Novel Approach: Reading Courses as an Alternative to Prison

And now...the other side of the coin. How enforced reading can help rehabilitate former and would-be offenders as reported by the Guardian UK. The program, Changing Lives Through Literature, is described here.

When Mitchell Rouse was convicted of two drug offences in Houston, the former x-ray technician who faced a 60-year prison sentence – reduced to 30 years if he pleaded guilty – was instead put on probation and sentenced to read.

"I was doing it because it was a condition of my probation and it would reduce my community hours," Rouse recalls. The 42-year-old had turned to meth as a way of coping with the stress of his job at a hospital where he frequently worked an 80-hour week. Fearing for his life, Mitchell's wife turned him into the authorities. "If she hadn't, I would be dead or destitute by now," he says.

Five years on, he is free from drugs, holding down a job as a building contractor, and reunited with his family. He describes being sentenced to a reading group as "a miracle" and says the six-week reading course "changed the way I look at life". Repeat offenders of serious crimes such as armed robbery, assault or drug dealing are made to attend a reading group where they discuss literary classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bell Jar and Of Mice and Men." It made me believe in my own potential. In the group you're not wrong, you're not necessarily right either, but your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's," he says.

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Brilliant. If only such

Brilliant. If only such programs were around when Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs had been alive. Perhaps had they read, wrote and discussed more....oh...wait.

Reading, even discussion of reading, isn't a cure-all. It's not to say I don't think programs like this aren't important. But to me it's just part of the solution and I wonder if articles like this start the snowball of casting them as miracle solutions. I also wonder if there aren't more fundamental solutions like:

1) Better labor laws. Perhaps with more vacations and less 80 hour weeks he wouldn't have burnt out so quickly. There's a reason meth has long been associated with truckers. It is reputed to keep you up and going.

2) Better access to medicine, therapy and legal drugs (and more legal drugs).

3) Less insane drug-enforcement laws.

I wish the individual interviewed the best of luck. I'd wager the best thing he did was to get a new job and new environment.

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