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May 08, 2009

Daily roundup

May 07, 2009

Daily roundup

May 06, 2009

Daily roundup

The Stoning of Soraya M.

It looks like Gina and I might be attending a sneak preview of the film which won the coveted People's Choice Award at the Toronto International film festival, The Stoning of Soraya M.

Mind you, that's an award which such terrific films as Slumdog Millionaire, Bella, Tsotsi, and Hotel Rwanda have won in years past. It looks like this film, based on a true story, has an important message. And they've got a stellar actor in Jim Caviezel. I've been very impressed how he continues to navigate Hollywood with his strong faith, choosing films which don't compromise him. Here's the trailer:

May 05, 2009

Daily roundup

Chuck on ’Daisy Chain’

Daisy Chain Catherine has written before about Mary DeMuth's new book, Daisy Chain. Now, in today's BreakPoint commentary, Chuck Colson weighs in on this sad but inspiring novel.

DeMuth is a Christian and an award-nominated novelist whose books often deal with issues of abuse. Yet at the same time, they intertwine themes of grace and hope. Daisy Chain tells the story of a young boy named Jed who’s struggling with both his best friend’s disappearance and his father’s abuse. On the surface, Jed’s father looks like the model pastor and family man. Only his wife and children know what happens at home when his rage spirals out of control.

DeMuth herself is a survivor of a different kind of abuse, having been molested as a child. Her goal in writing about abuse, she once said in an interview, is “to show folks two things: That God can heal even the most horrific abuse. And to educate parents and professionals about abuse.”

I’m not a big fan of “message” books, where the writer neglects his or her craft and just concentrates on pushing an agenda. But Mary DeMuth is not that kind of writer. Her books are beautifully and sensitively written, and her characters are realistic and well-developed. She has a true gift for showing how God’s light can penetrate even the darkest of situations, and start to turn lives around. Even her villains are not beyond the reach of God’s grace.

Read more.

(Image © Zondervan)

I used marijuana, but didn’t inhale

Marinol I recently saw an interesting blog post about a man who became addicted to medical-use marijuana. He was a seemingly normal individual who was suffering from a myriad of mental and emotional problems. He quickly became addicted to a smoked form of medical marijuana that was poorly prescribed and terribly monitored.

Having personal experience with medicinal marijuana, I want to shed some light on the agenda behind further legalizing illicit drugs. Also, with depression and other medical conditions on the rise in the U.S., and some people’s desire to solve all the world’s problems with marijuana, it is important to look at some of the options being presented and assess whether or not the benefit is worth the cost. 

In 2002 I was given a drug called Marinol. Marinol is a pharmaceutical product that is available, mostly through prescription, in the form of a pill. And it's derived from marijuana. To make Marinol, the harmful substances in marijuana are filtered out.

When I was undergoing extreme levels of chemotherapy to fight cancer at the age of 16, the nausea I was experiencing was starting to endanger my throat and vocal cords. The pain from throwing up blood and bile for days was taking its toll and I was desperate for a solution. Many anti-nausea medications had been tried in the past, but none seemed to be the silver bullet. 

On one occasion I was admitted to the emergency room soon after being released from a week-long chemotherapy treatment. The doctors, concerned for my throat, gave me Marinol. This drug calmed my nausea and vomiting and allowed me some much needed rest.  After staying in the hospital for another day or so, I was released. 

Continue reading "I used marijuana, but didn’t inhale" »

May 04, 2009

Daily roundup

May 01, 2009

The DOJ calls for restoring justice to cocaine sentencing

This week, the U.S. Department of Justice urged Congress to change one of the most troublesome aspects of U.S. drug policy, finally acknowledging the staggering injustice of locking up offenders caught with a few rocks of cocaine for far longer than offenders caught with the same amount of cocaine powder.

Restorative justice requires the harm of the offense to determine punishment. Laws that make prison sentences for crack cocaine 100 times more punitive than sentences for cocaine powder base punishment on scientific myth and paranoia. Sadly, racial minorities in America have borne the brunt of this tragic mistake. The Justice Department's calls for reform are worthy of celebration. 

April 30, 2009

Daily roundup

April 29, 2009

Prayer isn’t a crime

But it might look like one

A motorist passing by a dilapidated Lowcountry business mistook three people walking about with their hands raised in the air for victims of a robbery in progress.

With their hands held high in prayer, Love House Ministries Pastor Randy Roberts and The Parish Church of St. Helena (Episcopal) lay prayer members Roz Dixon and Karen Kusko — all wearing business attire — were walking outside a run-down building they hope to turn into a respite. The group was praying that God would deliver the building for their needs.

Five Beaufort County Sheriff's Office vehicles responded in minutes after the call came into dispatch. Cpl. Robin McIntosh said it was reported as an armed robbery.

April 27, 2009

Daily roundup

April 23, 2009

Daily roundup

April 21, 2009

School Girl Told to Choose: Country or Parents

(Adapted from my original post at The Living Rice).

This story from CNN caught my attention. A Filipino family is making news in Japan because of immigration matters that left a 13-year-old girl separated from her parents.

The parents of Noriko Calderon have been deported back to the Philippines for entering and working in Japan illegally. Noriko was asked to choose between her parents and the country she considers her home. Part of me feels bad that this has to end this way. This could be very traumatizing for a 13 year old. However, part of me also feels that somehow, justice has been served for the parents who have broken serious immigration laws in Japan. They should have known that their actions and disobedience to the law have consequences. I somehow know how they feel because a few years back my family faced a similar tight spot with my wife’s U.S. immigration status. It was a tough decision, but we decided abiding by immigration laws is God's best for our family, rather than violating them.

In the U.S., there may be as many as 20 million illegal immigrants today, and many families may be in the same ethical dilemma and threatened with separation. Is there a balance between showing compassion to “aliens and strangers in our midst” and upholding the rule of law in immigration? If you were to propose a solution, what would it be?

April 20, 2009

Daily roundup

April 17, 2009

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April 15, 2009

Daily roundup

Great Deal, No Takers: Ex-Cons for Hire in Philly

Philadelphia had an innovative way for businesses to deduct $10,000 from their taxes: hire an ex-con for at least six months. But there were no takers!

But the problem is not what it may seem. Read on to discover that, actually, many businesses were interested. However, one of the requirements was that their taking on an ex-con be made publicly known.

Now this is odd. It's hard to remember another situation, short of employing sex offenders in certain roles, where the hiring of an ex-con must be made public. Moreover, this particular plan seems friendly to the ex-con who needs work, so this requirement doesn't appear to be a public safety notice.

Perhaps it was meant to be a double play for public policy towards ex-cons: First, some get hired, but then the public gets more acclimated to seeing more ex-cons gaining employment. Well, if that's the case, how about forgetting about the public notice requirement and letting some former prisoners get a job? Then they can go out later, having made their way back into the world successfully, and tell others about this otherwise inspired program by the City of Philadelphia.

How else am I going to live?

Art.marlee.matlin.cnn Actress Marlee Matlin appeared on Larry King Live Monday night and talked with Joy Behar (who was sitting in for King) about her new book and a long-ago abusive relationship with actor William Hurt, her co-star in Children of a Lesser God.

Behar: You're very nice to him in the book. You have an acknowledgment in the book for William Hurt.

Matlin: Look, he is a very good actor. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the work we had together. I was a fan of his before I met him.

Behar: But if he hasn't apologized and you still feel that he was very wrong in the way he behaved, why do you acknowledge ... ?

Matlin: If he apologized, I would forgive him, but I won't forget.

Behar: You won't forget, no. But you've forgiven him in this book, it seems to me.

Matlin: How else am I going to live? How else am I going to live? You have to try to find the heart to forgive.

That last line by Matlin reminded me of Catherine's book As We Forgive. Many of the survivors of Rwanda's genocide discovered that same truth. Catherine began writing her book on Rwanda as I was finishing up my book on children of divorce. That theme of forgiveness ran through both our manuscripts, and we had several discussions about why we forgive and how we forgive and what God requires and doesn't require of us in this whole process. There were no easy answers. 

One thing stands out to me. Whether it's an actress forgiving an abusive boyfriend, a genocide survivor forgiving the man who killed her family, or a young adult forgiving a parent for abandoning the family, seen from the outside forgiveness is one of those things that does not make sense, especially when the perpetrator has not asked forgiveness. And yet, for the person living with the deadness that accompanies pain, forgiving is often the only way back to real life.

(Image © CNN)

April 14, 2009

Resurrection Hope in the Valley of Dry Bones

Ezekiel Speaks to the Dry Bone

The hand of the Lord was upon me and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley, it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

I said, "O, Sovereign Lord, you alone know." (Ezekiel 37:1-3)

I had an email yesterday morning from one of the Rwandans I interviewed in my book, As We Forgive. As you may or may not know, this is an especially hard time in Rwanda, as this April marks the 15th anniversary of the genocide. My friend was particularly asking for prayer amidst this season of remembrance, and shared with me that they've just unearthed some more bones and will be able to finally bury his fiancée's father.

In Rwanda, so many bodies were dumped into mass graves. When I read a passage like Ezekiel 37, I can't help but think of these piles of bones bleached by the African sun in open graves. Here's the thing that gets me: The hope of the resurrection amidst a picture like this. 

Continue reading "Resurrection Hope in the Valley of Dry Bones" »

April 13, 2009

Daily roundup

April 09, 2009

My Own Prisoner

Suzanne1-W300 I’ve met so many prisoners and ex-prisoners, I hardly blink anymore. As a writer for Prison Fellowship, I’ve interviewed lifers in Louisiana, call girls from Michigan, meth dealers from California, bank robbers from Iowa, and sex offenders from Oregon.

And then I met Suzanne.

Last week I was shipped off to Portland on an unusual story assignment: to shadow a prisoner on her day of release. Thirty-four-year-old Suzanne Johnson was my story subject. Pretty, put-together, and polished, Suzanne didn’t fit the bill. No tattoos (as far as I could see), no missing teeth, no lengthy drug history. She came from an upper-middle class family, a good church home, and a substantial job history. She could have been my childhood babysitter, my dental hygienist, my big sister.

But here I was at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, watching Suzanne change out of her prison sweatshirt. It shook me to see someone so much like me marching out the inmate’s rhythm.

A few years earlier, a gambling addiction had sucked the vivaciousness out of Suzanne’s steps. When she was caught stealing from an employer to feed her addiction, everything was ripped away from her—her two children, her reputation, her freedom.

Continue reading "My Own Prisoner" »

Hey, did you know your client is the Taliban?

It sounds like a Dilbert cartoon. Unfortunately, it's not.

’Sexting’ and Teens

Teen texting “Sexting," sending nude photos of oneself or others by cell phone, continues to be a growing trend among teenagers. If caught, a minor can be charged with child pornography violations and land on the sex offenders list, as in the case of this young man from Florida. Prosecutors probably intend to send a strong message to teenagers about the dangers of “sexting.” But is giving kids a lifelong criminal record and possible jail time as a sex offender an overreaction, or justice served?

In any case, this is a strong reminder that parents must be engaged on this topic and must create a game plan to ensure that teens' use of online and digital communication remains safe and positive. Even more importantly, they must teach teens to value themselves as holy and created in the image of God. 

For help teaching your kids Christian worldview, click here

(Image courtesy of Mom Central)

April 08, 2009

Aliens, Yes. But Strangers?

Immigration, as an issue, reminds me a lot of capital punishment. There's a number of poor, sentimental arguments on either side, and a few genuinely good arguments on both sides.

Oddly or not, the best immigration arguments seem to exist in the space where free market economics and Christian love intersect. In general, I think that increased immigration is a good thing, so long as (1) we control our borders, (2) we encourage a Melting Pot more than the Cultural Mosaic (including strict enforcement to address gang problems), and (3) we take a minimalist approach to entitlements. Of course, we quite unfortunately do none of those things today, except perhaps address the gang problems.

Anyhow, this NRO post -- in which Richard Nadler takes on John Derbyshire (and his third degree blackbelt in TaeKwonEeyore) -- is one of the better commentaries I've read on the topic in a while.

April 07, 2009

They’re only words

Obama in Turkey That must have been what President Obama thought when he decided to renege on yet another campaign promise. Ironically, his campaign promise would have addressed just that line of thinking.  

In January, when he was still just a candidate for the presidency, Obama declared, "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide." Fine sounding words. Trouble is, once he set foot in Turkey, the land where this genocide occurred nearly a century ago, Mr. Obama seemed to forget all about the atrocities that once stained the streets and countryside of that nation. 

Lest you think the label we use for an event that took place almost 100 years ago is trivial, modern-day Turkey is still waging this war of words. Journalists and novelists, among others, have been tried, imprisoned and even murdered for calling the systematic annihilation of Armenians a genocide. You can read more about the genocide and some of those who have been persecuted for using this term in an article I wrote for BreakPoint WorldView a few years ago.

It's too bad the man who represents the land of the free and the home of the brave couldn't find the words to denounce tyranny and cowardice. That's a campaign promise that deserved to be kept.

(Image © UPI/Pete Souza/White House)

April 06, 2009

Daily roundup

March 31, 2009

Daily roundup

Wilson vs. Loury

Recently we ran Glenn Loury's "A Nation of Jailers" in the Daily Roundup. James Q. Wilson of the American Enterprise Institute has now written a rebuttal. An excerpt:

Glenn Loury rightly directs our attention to the troubling fact that we have put into prison a large fraction of our citizens, especially African American men. No one can be happy with this state of affairs. It is difficult to create and sustain a decent society when many of its members are former convicts.

Worrisome as this may be, Loury says little about why this happened other than to say we are a nation of "racist jailers" who operate a "greed-driven economy" and have created a "so-called underclass" that reflects the "moral deviance" of all of us. He looks askance at those who speak about the "purported net benefits to 'society' of greater incarceration."

I am one of those, and I do not feel inclined to apologize. Loury does not refer to the scholarly work of those social scientists who have worked hard to understand why we imprison so many people and with what results. Let me summarize what Daniel Nagin, David Farrington, Patrick Langan, Steven Levitt, and William Spelman have shown. Other things being equal, a higher risk of punishment reduces crime rates.

Read more. Which writer do you think has a better grasp of the problem and the solutions?

Former death row inmates guarding prisons

Guard dog OK, it's not quite what you might think. The Associated Press is reporting on a prison in Boise, Idaho, that has managed to cut escapes down to zero by employing some tough dudes to patrol their perimeter--dogs that were destined for a lethal injection because of their inability to get along with humans. With the dogs on duty, the prison's perimeter guards are quickly alerted when something is happening out of their line of sight, and power outages no longer pose a problem for security.

This seems to me like a great example of stewardship. Not only is the prison actually saving money and doing its job better, but these animals get a second chance at life. Undoubtedly some of these dogs wound up the way they are because humans abused or neglected them. Not every mean dog can meet the Dog Whisperer and turn into a lovable pet. For those who can't and who don't have any other options left, being given an important job that suits their temperament seems like a little bit of redemption--for the dogs and for us, the human society that failed them in our role as stewards.

(Image © Paul Hosefros for the AP)

March 30, 2009

Daily roundup

Walter Hoye update

Pastor hoye The pastor in jail for peacefully protesting abortion is serving God as he serves his 30-day sentence. Last week, Walter Hoye's wife, Lori, reported, "Walter had already been in Bible study with some of the men in his unit. On Sunday just prior to my visit Walter had led one man to Christ. God is truly blessing Walter's presence in Santa Rita, and many men are seeking his counsel about their lives and situations."

Jill Stanek has contact information for Rev. Hoye at her blog, for those who would like to send him a letter of encouragement.

Compromising national security on a whim

It was by an act of good will that I supported, in a previous posting, Secretary Clinton's statement about the U.S.'s hand in the drug trade. I don't mean to let anyone down, but she only briefly held on to truth before she got lost in national security guesswork. 

Clinton made a statement that was completely unsubstantiated and, I believe, false. With regard to the trafficking of guns and other weapons to the major Mexican drug cartels, she said, "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians." 

It could be true that some guns are finding their way from the U.S. down into Mexico. The quantity would be so insignificant it's not worth investing much money or time into. I also don't doubt that Mexican drug cartels are using American-made guns, at least to some degree. Given that Russia, the United States, and China are the largest gun dealers in the world, there are American-made guns all over the world. That doesn't mean they were trafficked there. For years the Mexican government has obtained guns from the U.S., and given the corruption in the Mexican government it's a logical step to say that most of these American-made guns are being acquired from within Mexico.

Another way Mexican drug cartels are likely getting so many weapons is the stockpiles that exist in many Central and South American countries. The Soviets saw Central and South America as a rich breeding ground for communism and funneled arms through Cuba to sustain the movement. I wonder what happened to those weapons? 

Continue reading "Compromising national security on a whim" »

March 27, 2009

Breaking: George Tiller acquitted

Abortionist George Tiller has been found not guilty on nineteen counts of performing illegal late-term abortions. LifeNews has details.

Corroborating ’The Truth about Forgiveness’

Bernard Williams Since Sunday, folks have been telling me about the Washington Post Magazine's piece "The Truth About Forgiveness." I finally had the chance to read it today and was blown away. The story follows Bernard Williams and the murder of his son, nicknamed "Beethoven," by a neighbor, William Norman. 

The writer, Karen Houppart, does a fantastic job recreating not only the crime, but the subsequent meeting in prison between this bereaved father and the neighbor who killed his son. I won't give away the ending but there is definite movement toward forgiveness and reconciliation in this piece.

It struck me while I was reading it that this is the same story I've told in As We Forgive, only in a different context. The chronology is even the same. This murder happened in Baltimore in 1994. The murders I write about happened in Rwanda in 1994. And so the length of time that has gone by for the bereaved is also the same. The methods used to bring healing are very much the same: restorative encounters between offender and victim, marked by remorse and repentance on behalf of the guilty and risk and radical grace on behalf of the offended. The truths that get them there transcend context.

The writer mentions a movement in our society toward embracing forgiveness, not just for those from a religious background, but by scientific research also. Here's a snippet:

While spiritual leaders have long asked folks to accept the benefits of forgiveness on faith, the secular world has lately jumped on the bandwagon -- and proffered scientific evidence to support this view.

Continue reading "Corroborating ’The Truth about Forgiveness’" »

Secretary Clinton and a little refreshing truth

Clinton_Mexico "Give credit where credit is due," as the saying goes. Though I am reluctant to do so, I must say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gotten to the heart of the matter.

In a statement quoted in the Washington Post, Clinton said, "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade." This fact is rarely relayed by the media or in popular culture. It is important to catch drug kingpins, who are responsible for funneling copious amounts of drugs into the United States. However, we also need to recognize that drugs affect every segment of society. 

Prisons are a hotbed of drug use, but drug addiction and use are not limited to convicted criminals. Traditional American families are battling drugs in otherwise stable homes. Without these recreational users and addicts there wouldn't be a drug trade, and therefore we wouldn't have these border turf wars.

That's why it's shameful that society trivializes Michael Phelps's smoking marijuana at a party. This impulse to use an illegal substance is very kind of behavior that creates the demand these brutal cartels are supplying. 

I applaud Clinton for acknowledging that, whether or not inhaling is involved, illegal drug use contributes to the trafficking that is devastating our southern border. 

Continue reading "Secretary Clinton and a little refreshing truth" »

March 26, 2009

Daily roundup

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

Drugs For all those Americans who don't see their illegal drug use as harming anyone but themselves ...

March 24, 2009

Daily roundup

March 20, 2009

A threat to Christian books in prison

Prison chapel libraries may soon become sparser if the Bureau of Prisons gets its way. In its zeal to prevent inmates from becoming violent religious radicals, the BOP has proposed a policy that would snatch from inmates' reach any materials that “could” incite, promote, or suggest violence. Religious liberty groups, such as the Alliance Defense Fund, are up in arms. Rightly so.

The Bureau of Prisons’ proposed language casts such a wide net that many Christian books and even the Bible itself could wind up on the banned list if someone can conjure up their possible link to violent behavior. The BOP tried something like this a couple of years ago by setting up the Standardized Chapel Library Project, which created a black list of religious texts to be removed from prison chapels. The list was so extensive that it threatened prisoners’ right to practice religion. Thankfully, the Second Chance Act discontinued the Project. The Second Chance Act also tried to prevent any future BOP schemes by allowing the Bureau to only remove materials that “seek” to incite violence. Apparently, the BOP has little intention of remaining within the bounds of the law.

Keeping inmates from becoming religious radicals is necessary for public safety. But the BOP’s broad, hazy language poses a grave threat to peaceful religious expression. If the BOP is truly interested in protecting us from violence, it will encourage inmates to read books that lead to their moral transformation. 

March 17, 2009

Daily roundup

The United States of Me

Remember the classic elementary school short story about "The Man Without a Country?" Well, this guy took things a step further, claiming that he is his own country. I have a feeling the traffic court judge isn't going to accept that argument.

As my brother, who sent me the link, pointed out, this is what happens when we believe truth is relative.

March 12, 2009

Putting his money where his mouth was

A new book details a Victorian-era attempt at what we today might call "restorative justice," conducted by -- guess who?

March 11, 2009

Daily roundup

Recession Means Schizophrenic Crime Trends

You're either safer than you've ever been ... or in more danger than ever.

A recent headline in the Las Vegas Review Journal: "Official says recession puts dent in crime."

Nevada's corrections director is claiming that the recession deserves a pat on the back for a recent slump in the state's crime rates. Apparently, financial crises make people stay home more, reducing the number of potential victims on the streets. Add to that the number of unemployed parents who now cast a keener watchful eye on their trouble-making youth. Nevada is so convinced that crime is on the "down and down" that they're reevaluating their prison plans.

Over in Idaho, the opposite seems to be true, as claimed by this Fox News report: "'Recession Crime' Increasing in Idaho." Here, shoplifting is on the rise as money troubles make more fingers sticky.

It's probably much too early to predict which trend will become the norm, if either. Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at University of Missouri-St. Louis, said that there can be a year-long lag between economic change and crime rates.

So, Idaho criminals + peace-loving Nevadans - one-year lag time = correlation between economy and crime rates?

How about this formula instead: fear + crime + unpredictability = human nature.

March 10, 2009

Daily roundup

March 09, 2009

Daily roundup

March 06, 2009

Daily roundup

Define ’support’

Rihanna and Chris Brown So, it seems the abused has gone back to the abuser in one of the most high-profile criminal cases going on right now. I don't generally follow R&B very closely, but I was skimming the latest Washington Post story about Rihanna and Chris Brown over breakfast yesterday when this throwaway sentence pulled me up short:

And the father of Rihanna (real name: Robyn Fenty) said he would support his 21-year-old daughter if she decided to get back together with Brown.

Hold it right there.

Support has become one of the key catchwords of our culture, and to a certain extent, that's not a bad thing. "I support my daughter no matter what" sounds better, and usually builds a stronger relationship, than "I'll throw her out into the snow and change the locks if she doesn't listen to me."

However, we've tended to let the definition of support remain a little vague, and, as with most misuses of language, I think that's started to cause some serious problems. Support now is too often used to mean "I'll go along with whatever my loved one wants to do" -- even if, as in this case, it's insanely dangerous.

And when the speaker is a father whose daughter has been attacked, it strikes me as an especially bad thing to say. Fathers have a special duty to protect their daughters, and when they fail to fulfill that role, the results can be devastating. To quote my favorite chapter title from Dr. Meg Meeker's great book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, a dad's job is "Protect Her, Defend Her (and use a shotgun if necessary)." A girl needs to know that her father will stand up for her and keep her safe.

Continue reading "Define ’support’" »

Jail Time or ’Jane Eyre’?

Price-190 Would you rather go to jail or join a book club? No, it's not a trick question.

Changing Lives Through Literature, an alternative sentencing program, gives low-level offenders the option of skipping out of jail if they take a literature course with other offenders, a judge, and their probation officer.


Seriously, because literature can transform. As participants read John Steinbeck, Frederick Douglass, and Toni Morrison, they begin to find themselves within the stories, inside a character. For those who have felt marginalized or alienated, this sense of "not being the only one" offers them hope. And getting to speak their opinions before a judge or probation officer makes them feel listened to and gives them confidence to take a job interview or apply to school.

Leah Price, writing in the New York Times, explains it this way:

“Poetry,” W.H. Auden once wrote, “makes nothing happen.” But Waxler insists that “literature can make a difference” — more specifically, that lives are touched by printed art as they can’t be by the act of sitting around a table arguing about a movie, a song, a self-help book or one’s own childhood. The probation officer begins by telling participants that “this program isn’t a miracle,” but it works in mysterious ways. Perhaps reading stories allows participants to form narratives (whether conscious or not) about their own past and future. In a study of more traditional 12-step programs, the criminologist Shadd Maruna has argued that recovery from addiction requires the ability to distinguish a “before” from an “after.” Searching for terms to explain the mechanism by which literature “changes” readers, participants come up with “turning points,” “epiphanies,” even “grace.” “When it’s working,” Waxler says, “this discussion has a kind of magic to it.”

Good literature provides a narrative for our lives. For example, the characters that fill the pages of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and the Gospels teach us of the pain of sin and the glory of goodness. As financial burdens weigh down our criminal justice system, I am hopeful that more states will turn to such innovative approaches to corrections.

(Image © Paul Sahre for the New York Times)