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|March 21, 2011
Director of Communications
Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) Celebrates 20th Anniversary
Left to right: New Bedford District Court Probation Officer Wayne St. Pierre, Judge Robert Kane, and UMASS-Dartmouth Literature Professor Robert Waxler, creators of the Changing Lives Through Literature Program.
Twenty years ago, a District Court Judge and his tennis partner, a local literature professor, pondered the merits of introducing literature to offenders and polled New Bedford District Court Probation Officer Wayne St. Pierre to get his opinion on the matter.
Judge Kane, St. Pierre, and University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Professor Robert Waxler all agreed that this educational venture might prove successful in reducing recidivism. This collaboration led to the launching of Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL), one of the Massachusetts Probation Service's longest-running programs. This program has changed the lives of 1,000's of offenders by introducing them to the power of learning one word, one book at a time.
A conference, titled "Where Are We Going and Where Have We Been: Reflecting on 20 Years of Changing Lives Through Literature," will assess the impact of the CLTL Program during a day-long symposium on Friday, March 25,th at the Henderson House in Weston. The conference is open to judges, probation officers, and educators. The agenda will feature a roundtable discussion on CLTL's impact, relationship of CLTL to jury deliberations, and an exploration of short stories. Probation Officers wishing to attend should contact Tamlin Nevile at email@example.com
The CLTL Program began as a 12-week program which requires offenders to read such classics as "Old Man in the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway, "Of Mice and Men," by John Steinbeck, and "Seawolf," by Jack London. A discussion of the book, its characters, and the parallel of the offender's life to that of the characters in the books are often part of the dialogue, according to Kane, St. Pierre, and Waxler.
"A good book engages us and takes us inside the story which enables us to be part of the tale. Through discussions, we recreate the story, look at the characters, consider and reconsider their actions,"said St. Pierre. "This is a positive example and great lesson for those we monitor on probation."
Judge Kane concurred, "I see reading as a repository for self-reflection and as something that is required in everyday life."
The CLTL conference, Waxler said, will give those involved with the program a chance to review it and continue to look at ways of building on its success.
"We want to review the journey and create new ideas," he said.
The CLTL Program was initially designed for men who had pending cases that would result in incarceration. Motivation to change one's life and the ability to read were among the few requirements for probationers to participate in the program, according to St. Pierre. The classes are held at the university and offenders are required to read six books over the duration of the program. St. Pierre said the conversations are "free-flowing and often touch upon the human condition."
There are nine CLTL Programs offered in the court system and facilitated by Probation Officers. There is a men's program at New Bedford District Court as well as a program offered for juveniles. A co-educational program was offered through Wrentham District Court and a women's program at Lynn and Lowell District courts. Framingham District Court and Boston Municipal Court (BMC)- Roxbury run co-ed programs. BMC-Dorchester offers separate men's and women's programs. Suffolk Juvenile runs a program. BMC-Roxbury's CLTL program is for women.
Since its start, the CLTL Program has also been offered in such states as Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Texas. There have also been programs in Canada and England. There are CLTL programs that also include the reading of poetry. A recent program and CLTL offshoot, introduced by St. Pierre, focuses on song lyrics.