The following post was written for the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries blog. The personal story that is included, I feel, exemplifies what is at the heart of the Changing Lives through Literature program. The original post can be found here.
An alternative sentencing program has been reducing recidivism in Massachusetts for over twenty years. In 1991, UMASS-Dartmouth Literature Professor Robert Waxler, Judge Robert Kane and Probation Officer Wayne St. Pierre started the program called “Changing Lives Through Literature.” For 12 to 14 weeks, probationers, Judges and probation officers read and discuss six or seven literary works. The program ends with a graduation ceremony in a full courtroom.
At the twenty year anniversary, the Trial Court participated in a day-long symposium to assess the program’s impact. Numerous testimonials and studies proving the success of the program have been listed on the CLTL website.
“I was walking through the streets of the city the other night,” a student in Robert Waxler’s class told him once. “It could have been any city, any street, any of us. ‘And I was thinking about Santiago [ in Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea],’ he continued. ‘I came to a corner where all my old buddies hang out up the street. You know, I’ve been struggling to stay clean for a long time. But I was depressed. So I began to make the turn, to go down that street, back to the old neighborhood. Then I heard him, the old man. It was like listening to his voice. I remembered how he had gone out each day for almost three months without catching a fish. He hadn’t caught anything, but he still got up each morning, tried it again. He must have felt terrible, but he didn’t give up. So I didn’t make the turn that day. Stayed strong. Thanks to the old man. I heard him.’ “