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Recidivism

My wife and I only have a few “must-watch” shows.  We had a mini marathon last night to catch up on episodes of Scared Straight that we have recently missed.  I’m glad we saw several in a row, because in addition to be rewarded with even more surprises that I guessed incorrectly in my never ending habit of misjudging people, we had an opportunity to compare the outcomes different localities’ approaches achieved.  Admittedly, this was an insufficiently large population to make anything I am about to say other than a hypothesis…

Desperately industrious guards, along with the angels with dirty faces who can at this point save only an unappreciative stranger, went into their locally designed battle plans.  One episode in which I predicted that two of the delinquents would fail miserably, as soon as they had a hot shower and a good night of sleep, proved me wrong.  All of the delinquents were now on the right path.  In the episode that followed, I predicted two delinquents would be turned around by the experience.  I was disappointed to see that these two returned to bad habits immediately.

Other than my inadequate understanding of human behavior, I wondered what else might be in play here.  There was a difference between the strategies of the two localities.  The jail which managed to turn all four or five kids around had a lengthy one-on-one, inmate-to-kid counseling session following the “breaking them” component.  The jail from which my two hopefuls returned unimpressed had omitted this formulaic counseling session.

When the delinquents are surveyed following each visit regarding what aspect made the biggest impression upon them, they nearly always cite hearing the life story of someone who was on a nearly identical path.  Hearing a calm voice following the combat phase was the message they most remembered.

These kids are, as Victorian-era writers used to describe, “no better than they should be.”  Their parent(s) are, at best, confused and/or inexperienced.  At worst, parents fight a losing battle against their own demons, setting examples their charges have unarguable permission to follow.  Authority has lost most of its meaning.  The din of loud voices is not translated to any memorable quote; it is just yet another unwelcome loud voice in a life already full of the same.

This “basic training” jolt of reality is essential of course, just as it is in actual Basic Training.  But it would seem to be the calm rescue by their once and future self that really changes history.

We so often have the luxury of judging, without investment.  What is truly humbling is watching the blind leading the blind, picking up society’s slack from a station in which the only reward must be vicarious.

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