A Chance to Change

Nicole Beaudoin is a master’s candidate in the Professional Writing Program at UMass Dartmouth. Currently, she works with the University’s web team and teaches Business Communications as a TA. She has a passion for literature, writing and especially dogs.


Adolescence is a time in life for making mistakes and learning lessons to carry into adulthood. But for the thousands of juvenile offenders in our country’s prison system, adolescence is just part of their life sentence without parole. For many of these youths, one wrong decision has led them to live their entire lives behind bars for committing what officials call “adult crimes,” when in fact they do not even understand these crimes.

 

In the New York Times discussion forum “room for debate,” Mark Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project and the author of Race to Incarcerate, argues that sentencing children is inherently different than sentencing adults:

 

…children are different than adults. As the Supreme Court noted in its 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons banning the death penalty for juveniles, children do not have fully matured levels of judgment or impulse control, and are more susceptible to peer pressure than adults.


Mauer says that children are “uniquely capable of change…No matter how serious a crime committed by a 13-year-old, there is no means of predicting what type of adult he or she will become in 10 or 20 years.


While the crimes some juveniles have committed are very serious  – murder, rape, home invasion – many offenders twice their age commit the same crimes and serve minimal sentences and receive parole. Why don’t youths receive the same chance for change?

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Thank You, Jack Kerouac

Eric Marshall is a graduate student of Professional Writing at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He writes poetry and is currently working on his first novel, tentatively titled The Sleep Season.


When I turned nineteen in July of 2003, my mother gave me a copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It was a paperback, the cover illustration was of a slick nineteen forties Cadillac limousine surging down a dark blue midnight highway. Having just completed an honors colloquium on the artists of the Beat movement, my interest in the work of writers like Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac was piqued. I had no way of knowing, however, the dramatic affect that the famous novel would have on my young life.


My first reading of On the Road didn’t begin as the eye-opening, spellbinding experience it would come to be. I struggled with the early chapters, the litany of names, my own ignorance as to which characters aligned with which key figures of the Beat movement. But by the time that Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty made their fateful passage over the border to Mexico, I was enrapt.


What I had discovered was an affirmation of life, a defense against darkness, a resonant cry of rebel freedom that pulsates through American life. You could drop everything and hitchhike to San Francisco if you wanted; you could find God in the beady, sweating eyes of a tortured blues tenor; you could live life at the speed of light, and it could all blow up in your face, but that could also be okay.


Most importantly, though, I learned that I could write wild, untamed things that would set the world on fire for my readers the way that Jack Kerouac did for me.


I made a pact with myself that I would read On the Road once a year, every July, for the rest of my life. My earliest re-reads were attempts to rekindle the burning fire of my first reading, to rediscover the overwhelming sense of possibility opened up to me by reading Kerouac’s work at age nineteen. At first, I was disappointed, discouraged, even. Just like anything else in life, the book just wasn’t the same the second time around.

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The World of Learning, Imagination, and Entertainment

book fractal by bzedan on flickrBob Schilling is a defense lawyer and former assistant district attorney who lives in New Bedford.  His practice is now in the New Bedford District Court and in the Juvenile Court handling delinquencies and ‘youthful offender’ cases.  He has a daughter in New York City and a son at UMass Amherst.


A former colleague (an assistant district attorney) recently asked me if I was still involved with Judge Kane’s “bleeding heart book club.”  We both laughed. In a more serious vein, he went on to ask whether I thought he might enjoy it, because he is approaching retirement and may have some time to – and it sounds like a cliché but really isn’t – “give back to the community.”

 

I first heard of Changing Lives Through Literature from Judge Robert Kane, a brilliant, experienced, tough judge in the Superior Court; I heard him gently query convicted felons about whether they had ever taken any interest in the written world of learning, imagination and entertainment.

 

He spoke to these hard men of the life of the mind and encouraged exploration of the world of letters. He offered them the possibility of this program. Some, who think toughness and compassion are mutually exclusive, would roll their eyes.

 

Three years ago, when I retired from service to the Commonwealth, I had the occasion to do a good deal of work in the New Bedford Juvenile Court as a defense attorney. Lo and behold, I heard again of CLTL through Stella Ribeiro, a dedicated probation officer who I worked with in the “Second Chance Drug Court.” I told her that I would love to participate, finally, in the program.

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Continuing Conversations: One Year of Changing Lives, Changing Minds

"age of conversation" by Kris Hoet on flickrJenni Baker is the communications specialist for Goodwill Industries International in Rockville, MD.  Beth  Ayer is a second-year graduate student in the Professional Writing program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and the current marketing and media advisor for  Changing Lives Through Literature.


November 5th marks the one-year anniversary of Changing Lives, Changing Minds. In honor of this landmark, founding editor Jenni Baker and current editor Beth Ayer came together to talk about the blog’s progress and where it’s headed.


Jenni: We’ve come a long way from one year ago and the blog is picking up speed. Readership and interest in CLTL has really taken off in the past few months.

 

Beth: Absolutely – it has been great to hear from a lot of new people. Picking up where you left off was almost deceptively simple. The blog was founded on an endlessly positive and intriguing idea: the conversation from the CLTL classroom can carry over to the Internet to spread positive change. Still, I say “deceptively simple” because we still need to maintain a concerted effort to reach out to readers.

 

Jenni: In the beginning, the task was to get CLTL’s core supporters on board with the blog, both by contributing essays and coming back to comment on what others had to say. These individuals formed a strong foundation to build our external readership. Now, the task is to continue to reach out to new audiences. The potential to spread information about CLTL is exponential — new readers interested in the blog may share program information to their friends, who may continue to pass the word along.

 

Beth: One of the major challenges has been continuing to build on the great progress we’ve already made by maintaining reader interest with new content, and by attracting new readers through the strength of the CLTL concept. But, as you say, the existing foundation has positioned the blog very well for continued growth. I think it helps to keep focused on the blog’s role and purpose within CLTL.

 

Jenni: Certainly. And it’s important to recognize the important role the blog does play in raising awareness about the organization. In the past, CLTL relied mostly on grassroots, word-of-mouth efforts to raise awareness about the program.  Blogs and social media have made it possible to take this grassroots movement online and get the word out to many more people. We’re seeing that more than ever recently.

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