Changing Lives Through Literature-An Alternative Sentencing Program

Changing Lives Through Literature-An Alternative Sentencing Program

For many of us, reading is a part of our daily life. Yet some adults and youth have not been exposed to literature or may not even know how to read. Reading can help enlighten the mind, help with character building, and help transform lives.

Changing Lives Through Literature began in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1991 as an alternative sentencing program for adults and youth. Since that time, Changing Lives Through Literature programs have been established in many states.

Changing Lives Through Literature grew in response to a powerful need to find alternatives to incarceration. In 1991, Professor Robert Waxler and Judge Robert Kane initiated the first Changing Lives Through Literature program. Eight men were sentenced to probation instead of imprisonment with the stipulation that they had to complete a Modern American Literature seminar by Professor Waxler. For 12 weeks, the men met at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Literature has the power to transform men’s and women’s lives – this is the philosophy behind Changing Lives Through Literature

By reading and discussing classic novels such as Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf” and James Dickey’s “Deliverance,” the men had the opportunity to investigate and explore aspects of themselves. They also increased their ability to express themselves and communicate better. Reading literature also gave these men a whole new perspective on the world, their role in society, and that they did have the ability to make wise choices in life.

In 2003, Changing Lives Through Literature was awarded an Exemplary Education grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a website and training materials to expand its reach. In 2004, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities granted funds to the Massachusetts program to buy books and provide transportation for students to attend seminars.

If you are selected for the Changing Lives Through Literature program, which often happens right at the sentencing bench, you will be expected to live by the rules outlined by your probation officer and instructor. Students are expected to participate in all classes, read the material, and be active members of the Changing Lives Through Literature program they are sentenced to.

Changing Lives Through Literature has many resources for students, instructors, probation officers, and judges to help them navigate the program. In addition, their website has a wealth of information on starting a local Changing Lives Through Literature program.

“For a person in jail, there are few options to improve your skills. Reading the works of James Baldwin has made me feel excited, positive, and anxious for the upcoming class. Having time to sit and listen to fellow inmates read and then give their personal opinions on the chapter, with the help of our teacher, helps me connect to the story. The questions asked: “What did you feel the writer meant?” “How does this story relate to your own life?” “What are your feelings about the author?” -A student with the Changing Lives Through Literature program.