I recently participated in a two-day workshop on “Criminal Thinking from the perspectives of Cognitive-Behavorial Therapies” (and I have the certificate of completion to prove it). I’ll be writing about some of the content in this and the next couple of blog posts.
On the second day we watched a video of a group session in a Texas prison where inmates helped one another begin to get in touch with the damage their drug addictions and criminality had done to themselves and others. One inmate volunteered to be interviewed by a counselor in front of the entire group.
The counselor asked probing questions about how drugs and crime had impacted the inmate’s life. He spoke of physical and emotional damage, of ruined relationships with wife and children and of time spent in prison. He showed signs of guilt, shame and sadness as he spoke.
Then the counselor asked for a member of the group to volunteer to be the inmate’s wife. Sitting opposite him, the female who had volunteered spoke to the man in the voice of his wife about how his decisions and behavior had dashed her dreams, destroyed her trust and pretty much ruined her life. As he listened, the inmate struggled to remain composed.
Next, the counselor asked a member of the group to role-play the inmate’s oldest daughter and to talk about the impact of her father’s addiction and criminality on her. She spoke of her lost childhood, of the shame she felt being his daughter and of her complete loss of trust. The inmate listened with difficulty.
Another group member was recruited to role-play the woman who was raped by the friends of this inmate while he watched. She spoke of being brutally violated, being injured, losing confidence, being fearful to even leave the house, and not being able to trust men. Again, the inmate listened with great difficulty.
Then, the counselor asked for yet another volunteer from the group to role-play a member of the woman’s neighborhood and to talk about the impact of the crime on the community. He spoke of fearful residents, people keeping doors locked at all times and the sadness that had come over everyone.
Finally, the inmate was asked to talk about what he learned during the role plays about the impact of his decisions and actions. He said that the exercise had heightened his awareness of the cost of his criminality. Other group members were invited to respond. Several said they had almost stopped listening to the role play as they entered their own mental and emotional worlds trying to absorb the impact on others of what they had done.
As I minister in Canaan, I become increasingly aware of how little the inmates I know seem to have thought about the impact of their crimes. A few have talked about how being in prison has affected their lives. I cannot recall hearing a single inmate talk about the victims of his criminality, though some have mentioned estrangement from their children and their wives.
Last night, as I led a group session on taking personal responsibility, I asked about the meaning of the term “personal responsibility.” How did the group members apply this to their own lives? Every single member of the group spiritualized it — talking about being responsible to pray and read the Bible and come to chapel and do other things to improve their lives as believers.
When my turn came to speak about it, I talked about taking personal responsibility for the bad decisions I have made and for the wrong things I have done and for the people I have hurt. I hoped to plant a seed. No one responded; no one chose to follow my lead. Perhaps it is too painful. Perhaps they are in denial.
I left the seed laying on the ground.
It may yet take root.