Two of the contributors to this publication have used literature for several years as part of an innovative program known as "Changing Lives Through Literature." "Changing Lives" began ten years ago, when Jean Trounstine began to teach theatre at Framingham Women's Prison, the most secure facility for females in Massachusetts. Over time, she developed a unique approach in which participants, as part of a group process, blend their life experiences with the classics to create new works that they then perform.
At the same time, Robert Waxler, the program's co-founder, developed a series of novel and short story discussions for male offenders through the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Starting with eight men who had a total of 148 criminal convictions between them, Waxler used the works of Jack London and Malcolm X to in the words of a May 1995 Christian Science Monitor feature on the program "stir assumptions and expand the thinking" of offenders.
Since that time, "Changing Lives" has been duplicated in various county houses of correction and has been recognized as a successful alternative sentencing option. The program has been brought to national attention through profiles in The New York Times and Parade Magazine and on The Today Show.
As an instructor with the "Building Alternatives" program, Meghan McLaughlin has used literature in a markedly different setting. "Building Alternatives" was funded, in part, through a grant from the Office of Correctional Education. Based in Portland, Maine, the program provides youthful offenders confined to the Maine Youth Center with the academic, vocational, and interpersonal skills they will need to transition to jobs and/or continued education when they return to the community.
Building Alternatives consists of a comprehensive 16-week training program. The curriculum focuses on carpentry and the building trades, but also provides academic instruction in writing, social studies, science, mathematics, and literature. All students participate in a "Values Course," in which basic values such as honesty, tolerance, industry, and commitment to community are explored through the reading of poems and short stories and through interaction with carefully chosen guest speakers.