Changing Lives Through Literature subject of new book

Innovative alternative sentencing strategy gaining support from opposite ends of the social/political spectrum.

Disturbed by the lack of success of prisons in reforming offenders, UMass Dartmouth English Professor Robert Waxler and Massachusetts District Court Judge Robert Kane created Changing Lives Through Literature, an educational initiative for criminal offenders based on the idea that studying literature can transform lives, in 1991. 

In their new book, Finding A Voice, released today by the University of Michigan Press, Waxler and Middlesex Community College Professor Jean Trounstine (who extended CLTL to female prisoners in 1993) discuss the "how and why" of their unique alternative sentencing program. The book was released today by the University of Michigan Press. 

“Finding a Voice marks a milestone in our Changing Lives Through Literature program,’’ Dr. Waxler said. “The book offers our account of how we developed CLTL, how it has improved the lives of countless offenders, professors, judges and probation officers, and, most importantly, why the reading and discussion of good stories will always matter. It is exciting to see this book published, and I am hoping it will get a lot of people interested in starting a program in their part of the country." 

Along with describing the program's beginnings and the team approach that made CLTL a success, the authors provide a wealth of practical advice for other teachers dealing with difficult learners. Their sample lesson plans, text suggestions, and discussion of controversies faced by CLTL, are designed to offer readers a new strategy for connecting with alternative learners everywhere. 

Since its founding in 1991, CLTL has won numerous awards and been featured in national media outlets such as The New York Times, Parade Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and the Today Show. 

Recently, two national publications, The Humanist and the National Catholic Reporter, typically on opposing ends of the social/political spectrum, have both embraced Changing Lives Through Literature. In their recent issues, both publications acknowledge and even praise CLTL for the positive impact it is having on a society that is often indifferent to its offenders. 

The Humanist calls CLTL. “a bold experiment that can be used as a paradigm for creating similar programs in both state and federal prisons.” 

The National Catholic Reporter calls the program, “a success from the beginning” for having “been copied throughout the country with the same basic format of 8 to 0 prisoners, a professor, judge, and probation officer. The program’s record of 50% less recidivism among participants attests to its impact.” 

This success is at the crux of Professor Waxler’s belief that “prisoners are so often bright, but they have been so marginalized that they feel no one listens to them. They have no voice. In the discussions (of the literature), finally, they have a voice.” 

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