Criminal Justice?

How silly of us to think that we can prepare men for social life by reversing the ordinary process of socialization- silence for the only animal with speech; repressive regimentation of men who are in prison because they need to learn how to exercise their activities in constructive ways; outward conformity to rules which repress all efforts at constructive expression.

~Karl Menninger~

What if we had a training program to teach people how to become better criminals? We do, you know. In his 1966 book, The Crime of Punishment, the psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a critical review of the system for treating (punishing) criminals. Here is one conclusion he drew from his study, “The idea of punishment as the law interprets it seems to be that inasmuch as a man has offended society, society must officially offend him.” In other words the main goal of criminal justice is to exact revenge in proportion to the perceived offense.

In this country we have a criminal justice system which includes law enforcement, the courts and corrections system. Although these titles sound good, in reality what mostly exists is a punishment system. In theory, the system is supposed to make sure that citizens act in accordance with societal standards which are enforced by our laws. In practice, the system mainly provides vengeance on behalf of society on perpetrators of crimes.

All too often in recent times we see police officers engaging in the same violent behavior which they are paid to protect us from. More often than not, they are given the benefit of the doubt and not held accountable when they engage in violent behavior, despite the evidence against them. Courts were designed to help maintain a civil society by isolating criminals from society or seeking programs for them which might correct their behavior. In reality, sentencing is more about what the criminal “deserves” rather than what would change his or her behavior. The corrections system has largely given up on correcting criminals. Instead they are the agency which administers punishment corresponding to their offenses.

Menninger pointed out that there is little effort put into understanding the criminal, “No distinction is made in the degree of punishment for the dangerous, the docile, the stupid, the shrewd, the wistful, the confused or the desperate on the basis of these characteristics.” Instead the courts follow guidelines for various crimes with little consideration of who the criminal is as a person.  The main motivation for the system is to exact vengeance on the perpetrator to satisfy society. He also defines punishment as “the deliberate infliction of pain in addition to or in lieu of penalty.”

He noted that prisoners are treated like children, “the prisoner is clothed, housed, fed, cared for, told what to do and what not to do, where to go and where to stay.” We take people who do not seem to know how to act in society and take away all their opportunities to decide anything for years at a time, and then expect them to be able to function in society when they are eventually released.

Menninger also pointed out that it is silly of society to try to re-socialize a convict by “reversing the ordinary process of socializaton.” Prisoners are required to follow a rigid routine with little opportunity to learn how to make better decisions or to exercise any decision making. There is little opportunity to learn how to express themselves in light of strict rules which do not all allow for the opportunity to learn and practice socially appropriate behavior

Researchers long ago concluded that punishment does not usually change behavior, at least for the better. It makes those punished more likely to commit further criminal acts. They learn to become better criminals during their time in prison with little constructive activity available. They often become motivated to seek vengeance for being punished in prison. Punishment can bring to a person’s attention that his or her behavior is not acceptable. Yet many incarcerated individuals have no idea what alternatives are available to them. Menninger sees the appropriate role of corrections to help offenders regain their self respect and learn to be productive members of society.

Menninger did not suggest that society should just ignore criminal behavior. Indeed he sees it as society’s obligation to respond, but in a different manner than seeking revenge.  He quotes the 1870 American Correction Association principle, “The aim of the prison should be to make industrious free men rather than orderly and obedient prisoners.” This principle seems to have been long forgotten. Yet it would seem more helpful and appropriate to help prisoners learn how to function as better citizens rather than to beat them over the head for not being good citizens.

Perhaps partially in response to Menninger’s work and also in the context of the civil rights movement, our society and government started looking at the criminal justice system and moving toward more rational alternatives. Alternatives to incarceration such as mediation, mental health treatment in jails and prisons, educational and job training programs as well as follow-up programs such as half-way houses and on the job training arose as we took a reasoned look at the problem of crime. In particular, racism and poverty began to be addressed in a rational way.

Despite this trend, many people resented “pampering” of inmates and saw them as being mollycoddled by do-gooders. The focus of efforts that did exist was mainly on those who had already become prisoners. Despite some prisoners learning from their experience with prison and making changes in their lives, recidivism remains high. In recent years, between two thirds and seventy-five percent of criminals eventually wind up back in prison within five years of release. The common perception is “once a criminal, always a criminal.”  People and governments began to see efforts at reforming prisoners as a lost cause and our society swung to a punishment system without much concern for the possibility of change.

In my opinion, efforts at reform have not gone far enough. Changing the criminal culture will not take place based on draconian laws and harsher punishment. The roots of crime lie in poverty and racism with some people seeing no viable options for them other than turning to crime. The real challenge is to change our prejudices and find a way for everyone to have viable options to survival other than those provided by the criminal route.

The myth that more punitive approaches to criminals would make them more inclined to reform themselves too precedence and our prisons began to expand and fill with more prisoners than any other place on earth. Psychological studies have shown that punishment does not generally improve deviant behavior. Incarceration as it stands now is chiefly a school for crime and a place for fledgling criminals to hone their criminal skills.

Some police departments have as their motto, “to protect and to serve.” Living up to this motto is a challenge, especially as cities have grown and become partitioned into enclaves for people of varying social classes. The war on poverty developed in the 1960’s morphed into the war on crime. Yet “war” remained central. Over the years police have been militarized and now are often seen as armies to control the poor. Institutional racism has also pervaded many of the police departments in large inner city communities.

Initially, programs were developed such as those in New York City to empower local leaders involvement in troubled communities develop programs responsive to the needs of residents in these communities. These were soon abandoned and efforts turned to heavily arming the police so they could better control restive poor people.

Have you ever stopped to consider where criminals come from? Poverty, racism and experience with violence as victims all take their place as contributors to violent behavior. All of these apply to the majority of people who wind up in the justice system.  If all we do is punish them for a while in an environment entirely populated by others in the same boat, how can we expect them to emerge from prison any better than they were when they were convicted?

Part of the answer lies outside the criminal justice system. Poverty and racism in society as well as their effects on people who experience them cannot be changed by the criminal justice system alone. This is a charge to society as a whole. We need to learn how to respect people as individuals, help them learn ways to emerge from poverty by gaining job skills and then stop discriminating against them because of their poverty or race. It would also help if the administration and officers in the criminal justice system stopped treating their charges as less than human.

I don’t mean by that treating them like animals. One of the characteristics of people prone to violence is cruelty to animals. Perhaps one approach to working with criminals is to give them options to care for animals of the earth as well as for the earth itself. This approach has been shown to work in a few programs focused on those caught in the web of drug abuse. Many of those incarcerated also struggle with chemicals.

What if we taught prisoners how to make good decisions, to anticipate consequences of their actions, how to negotiate with others, cooperate on common goals and compromise so that others can also reach their goals? Does this seem unrealistic to you? Efforts in this regard have taken place in jails and prisons but are not the main thrust of the corrections system which remains more focused on punishment than encouraging changes in the behavior of those identified as criminals.

I am not suggesting that nothing has changed since the days when Menninger wrote his book. Communities at the court, jail and prison levels have developed programs to help prisoners become educated, learn job skills, address chemical dependency and anger issues, learn about society and relationships, as well as transition back into the community. It has been my sense that such efforts have not ever become a major focus of the criminal justice system where criminals are looked at more as animals to be contained rather than fellow humans to be helped to find their way again. That is our challenge.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, From Rage and Violence to and Peace and Harmony.)

Since 9/11, our fear has harmed us more than terrorists have


crowd of people

Fifteen years ago, American self-confidence shattered amid the death and debris of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania and four hijacked aircraft.

The ripple effect has been felt ever since.

Before these terrible terrorist attacks, we believed history was on our side. Perhaps rightly so — the forces of democracy and capitalism had torn down the walls of communist tyranny, and the world was poised for an era of “perpetual peace” enforced by unchallenged U.S. power. In fact, foreign policy was barely discussed during the 2000 presidential election. The world was going our way.

Then Sept.11, 2001, happened. It was a shock because it was not supposed to happen.Read more.

Remember to consider your humanity before attacking others


   “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” ― Ernst F. Schumacher

In times of distress, destruction and violence seem to be good solutions. People don’t resort to these because they are full of hatred and anger, but because they are often driven by fear.

It’s easy to prepare for the worst and immediately jump to conclusions. As a society, we often want to be prepared for whatever situation life throws at us.

But when we become preoccupied with our fears, we often forget the bigger picture. Read More.

Thank You Donald Trump

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer~

Some people are horrified at the venom spewing from the mouth of Donald Trump. People at the other end of the spectrum are happy to hear someone express the rage they feel because their lives are not the way they would like to see them.  Most of these people don’t dare to share their anger or lash out at anyone who could possibly be responsible for their lives being a mess but suffer in resignation.

The Trump rhetoric is not a reasoned response to feeling angry among his followers. There is no attempt to understand why they are in the situation they are in or to find a reasonable approach to changing that situation. Their sole focus seems to be to rage at those they blame for their misfortune and to destroy the people and institutions they hold responsible.

Trump supporters are not the only ones suffering. Many people silently endure poverty, racism, debt, lack of a good job and medical woes. They could choose rage as well but realize that spewing invective as he does will not change their situation. Nor will it make them feel any better in the long run. Those suffering in both groups do not have the power individually to change their status to that of people with more satisfying lives.

Have you ever known an angry mob to find constructive solutions to their plight? I haven’t. The only way to make reasonable changes is to learn how to work together. But you can’t do this while you are consumed with rage.

People shouting are not in the frame of mind to reason with anyone else about anything. Others who listen to the shouting only hear raw emotion. They don’t hear any details of others’ pain, how it came about or how it affects individuals and families. Neither do they hear anything rational which might become a basis for productive negotiations or cooperation.

So why should we thank Donald Trump? We all have within us the capacity to negotiate with each other toward our common good. All of us have the capacity to descend into blind rage where our words are merely weapons and offer no bridges toward mutual dialog. We can thank him for showing us the worst of which we are capable. He mirrors the depth of rage and spitefulness for which we all have the capacity.

Can you imagine all of the billions of people on earth acting as he does in public? It’s a frightful image to behold. Before we get to this point, we can learn to behave like rational human beings and express our concerns in a way which others can understand and which allows us to work together toward solutions which benefit us all.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Write down what makes you angry about your life.
  • Try to understand how you got to feel this way.
  • Do so without blaming someone else for your misfortune.
  • Consider what you have to offer others to better their lives.
  • Try out one of your ideas with one other person.

Political Correctness or Respect for Others


Rev. Mr. Stewart advised three questions to be put to ourselves before speaking evil of any man: First, is it true? Second, is it kind? Third, is it necessary?

~Poynder’s Literary Extracts~

Recently the term “politically correct” has come to the fore in presidential campaign haggling. The term generally means speaking in ways which do not offend any individual or group. Certain politicians take pride in flouting convention by saying whatever comes into their minds without concern for who is offended. Instead, they say whatever occurs to them and it is up to others who might feel offended to just grow up.

They take this position under the guise of free speech. They are entitled to say whatever they want, regardless of how their words strike others. It’s not up to them to shield the rest of the world from their utterances. Free speech is a right included in the first amendment to the constitution with these words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This amendment was included to prevent Congress from making laws against free speech as well as other related rights. It was later generalized to apply to all levels of government. Nowhere does it say that it is okay to say whatever you want to without restriction. We have laws which prohibit damage to others by speech, specifically slander and libel which damages another’s reputation, inciting illegal behavior, and obscenity, although the courts have had difficulty defining just what is obscene.

Some people go to extremes to prevent their words from offending others. Others feel that it’s okay to say whatever they can get away with regardless of how others feel about it. Without considering the legal status of every statement, perhaps there is another way to evaluate our speech. We could stop to think before we open our mouths and ask ourselves the questions posed in the quote above.

Sometimes we repeat things we hear which might simply be gossip with no basis in reality. It is not illegal to gossip but it serves no useful purpose other than to sound as if we know what we are saying although we might not know anything about the truth of the matter. Gossip and rumors can harm the reputation of others, not to mention undermining our own credibility.

Is what you say kind? Do you say something to enhance or encourage others or are your words mean-spirited and spiteful? How would you like your words to be received? How would you like to be perceived by others? How would you like others to speak of you, especially when you are struggling to do the right thing and still make mistakes?

Is there any purpose for your words? Do they accomplish anything positive or are they just empty jabbering. That doesn’t mean we can’t tell stories. They are our way of sharing our fantasies, wishes and dreams. They just don’t need to be at someone else’s expense. I have heard an admonition from many parents, “If you have nothing kind to say, it’s better to keep your mouth shut.” Do your words accomplish anything or are they just idle chatter?

All of these tests for our speech imply respect for others. We don’t all agree on everything. Our opinions and feelings are based on our own experience which might be quite different from that of others. Before you go on the attack, stop and listen to the other person. You might learn something about yourself.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Ask yourself if what you have to say is true.
  • Is your opinion in the spirit of kindness for others?
  • Will your words contribute anything positive to others?
  • How would you feel if someone used your unkind words to describe you?
  • Try to see others as fellow travelers rather than competitors.

Personal Origins of Violence

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible
will make violent revolution inevitable.

~John F. Kennedy~


Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one seems to be born violent. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted quite a few studies over the years to try predicting violence.

To the best of my knowledge no way of predicting it has ever been perfected to the point of knowing whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays such behavior, it is clear then that he or she is capable of aggression and likely to take this course in the future.

The question remains: where does such behavior come from come from? Let’s look at some contributors. One is the path your life takes. The way you live and how you think about life can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between.  These patterns are often shaped by how your parents lived and what you made of their lives. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a not so peaceful one. Someone you know and respect could have helped divert a major disaster. Or someone you know and respect could become so frustrated with his or her life that explosive results follow.

Violence as we view it here is brought about by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. It may also be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for what happens. You can be seen as violent by associating with individuals who show such a pattern whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

What makes a person violent? Researchers have long debated about whether a tendency toward such behavior can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research.

Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form of aggression is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances appear to play a significant role in all our behavior whether positive or negative. How you are treated in your family, how stable your family is, the safety of your neighborhood, whether you have adequate housing and food, how others react to your racial or ethnic background and how you learn to react to threats can all contribute to how you act. Feeling in physical danger, how you think about yourself, others, your life situation and your prospects for life and what resources you see yourself as possessing also make a contribution.

You may never have acted in such a manner. However you might have considered it at least in passing. Take some time to think about how you got to feel that way and what you did to head it off. Maybe this will help you begin to understand violence in the world.

Life Lab Lessons

  • What has happened in your life to lean you toward violence?
  • What have you experienced which let you toward a peaceful life?
  • What has helped you to control aggressive tendencies?
  • What have you done to provoke others anger?
  • What have you done to keep the peace between you and others?

Ted’s Music

To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame,
to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.

~Walter Pater~

I recently learned of the death of my friend, Ted Ashizawa. I had known him for many years since moving to Batavia in 1974. I got to know Ted through the Genesee Chorale which he founded as well as conducted for many years. I also played with him in the Batavia Recorder Society which met monthly. We played ancient and Renaissance music for recorder and other instruments such as the rackett, shaum, crumhorn and drums.

Music had always held a special place in my mind and emotions. My grandmother was a traveling piano teacher in Attica NY and played for our family when I was quite young. One of the high points of my teen years was seeing The Sound of Music on stage during my first visit to New York. Later I had the privilege of singing in a choir for Pope Paul VI’s Mass in Yankee stadium.

When I learned about the Genesee Chorale I immediately signed up. Unfortunately I became quite busy with my career and family obligations and only sang with the Choral for one season. That year we sang the complex Brahms’ Requiem and Faure’s much simpler but still elegant Requiem.

Ted eventually retired from conducting the Chorale but did return for one anniversary season to conduct Mozart’s Requiem and the Ave Verum. Before the concert, Ted told us that if we moved one person with our music, the concert would be a success. I was moved and know of many others who were moved as well.

As it happened, the Chorale had a concert scheduled the day I attended a memorial gathering in Ted’s honor. Before the concert, a slide show was presented showing the highlights of Ted’s life. During the slide show, there played a recording of the Chorale’s performance of the Ave Verum which I had the privilege to sing with the Chorale under Ted’s direction. The Ave Verum, a beautiful, serene motet by Mozart has become one of my favorite musical memories.

What I most remember about Ted was the ecstasy evident on his face when he conducted the beautiful music he somehow drew from our voices. Ted had this same expression when he listened to music, sang, played the recorder or conducted the Chorale. He had a strong interest in many aspects of life and always made a lively contribution to any discussion.

I am proud to say I knew him as a friend and will always cherish the interactions I had with him on many levels. He will always be in my heart where my musical memories reside. He touched my life in many ways and I will be forever grateful for this.

Life Lab Lessons

What music has stayed with you for many years?
What does it mean to you?
Savor its peace, joy and comfort.
Cherish the music which has brought you to appreciate life.
Cherish the friendships which music made fonder.

A Nation in Search of Leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done,
his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
~Lao Tzu~

As we move toward major party conventions, the leading candidate on one side represents the establishment which has accomplished little other than to remain established. The other leading candidate mimics the anger of the populace about being disenfranchised by the establishment although he is himself well franchised. Neither shows any real sign of leadership toward a more harmonious world.

Unfortunately we have devolved into a society where the powerful rule and concentrate their efforts on maintaining their control of our national wealth and resources. At the other extreme many people have become focused on their own desires without concern about the effect on others. We have lost a sense of consensus we may have had once along the way. Neither candidate has suggested a clear path to supporting the well-being of the nation and its citizens as a whole although platitudes abound on both sides.

Our country was founded on the principles of freedom from persecution, especially for religious beliefs, equality of all people, and forming a democratic republic to ensure individual rights. Unfortunately, “all people” was not quite inclusive right from the beginning, particularly of Native American and people of color. It did not entirely extend to women either.

Throughout our history, we have struggled to maintain these rights and to make them more inclusive of those originally excluded. Although we have made progress in this area, we still have a ways to go. We need to be able to hear each other’s needs, desires, pain and frustration. Then we need to find ways to work together and balance our needs with those of others. Various groups and individuals have made efforts in this direction but none has taken hold consistently in the general populace.

Based on the current offerings of the major parties, we seem to have a choice between business as usual which has kindled widespread dissatisfaction and anger or giving vent to our frustration by joining in the campaign rants. Neither will bring about any meaningful change in how our society conducts itself or lead to greater satisfaction with our collective lot.

The third choice is to start caring for each other by listening to one another and taking appropriate action. Waiting for a leader to emerge with these values is not likely to produce one without our concerted effort. The reason we have the candidates we do is because we voted for them, regardless of what made us do so. The only way to change this is to come together in our common interest and elect someone who shares these values. Are you ready?

Life Lab Lessons

  • Open your ears to the voices of those who agree with you and of those who disagree.
  • Look for issues on which you can agree and express that agreement.
  • Listen to how people feel rather than to the words they use.
  • Find ways to connect with their feelings.
  • Try thinking of mutually agreeable solutions.

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Dispatches From the World Humanitarian Summit: Facing Our Common Humanity Together


Tomorrow in Istanbul, the first ever World Humanitarian Summit will begin. I have the privilege to be participating in this unique event, convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which will bring together world leaders and humanitarian-aid organizations to discuss how we can do more to alleviate human suffering across the globe.

By most metrics, conflicts have become significantly more frequent and violent in recent years. According to the UN, there were 409 political conflicts around the world in 2015, up from 278 a decade prior. This has contributed to the largest human displacement since World War II, with over 60 million people — about half of them children — forced from their homes because of violence. But despite the staggering need for humanitarian aid — the UN will request $20 billion in 2016, up from only $5 billion in 2006 — only 55 percent of the financing target for life-saving humanitarian assistance was met last year.

Excerpt from Forest Whitaker’s article in the Huffington Post– read more

You Know What I Mean? Finding Commonality Across the Gap

Expert Author Scott Marcus

In L.A.’s school district, when I was a kid, Health was a required class taken in junior high – eighth grade to be specific.

We were taught the basics of course, on how our bodies were changing and even the appropriate methods to shower and dress. And yes, there was that awkward period where our knowledge of the “bird and bees” was clarified – in great detail I might add. As almost-adults, we already pretty much knew the nuts and bolts but my memories are that it was an extremely uncomfortable week, especially since boys and girls were not separated. We were beyond the phase of snickering (at least in class) but everyone sat board straight upright, careful not to make eye contact with anyone else in the room.

I don’t know if it was a required part of the course but one thing I most remember was Mr. Hubbard took us beyond the basics and engaged us in discussions about politics, the economy, and relationships. One could rightly argue that he was as concerned with our societal health as he was with our physical health. Good for him.

Excerpt from Scott Marcus’s column in Ezine- read more