We know books can change lives (right?), but courts in nine states have taken that and expanded its reach.
In a scuffed-up college classroom in Dartmouth, Mass., 14 people page through a short story by T.C. Boyle. They debate the date at which the action is set: when was the Chevy Bel Air released, and what was the drinking age in New York State that year? They question moral responsibility: when the three friends in the Bel Air assault a girl, should peer pressure be blamed for their impulse, or hormones, drink, sin? To which the man at the head of our table rejoins: “There’s a kind of complexity to human experience that isn’t always recognized. You try to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong, but sometimes both are wrong, right?”
Of the 14 people, a dozen are male. One is an English professor, one is a graduate student, two are judges and two are probation officers. The eight others are convicted criminals who have been granted probation in exchange for attending, and doing the homework for, six twice-monthly seminars on literature. The class is taught through Changing Lives Through Literature, an alternative sentencing program that allows felons and other offenders to choose between going to jail or joining a book club. At each two-hour meeting, students discuss fiction, memoirs and the occasional poem; authors range from Frederick Douglass to John Steinbeck to Toni Morrison, topics from self-mutilation and family quarrels to the Holocaust and the Montgomery bus boycott. …
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Hat Tip: Brandilyn Collins, via Twitter on Facebook.