to transform. Although it sounds simple – it’s essentially a reading group that meets over a period of weeks and that is attended by an instructor, probation officer, judge, and students – CLTL has the ability to allow us to make connections with the characters or ideas in a text and to rethink our own behavior. “

What I particularly appreciate about this program is the possibility to humanize relationships within a system that thrives largely on sustaining itself through dehumanizing individual identity, needs and circumstance.  I imagine with the judge, parole officer and students coming together with the facilitation of an instructor over a creative text you are able to really develop attention to each other beyond designated roles and see common interests/stories/life experiences. While I’m sure boundaries would be very clear, at first glace I wouldn’t imagine the judge or officer could need to or desire to voluntarily be in attendance without the willingness and likelihood that they will be challenged and transformed in the process of this group literary pilgrimage.

While there are writing and education programs inside various prisons, I hadn’t myself yet run across something like this. There are some great testimonials from the various stakeholders on the website. It sounds like a true journey of restorative arts for all who participate! I am so impressed and inspired.

***Update 3/7: The Changing Lives Through Literature program has left us a comment about their blog and invited us all to join in on some great conversations. See  http://cltlblog.wordpress.com.  CLTL has some wonderful thought provoking articles up. Go on, click over. I’ll definitely be doing lots of reading there. Thanks so much!

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One thought on “Literary Sentence?

  1. Thanks MJ. And I’d like to encourage your readers to check out our CLTL blog and participate in that conversation as well. cltl.umassd.edu/blog

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