Woman of the Year embraces alternative sentencing

Judge Bettina Borders, of Bristol County Juvenile Court, was named 2012 SouthCoast Woman of the Year. She made “contributions to the community as a justice and activist,” according to the New Bedford (MA) Standard-Times. Her work includes making use of alternative sentencing programs such as Changing Lives Through Literature.

Read reporter Natalie Sherman’s full article about this amazing Woman of the Year.

Is someone in your community changing lives for the better? Tell us about that person.

To submit brief comments, use the comments link at the top of this post. To submit longer comments, or to include images, email me at cltl@umassd.edu.

We look forward to hearing about the remarkable, and perhaps under-recognized, people in your communities.

–Nancy E. Oliveira, Editor


A year-end letter to our readers


Nancy E. Oliveira, blog editor

Nancy E. Oliveira, blog editor

Dear Readers,

As we approach the end of 2012, let’s take a moment to reflect on this year’s successes—big and small—of Changing Lives Through Literature and other alternative sentencing programs.

Our purpose

We are the official blog of Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL)—an alternative sentencing program “based on the power of literature to transform lives through reading and group discussion,” as well-stated on the official CLTL website.

The main purpose of the Changing Lives, Changing Minds blog is to support CLTL. This blog provides a place to discuss:

  • CLTL and other alternative sentencing programs that reduce criminal recidivism or change lives for the better—share news, concerns, successes, difficulties, and ideas
  • Literature—recommend stories that inspire; talk about literary events that enlighten
  • Criminal justice reform and other relevant criminal justice topics of today—discuss what works and what changes still need to take place

A milestone reached: 200 posts

We reached a milestone this year—we published our 200th post. Please continue to join us as we embark on our next 200. Also, while CLTL has been around since 1991, this blog turned four years old last month. Let’s look forward to the next four years and beyond.

Thank you

Thank you for contributing your thoughts, experiences, and insights to this blog. Also, thank you for reading it! We hope you find its content meaningful and valuable.

A call to action: share your 2012 success stories

We invite you to share your CLTL (or similar program) successes of 2012. We encourage you to use this blog to share your answers to any of these questions:

  • How did your CLTL group or similar program succeed in 2012?
  • What breakthroughs were experienced?
  • What piece of literature did you or someone in your program find most inspiring?

For shorter comments, please use the leave a comment link at the top of this post and enter your reply. For longer comments, or to include images, submit up to 700 words to cltl@umassd.edu for publication on this blog.

We also welcome your thoughts on what you’d like to read on this blog for the upcoming year.

Again, thank you for helping to make this blog, CLTL, and similar programs a success.


Nancy E. Oliveira

Editor of Changing Lives, Changing Minds—a Changing Lives Through Literature blog

Photo taken by JoAnne Breault.

Starting a conversation about online degrees

Editor’s note:
The author of the abbreviated article below presents his case for enrolling in online degree programs and speaks specifically about online criminal justice programs. Because many of you who read this blog work in criminal justice, I ask you to submit your comments regarding this topic.

A question to get the discussion started:

Compared to traditional criminal justice degree programs, do you think online criminal justice degrees provide a comparable level of preparation for criminal justice careers?

I look forward to your comments.


A case for criminal justice e-learning

By Stephen Strings

A proper education is highly esteemed most anywhere in the world. Attaining a degree is regarded as a major achievement and this creates better chances for you to land a job. However not everybody gets selected in local institutions of higher learning and this has rendered many jobless. The good news is that there is online learning.

How online education is favourable

Online education has many advantages. If you have a job already and wonder if you can enroll in a criminal justice degree successfully and still work, you have nothing to worry about—online degrees are very flexible. Another great advantage is that you get to interact with other people who have different frames of mind and you can challenge yourself.

An online criminal justice degree is good for you because you get to study forensic science criminology and so many other interesting and exciting topics. When you do this online you get to meet people and network which increases your chances of getting a good job. When you take up an online degree, you are taught by staff who are dedicated and the best of the best.

Cross boarders and expand your horizons by enrolling in an online criminal justice degree.

Stephen Strings is a blogger who works for online degrees provider E Degree USA. He loves to write articles and blogs on online education. He has covered a variety of topics like online criminal justice degrees, business degrees and more providing tips and suggestions to students worldwide.

Rehabilitation through reading: an opportunity to self-reflect and gain perspective

By Sara Dawkins

While reading, you use your imagination to visualize a story’s characters as if they’re starring in a movie within your mind. Although the author’s words greatly impact the flow of your mind-movie, your imagination fills in the blanks. Reading about characters who have similar circumstances to yours can help shed light on your own situation. This is one of the base beliefs behind the alternative sentencing program called Changing Lives Through Literature. How can literature encourage positive change in a criminal’s way of thinking?

1. Reflection:  When offenders openly analyze their own lives through literary characters, they get a chance for inner reflection that they may never have explored before. They put themselves in the spotlight for self-examination.

2. Positive Role Models:  After ordering CLTL classes as part of sentencing, judges may attend the classes involving the offenders-turned-students. By contributing to the literary discussions, the judges start becoming positive role models in the students’ lives—possibly changing how the students view the world. Parole officers can become role models just as much by participating in the students’ progress in the classes. This can greatly increase the chances of rehabilitation and reduce the likelihood of re-offending.

3. Self-Worth:  In order for the program to work, students must have a capacity to accept responsibility for their actions. Students must show and demonstrate that they can be proactive in their own rehabilitation. For some, it is difficult to rely only on themselves to stay motivated enough for better lives.  Family histories can be pivotal to how students adapt to this method of rehabilitation.

4.  Perspective:  This alternative method of sentencing is more than just a book club. The literary works chosen reflect students’ lives—either through the characters or the situations. It’s a way for students to examine their actions from the perceptions of others. As their imaginations explore the settings, the literature often drives a point home better than more jail time would.

5. Safety:  The philosophy behind CLTL is such that it allows students to feel safe when discussing literature. Students open themselves up and discuss the actions of literary characters, and how the characters relate to themselves.

Alternative sentencing methods for criminal offenders has had great success. Support is growing for methods such as these. Words can be powerful to those who are open to their meanings. We should embrace the success of CLTL and support rehabilitation over punishment to those who need it and who are willing to benefit from it.

Sara Dawkins is an active nanny as well as an active freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor of http://www.nannypro.com/

A creative writing community project brings people together

Lessons: Stories that connect from Stories Connect

Lessons cover

Lessons cover

By Sally Flint

People’s lives have been changed not only by reading and discussing literature, but by writing creatively too. In Exeter, England, this has culminated in publishing a book of linked short stories and poems. This book is Lessons and it comes from Stories Connect—a community project, similar in format to Changing Lives Through Literature, that takes place outside prisons to help ex-offenders, substance misusers and other vulnerable people get over difficult times in their lives.

In 2011, after reading Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads and Andrea Levy’s Small Island, discussions centred on the significance of characters in storytelling, how our lives interconnect, and how perceptions of one another can be very different according to our individual experiences. Rather than read more texts to illustrate this, both the participants and facilitators of Stories Connect began a collaborative writing experiment.

Each person invented a character—then got to know his imaginary person through answering a questionnaire which not only detailed a physical description and obvious things such as what the character did for a job, but also smaller things such as what the character kept under his bed. Once each character was firmly established in each writer’s mind the group discussed how the characters’ lives might overlap and be brought together. Part of the success of this collection is that each writer firmly took ownership of his own imaginary character and stepped into his character’s shoes.

However, to bring the characters together it was decided something more was needed—an event. Parties and weddings and all sorts of other occasions were brainstormed and somehow, out of talking about school reunions, the idea surfaced that the characters would all attend a memorial service for a recently retired headmaster, Keith Simon Lung.

Everyone discussed, debated and created—then each person wrote his character’s story in a way that linked to the headmaster and his memorial. The stories took months to shape, edit and bring together as an anthology. This process fostered an environment of trust and commitment. It motivated both participants and facilitators to further improve their communicative and observational skills. Everyone worked hard to make each story stand alone, while ensuring there are many intriguing links to be made across the whole collection and questioned by the reader.

Some of the contributors had never written a story or poem before while some had read and written lots. Perhaps what this book reveals best, and why the group wanted it published, is to show how the process of writing brought them together. The result, Lessons, proves that stretching imaginations and the practice of storytelling unites people at all levels, regardless of age, background, ethnicity or past histories. In the process of creating, the group encountered the unexpected and overcame challenges and, it has to be said, they all laughed lots!

“This is a consummate piece of group story-telling, a feat of cooperation and collaboration,” writes poet and broadcaster Matt Harvey in the book’s forward. He supports and works with Stories Connect.

Lessons is published by Dirt Pie Press, University of Exeter: www.riptidejournal.co.uk
ISBN: 978-0-9558326-7-3

For more information, e-mail either:
Dr. Sally Flint, facilitator and publisher: s.flint@exeter.ac.uk
Louise Ross, Stories Connect co-ordinator:  knotaproblem@hotmail.co.uk

Dr. Sally Flint joined Stories Connect in 2007. She is a publisher, writer, and, creative writing teacher. She also co-edits Riptide Journal.