by Jenni Baker
Much has been said about the difference that Changing Lives Through Literature makes in the lives of criminal offenders who attend the program. Studies on individuals who successfully complete the program reveal that their chances of committing another crime are less than half than that of offenders sentenced to traditional probation.
What’s not so easily measurable, however, is the impact of CLTL on the lives of the facilitators, probation officers, judges, and other visitors who attend the sessions. In the absence of statistics, personal accounts of one’s experiences with the program are the only measure our organization has to analyze the powerful sway that extends beyond the probationers. In what I hope will be a trend among CLTL participants, I offer up as testimony my own preconceptions of and experience with the New Bedford/Fall River, Massachusetts CLTL program beginning in Spring 2008.
I initially became involved with Changing Lives Through Literature through a project in a grants writing course. I was curious about the meetings and decided to attend one session to get a better grasp of the organization. My enthusiasm towards attending the meeting slightly waned, however, as I watched the participants slowly file into the nearby conference room on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus. Dressed in baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts, many of the participants were men and women I’d be afraid to pass alone on a dark street. They looked hardened and tough—certainly not the types to enjoy reading and discussing The Old Man and the Sea. I instantly questioned what I was getting myself into and doubted the quality and complexity of discussion that could arise amongst such a group.