Prisons Are Built with Stones of Law

by Robert Waxler

courtesy of Library of Congress

I have been following Cholly Breedlove’s tormented journey from the day he was born (thrown in a garbage heap by his mother, abandoned for a dice game by his father). And now, about three-fourths of the way through Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, I spot him “staggering home, reeling drunk” on a Saturday afternoon. He sees his daughter, Pecola, washing dishes in the kitchen. And he brutally attacks, rapes her.

There’s no excuse for Cholly’s behavior, no justification for what he has done, I begin to think. Yet Morrison has given me the long and tortured history of this man, the complex intricacies of his story. If he appears to be a monster, he is, nevertheless, human. He is not a stereotype, but a man. Through her poetic narrative, Morrison makes clear that Cholly Breedlove is a complicated mixture of hatred and tenderness, of lust and love, guilt and pity. Reading Morrison’s words with care, I realize the possibility that, if I walked in Cholly’s shoes, his rage could be mine. I cannot forgive him, but suddenly I feel compassion for Cholly.

Sometimes judges reading this book tell me that Cholly’s story compels them to see from a new perspective offenders appearing before their bench. Each offender has a richly complex story, the judges say. It makes judgment difficult, raises questions about the perplexing relationship between mercy and justice, compassion and judgment.

 

The law needs literature just as literature needs the law. The thoughtful judge pronounces a sentence based on the law. The careful reader formulates a question based on a narrative story. “Without contraries is no progression,” my favorite poet William Blake liked to say.

But is the connection between the law and literature always friendly? Is the relationship always peaceful, or can it, at times, provoke its own violence? Derrida, the French philosopher, thinking about the Mosaic Law, answers that question this way: “Poetic autonomy … presupposes broken Tablets.” Derrida is not far removed here from the legal scholar Robert Cover’s own violent assertion: “Judges deal pain and death…In this way they are different from poets, from critics, from artists.”

Cover’s assumption, perhaps correct, is that judgment separates and excludes. The law closes off conversation. To quote Cover again: “A judge articulates her understanding of a text, and as a result, somebody loses his freedom, his property, his children, even his life.” In this context, the enactment of law connects to the violence of the state, Cover would argue. In more ways than one, the law is founded on its own transgression.

55kWhether we agree with Cover, or not, literature does something different than the law. Story begets story, creates community, expands possibilities, and arouses desire for conversation. It does not give us rules of behavior or impose judgments that lead us to any particular instrumental end. Listen to Cholly, it says. His story might be yours too.

And that’s the problem, of course. Literature invites a recognition of the complexity of human life and opens us to our own vulnerability. Literature invites us to question, to doubt.  By necessity, the judge must reduce that overflowing complexity and questioning to a manageable limit, simplifying the narrative flow, fixing it in some kind of hierarchical order. The judge must judge with authority.

So with over 2.2 million human beings locked in U. S. prisons (not including the guards and others also exposed to this brutal institutional violence), I end with this tilted question: Should judges use the power of the law to sentence people to read good literature or to sit caged in a prison cell?

*title of this post courtesy of William Blake


Robert Waxler is a Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the co-founder of Changing Lives Through Literature.

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30 thoughts on “Prisons Are Built with Stones of Law

  1. Bob, of course I feel that judges should use the power of the law to sentence offenders to read good literature rather than to sit caged in a cell. And if an offender is not in a cell, but reading, the book in her hands may well help her look outside of the particular box that she is in, the cell of her mind, you might call it. It’s interesting that judges have said a story like Cholly Breedlove’s allows them to see into the complexity of the man or woman standing in front of their bench. Yet the law has to untimatley come down with a right or wrong verdict, guilty or not guilty — Whereas literature allows us to rest in ambiguity. This may not always be comfortable but it is an honest response and true to life. I think good literature comes from the desire to be honest, not the desire to judge.

  2. Bob Waxler’s post attacks the old, rigid concept of law as “reason without emotion.” Lawyers and judges, like Cover, often call on this epithet to help reduce the complex issues involved in adjudication. The law is complex, judging is complex, but to rule out the heart from the decision-making process is to deny one of the most fundamental tools we have to judge. Listen to Leti Volpp in her article “Lawyering at the Margins: On Reason and Emotion”:

    But assuming that we can isolate the heart from the head, I would argue that there is something helpful to us as law students and lawyers that we can access through passion and emotion. We should not abandon the power to feel, nor should we believe that rejecting emotion is the right way to “do law.” Being told not to feel can rob us of a way through which we exercise our capacity to know.

    Waxler understand Volpp’s cry intimately. He doesn’t argue here in his post; no, more than that, he imposes his own large encompassing vision on the notion that literature is a revelation, not an interference, to reason when we come to judge. To all the lawyers and the all judges, to all the kings and all the potentates, to all the leaders and decision-makers– listen to Waxler: Open the gates and cast wide the windows, throw open the doors to Waxler’s appeal: don’t just read books and literature, use them to open our hearts and our minds to the possibilities of prisons without the stony walls of law.

  3. Yes, Tam, I agree. The rich complexity of a great story captures the complexity of human life. How can we judge that overflowing wonder without reducing it? And, yes, to Carl too! “Open the gates and cast wide the windows!” Exactly.

  4. Bob,

    What resonated with me in your recent entry was,

    “Story begets story, creates community, expands possibilities, and arouses desire for conversation. It does not give us rules of behavior or impose judgments that lead us to any particular instrumental end.”

    What strikes me is the human need for community in our society. Technology may provide tools for communication, but nothing replaces the live encounter of a CLTL discussion.

    All people need community; we were not meant to live lives of isolation. Literature provides a medium for creating this community. And, as you have pointed out in some of you other writing, the measure of a democracy has to do with how many voices are included, not excluded. Prisoners, community members, parents, students and professors in higher education, and students, teachers and administrators in K-12 school settings are all a part of our democracy.

    In our recent CLTL discussion with EDU 207 Teaching as a Profession students and Fall River Resliency School students, we used literature as a medium for creating conversations between and among undergraduate students and students in an urban alternative school setting. Tensions were high, people were passionate about issues in the story that was discussed. We decided to meet with just the undergraduates to debrief the CLTL discussion and through this discussion, the importance of the conversations about literature became clearer to me. You said something to the effect that you weren’t so concerned with what students (undergraduate or high school) said about a piece of literature, but instead the actual fact that they had something to say about the literature.
    As you pointed out, the success of a democracy has to do with how many voices are included. And, in that way, the numbers of students who had something to say about the literature, evidence our success as facilitarors of that exchange. That is an example of how communities get built.

    Regards,

    Maureen

  5. Bob, one of the things that has struck me as I’ve learned about the CLTL these past few years is the necessary faith in each other it demonstrates, and how that faith is rewarded so well, over and over again, as all participants past and present are responsible for continuing success.

    Reading this post pointed out to me the attendant courage required of everyone as well, since it is always riskier and a little frightening to choose complexity over simplicity.

  6. To offer a little balance to a “tilted” question I will share a story from one of my sessions at the Bristol County House of Correction. It keeps popping up in my mind since it happen two months ago. I had just played a song I wrote called “Trying to be Good”. I was in one of the men’s units with about 30 prisioners talking about why it is so hard to be good. A man in the back raised his hand and spoke about all the noise on the street and how he found freedom in jail. I knew him as he had been a graduate of our CLTL program. He had done quite well since he graduated from CLTL and was released from Probation. In the five years since he had developed a successful contracting business, gotten married, had a child, and bought a house. He was living the dream as it were. In his own words, he got cocky. He was proud of his accomplishments and thought he deserved just a little cocaine as a reward. Long story short, after loosing it all and receiving a two year jail sentence he is telling me he found freedom in jail. He said once he started with cocaine, the effort of tryng to balance his business, wife, bills, and his habit had him running like a bird with his head cut off. It was while in jail he was able to have a quiet place to examine his past and really take the time to understand the dysfunction of his childhood and the relationship to how he was living up until this point. I will add he was quick to say literature had much to do with that process. It was while in jail, free from the noise that was his life, that he was able hear more clearly the voices of the authors he was reading. So, in answer to Bob’s question, I say both. The more Judges and, all of us, read about the Cholly Breedlove’s the more gray the choices between, throwing the book at them,(I couldn’t help the pun) or throwing them in jail become, which is a good thing.

  7. “…it is always riskier and a little frightening to choose complexity over simplicity.” I think so too, CE. To put it in slightly different terms, I’d say that vulnerability and an open heart can lead to compassion and community, but that’s risky, as you say–dangerous,at times. But certainly worth the effort. And Wayne’s point: “It was while in jail he was able to have a quiet place to examine his past and really take the time to understand the dysfunction of his childhood and the relationship to how he was living up until this point.” Reminds me that originally “cell” meant “monastery” — and then “room in a nunnery.” Free from all that noise, as Wayne says.

  8. Sitting in the courtroom yesterday, waiting to answer the prosecutor’s question about why I had said I felt it would be unfair for me to determine innocence or guilt of the defendent, I kept thinking, “This judge is presiding over a manslaughter case resulting from domestic violence. If the jury finds this defendent guilty, the law prescribes that she be locked up, denied her freedom and family. The jury decides, the judge sentences.” And so I answer the prosecutor explaining my feelings that the defendent, if found guilty, would be better served by CLTL, explaining CLTL, and that my ability to fairly sit in judgment would be complicated by the usual prescribed sentence. Of course, I was not empanelled, but at least the judge can see the defendent’s story for its richness and complexity, as Bob knows stories to have, and maybe the judge will rule with mercy and compassion.

  9. Dear Bob,
    Your post and question spark off so many ideas in my mind that I had to so end some time mulling over them.
    First – Should judges use the power of the law to sentence people to read good literature or to sit caged in a prison cell?
    I came up with the “profound” answer – yes and no.

    Undoubtly, anybody and especially somebody who is locked up in a place without space, limited horizons and little hope for the future can benefit from the experience of being able to get lost in a book. But if this is done because it was legislated to and the encarcerated person had no choice or guidence then what the very instrument that could bring great benefits would be transformed into a punishment and would loose its impact.

    I believe literature and films can be transformational because they allow us to look at ourselves and the opinions we hold from “outside” of ourselves. They are not invasive or directly confrontational – but they do make us think about ourselves and the opinions we hold.

    In his book “Changing Minds”, Howard Gardner states that one of the 7 factors that has to be at work within an adult to allow him to change his mind on issues central to his personal identity is “resonance” – the new idea has to resonate with ideas that have been building up within the psyche, so there has to be a predispositional to change, which means the individual has got to be willingly involved in the program (which occurs today in the CLTL program).

    There is a catch 22 situation, if the law changes before beople are ready for the change will they benefit from the change. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. When I grew up in Ireland, the drink driving laws were very lax and as young adults we often drank and drove. The law changed, we didn’t like it but now we consider it socially unacceptable to drink and drive and would not consider doing it. We needed the law to change to show us how our previous behaviour was inappropriate.

    I presently live in Portugal. Before the1974 Carnation revolution women’s legal rights were medieval. After the revolution the laws changed comprehensively and today Portugal has one of legal systems to protects women’s rights, but in real terms little changed in people’s mentalities up until a few years ago . The day-to-day life of many Portuguese women has not benefited from their legal position by their own choice, though changes made in the last 5 years have made a difference – they were ready for them.

    Also regarding the education system in Portugal – before 1974 education (except for the first 4 to 6 years) was reagarded as only for certain sections of the population. After the revolution this was expanded but many young people today regard school as a drag – not a means for them to be able to have a better future than their parents – the law changed but they were not ready for it so they could not change.

    So I don’t think blanket legislation will ever work and may even have retarding effects on a good plan if prior work is not done in the target group to show the need and advantages of change.

    I’ll leave you with a comment of W.B. Yeats “physical freedom with cultural horizons is the cruelest things we can give a man or a people”.

    Warm regards and keep up your inspiring work

    Cecilia

    P. S. The comment about the cell – monastery was wonderful by the way – I live in Portugal and teach tourism graduate students so I have to visit many medieval monasteries – the peace that one can experience even in a crowded cloister is something that always moves me.

  10. I agree with Cecilia B. that one cannot “sentence” a person to read a book. Then that book just becomes another instrument of punishment. That is what I like so much about the CLTL class I teach. Granted, these are people on probation, they are not in prison — and so it is possible to present books, stories, and poems in the most open and inviting way. I hope — and I believe — that my students never feel forced into reading. Like good food, books speak for themselves.

  11. Thanks David S. for your story while waiting for jury duty–story evokes story, indeed!! And yes Cecilia, I agree with Tam on this–“one cannot ‘sentence’ a person to read a book.” Of course, I prefer a “question” to a “sentence” anyway. So here’s my question to you Cecilia: WIll you start a CLTL program in Portugal? That would be wonderful.

  12. This is an excellent post and the subsequent conversation has also been fascinating. I think some of the important themes that have emerges from this conversation are Maureen’s discussion of Democracy and Education, Cecllia’s discussion of Human Rights, and this overall discussion of Jurisprudence. Literature invokes profound themes well beyond learning or entertainment, and this is where the strength of programs like CLTL lies.

    The USA is a unique case in terms of worldwide incarceration–you have more gun violence and more drug crime than any other nation on earth, and the most prisoners per capita. So then reading and incarceration both invoke the themes of Democracy, Education, and Human Rights. Personally, I believe that prisons are places where individuals are taken from their communities (criminal or not) and put in an environment where they will form new, more elaborate criminal communities.But, like Wayne mentions, the problems go much deeper than simply an environment that fosters criminal associations–issues of addiction, abuse, neglect, and attachment issues from youth
    play a significant role in these individuals’ lives. It’s a complex issue that I am still trying to learn enough about to form an opinion.

    Great exchange here folks!

    Allan

  13. Ok Bob. I’ll jump in. I want to begin by saying that I think CLTL is a great program, and I agree literature has the capacity to open one’s world in many ways. And I too have met people (as Wayne mentions) who credit their incarceration with having the time and opportunity to reflect on their lives. But that leads me to think, not that this is the “up side” of incarceration, but that there is something terribly wrong with the outside that we can’t provide the space there for reflection, correction, or whatever else we seek to continue on with productive lives.

    And it is wonderful that judges, along with those who come before them, have an opportunity to meet together and learn from what literature has to offer. And, frankly, anything that offers judges an alternative to incarceration is to be lauded. But (there’s that “but” again!) one problem I have with this conversation is that judges don’t make the law, they don’t even (selectively) enforce it. They simply apply it. And those people who come before them are, as I often tell my students, no different than you and I –they just got caught. Now, I realize that both of these contentions are grossly oversimplified. The point I suppose I am trying to make it that it is imperative to remember in this conversation that there is a much larger audience that needs to be convinced that Respect begets Respect, that literature offers valuable lessons, and that we will do better building communities, as Maureen says, than creating boundaries. How can we bring “them” in to this conversation?

  14. It is clear that incarceration without rehabilitation is just a bad way to spend taxpayer’s money. And incarceration does seem to foster an “an environment where they (those incarcerated) will form new, more elaborate criminal communities,” as Allan pointed out

    I think that a program like CLTL provides a new place for community to form, and the “glue” of a common text between people (who are different in age and experience) provides a “space” for conversation, for community-building, for reflection on the human condition.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Susan’s commentary that there is “something terribly wrong with the outside that we can’t provide the space there for reflection, correction, or whatever else we seek to continue on with productive lives.”

    Respectfully,

    Maureen

  15. Yes, Allan, as you put it: ” … prisons are places where individuals are taken from their communities (criminal or not) and put in an environment where they will form new, more elaborate criminal communities.” So what about “re-entry” when those prisoners are first set free? They are at their most vulnerable then. I believe reading and discussing good literature could help provide these newly released offenders with a reasonable chance for successful re-entry into the general community. The best way to judge the health of a society, I think, is by seeing how inclusive it is, how well that society opens itself to others. That seems to be Susan’s point as well: “How can we bring ‘them’ into this conversation?” she asks. “They” are “us ” — literature encourages everyone, at times, to see just that.

  16. Hi Bob,

    I’m not a natural blogger but here goes…

    I have found the discussion very interesting because CLTL is mainly run as an alternative to custodial sentence. Here in England we have so far only been able to run it within prisons where, incidentally, participants volunteer and often we draw them in with a carrot – attendance will be a brownie point towards parole decisions – and they openly admit later that the brownie point was all they were after. Yet once they have attended a couple of sessions it is the literature and ensuing discussion that holds them and which they find so freeing.

    Over the last 18 months I have been running the programme (which we call Stories Connect) in Exeter, Devon, outside prison with offenders in the community and drug addicts. These are mixed groups, men and women, offenders and/or addicts. They do not face prison if they fail to turn up. In some cases they attend as part of their community order but more often it is simply the literature and discussions which keep them coming. We lose more from each group than we did in prison because they are surrounded by temptations and other commitments, yet those that stay become as passionate as we all are and in at least one case so far a student has gone on to enrol for college where she is now doing extremely well.

    So in our case the law doesn’t really come into it. It is the literature and the sense of community that develops among the group which they find so binding. It’s seat of the pants stuff for us, but it does prove the power of literature.

  17. Bob –

    Thanks for your thought provoking post. I’d like to complicate your analysis a bit. I would dissent from the argument that sets the workings of the law and lierature in opposition, in a way that seems to short-change judges and privilege lierature a bit too globally.

    I’ve watched judges for 35 years now and it strikes me that Cover likely hasn’t watched many, if any. It is true that judges, occasionally, “deal pain and death”, inescapably, sometimes unnecessarily and insensitively and often sorrowfully. Judges are charged to do justice, seek fairness, and right wrongs in ways that acknowldge comperting cliams in the midst of what are often absurdly complicated and muddled human dramas. More often than not, they succeed as well as any mortal could.

    Cover claims that the “law closes off conversation”. In its worst and most bureaucratic manifestation, it does. But at its best, law IS conversation, it is an exhange between parties who can in a public setting air their greivances, offer their version of the truth, and ask that their claim for justice be respected. Cover’s caricature resembles little of what I have observed. It works in theory but not in practice.

    Regarding lietrature, are not your claims too broad here? Does ALL lieterature do what you say it does? Is none of it polemical , politically inspired, or demagogic? What of Forster’s claim about “flat” characters that play on and reinforce sterotypes?

    My point here is to support the redemptive qualities of the law and connect it more with thereby with what great ( but not failed) literature does. These are not polarities but similarities.

    Two asides. In James Wood’s recent book “How Fiction Works” , he tells a marvelous story about a police chief who required that his officers read fiction to broaden their empathic skills. A wonderful story!

    Lastly, I was happy to learn again form my old colleague Wayne, whose account of the admittedly paradoxical value of “penitentiary” time rings very true.

  18. Addendum:

    Sorry for the typo’s in that post – I was attempting to undertake a spell check and inadvertently forwarded the post. I do know how to spell “literature” and “from”, though you couldn’t tell that from my post!

  19. Good to hear from England on this!! Thanks so much for all your inspired work there, Mary. And Ron: Yes, I agree with you, on the whole. Cover seems to be making a theoretical, and somewhat violent, point , but it calls for consideration. No doubt, in practice, judges (and the law) are often complex and compassionate, just as writers and literature can be. Nevertheless law and literature do have their differences, as I am sure, Ron, you would also agree.

  20. Hello all,

    Great post and subsequent commentary. I appreciate the arguement your making dr. Waxler, but would agree that it presents a limited view (primarily negative) of the Courts, the Law, its process of administration and results.

    I would agree w/ Ron that the process of administering judgement or “justice” is very much a dialog. The level of openness or equality in this exchange is an entirely other subject. One cannot deny/ignore the many levels of dialog and deliberation put into even the simplest Court proceeding. This aspect of our current process should be maintained if not enhanced.

    Sadly issues of equality, fairness, and justice are untenable/taboo subjects in today’s Public Policy world. Further, and even more discouraging, is the escalating decay and levels of violence in urban and impoverished areas of the US and world. This trend will certainly not stem the tide of incarciration and recitivism rates,prison overcrowding, or the lessening the barely manageable burden on the Courts.

    Since we’re on this site, we all agree there is room for improvement and alternative approaches to administering/determining justice/judgement in the world.

    Hopefully through the local, grass roots efforts such as Dr. Waxler’s, all involved in CLTL and like minded activities/initiatives we will realize many methods and tools to supplement and possibly defray the current system. Renovation through Innovation.

    Onwards and upwards. Thanks to all. Chat soon.

    Phil

  21. Bob –

    A discussion of the similarities and differences between the law and literature would itself be fascinating. Some might say first that the law and judges take action and bring matters to resolution. On the other side, we have Auden’s line that “Poetry makes nothing happen.”

    Was Auden right ( or even serious)? Which discipline – law or literature- actually accomplishes more? Is that a useful way to think about things?

    In any event, I am thrilled to see the conversation continuing from those courageous beginnings all those years ago!

  22. Hi all,

    We’re talking a lot about the content of CLTL programs–reading appropriate literature (though Ron brings up a good point about just what counts as “literature”.) However, it’s important to remember the context of CLTL programs as well.

    A CLTL classroom brings individuals into a democratic, intellectual setting to discuss ideas and feelings surrounding great works of art. CLTL is more than just reading these works; it’s the opportunity for, as Bob and Jean would put it, “Finding a Voice”. The CLTL classroom setting is conducive to learning and growth and it’s important to note both content and context.

    Thanks for your excellent insights,

    Allan

  23. Whoops, my comment went out before I’d finished it. I wanted to add that in the Dorchester program, we address this question directly by asking whether any one human being has the right to pass judgment on another. The writing and discussion that follows ranges over the complete spectrum of possible answers, but it also brings out that the judgment that takes place is not a judgment by peers but by a powerful system against its most powerless citizens.

    The highlight of these discussions occurred a year or so ago when our students were carrying on about how bad the system was, and how unfair. That’s when the judge who worked with us that year said, “No, you’ve got it all wrong. The purpose of the law is to defend the property and the rights of the privileged, and it works perfectly.”

    So the questions you raise points also to the further question whether the people who carved and enforced the tablets can justly pass judgment against the often downtrodden people who violate them.

  24. Bert –

    I would only add that that those who suffer from the acts of those we must judge are, much more often than not, as downtrodden as those who are charged with the acts. Surely their injuries have some claim on our attention.

    The notion that the law favors primarily the interests of the rich – while it has a beguiling, romantic, and terribly 1960’s air about it – works right up to the point when it bumps up against the facts. I haven’t noticed that the typical victim of medical malpractice or rape is commonly from the privilged classes.

  25. I hope we can continue this discussion on law and literature–perhaps at the February national CLTL gathering. Keep the vision!

  26. One of the things Morrison does in _The Bluest Eye_ is challenge readers to read in just the way Bob suggests—for understanding rather than to stop at judgment. We know the end of the story at the beginning of the novel: 12-year old Pecola Breedlove is pregnant with her father’s child, outcast and alone, and so readers have often already made their decision about Cholly before we see him in any other context. Yet, at the same time, Morrison’s narrator offers us a reason to keep reading in the challenge she offers: “There is really nothing more to say—except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how” (6). It seems to me that this is the challenge that Bob’s post leaves us with as well—can we balance the “how,” the logistics of a case, the end of a story, with the human complexity of “why”? The question of “why” is more difficult and painful because implicit in it are layers of responsibility: certainly the individual makes his or her own choices, but those choices are never in a vacuum. Instead, all of the social, economic, cultural, and familial influences narrow the possibility of other choices.

    Nothing in Cholly’s life (or Morrison’s novel) excuses his behavior, but neither do the events of his life explain overtly how he became the man he is at the end. Rather, in search of “why,” the reader is led to consider Cholly’s place in the world–or his lack of place. Morrison labels Cholly “dangerously free,” but far from in control of his own life, this freedom is an unmooring from all of the social contracts that would normally tie him or make him responsible to others (family, community, society) or to any moral, ethical, or legal system. Cholly is outside human systems, and also without the avenue back in—his experience, Morrison says, is outside of language, and could only be articulated through a medium like jazz that takes into account the dissonance of human emotion. The abandonment of Cholly (by his parents, but also by American society) and the absence of his voice expressing that experience, then, turns him into a threat to the social order as it severs him from any connection to society: he is truly lawless. But, as the posts, and certainly the CTLL program, suggest, literature (and art) offer a way back in through empathy and exchange (not necessarily the withholding of judgment, but the taking of responsibility by both individuals and communities).

  27. As a college student who hs recently read this novel, the struggle over Cholly Breedlove is not yet over in my mind. I want to go back, and read it again. One of the points I find most compelling is, as Dr. Evans said above, the book neither condemns nor explains away the deeds of Cholly Breedlove. My Christian faith ranks high in my life, and so morality is always an issue whem looking at a book. However, as I read Cholly Breedlove’s story, I am reminded of Jesus in the marketplace, when a promiscuous women, presumed to be Mary Magdalene, is brought before him, and he is asked to pass judgment. Christ, an omniscient being, must have seen quite the story when he looked in the woman’s eyes, and his jdugement, well-known by all, is for “he without sin to cast the first stone.” In Cholly’s life, I feel I have come to agree with this judgment. Cholly has done wrong, but, then again, so have I, in my life. The novel does acquiesce that Cholly was the only one who “loved [Pecola] enough to touch her.” So, on one level, Cholly is an incestuos father, in another light, as outside our mental frameworks as it may be, he is showing deep compassion for Pecola.

    I am completely convinced that literature would make an excellent rehailitator of criminals of all varieties. Literature, in the end, holds a mirror to our souls and asks us to look at what we truly are. That look can frighten us, please us, leave us unchanged, or send us into reflection and reformative efforts. The more we reflect upon our soul, the more readily we seek improvement. I would firmly agree that the CLTL program is a powerfl tool indeed for the reformation of society as a whole.

  28. Robert Waxler:

    Your essay is masterful. Actually, it reads like a letter, a personal letter to me. I have always felt that the causes and effects of crime have been known for centuries. The remedies don’t address these causes, but remain unchanged because within the law, law is percieved as all we have. An answer to all this that doesn’t require slogans, medication, air-conditioned trailers and real estate or even cell phones, borders on the miracle of plain living and high thinking. It may be as simple as starting with the realization that within literature, the feelings of others are not hurtful.

  29. Pingback: Criminal Sentencing: Retribution or Redemption? « Changing Lives, Changing Minds: A Changing Lives Through Literature Blog

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