The LA Times reported April 4th that Connecticut Gov. Daniel P. Malloy signed state legislation to add over 100 firearms to a list of guns banned for private ownership.
A group of relatives of victims at a Sandy Hook elementary school shooting on December 14, 2012 issued a conflicted statement, writing both that “we are under no illusion that making these changes will end gun violence or prevent all mass shootings,” and that “these measures will surely save many lives. And they will prevent other families from experiencing our grief.”
Those of us who support gun rights understand the truth of the families’ first statement, that gun bans will not end gun violence, but also understand that gun bans may increase the risk to victims as well. Schools have become a primary target of assailants specifically because guns have been banned on the premises in many states. Should more areas become so-called “gun free,” they are likely to become targets, just as schools have.
Today, firearms expert and instructor Rob Pincus used social media site Facebook to send the following missive: “Mistake in the wake of an emotionally charged event. Feel Good Measures don’t increase safety.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation described problems with the law due its rushed nature, writing that “language in the new law specifies a procedure for licensed firearms retailers to perform mandatory ‘universal’ background checks on private party transactions that is not permissible based on federal law and regulations governing the National Instant Criminal Background Checks (NICS) system. As we read it, this mistake in lawmaking means that all private party transactions in the state now cannot be accomplished legally.”
The Wall Street Journal reported today that more Pro-Gun laws have gained ground since the Sandy Hook shooting than restrictive gun laws.
So far, in many states and across the nation, people have been rallying to support their 2nd amendment rights. In March Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA, spoke powerfully at the CPAC convention in Washington DC, responding to his critics with the words, “The second amendment, our second amendment, it’s not just words on parchment, it’s not some frivolous suggestion from our founding fathers to be interpreted by whim. Our founding fathers knew that without the second amendment and that freedom, all of our freedoms could be in jeopardy. Our individual liberty is the very essence of America.”
The left has tried to scorn gun owners and to demonize gun ownership in the eyes of the American people. When we look at the laws that have been passed to expand the rights of gun ownership it is clear what we believe is right in America.
The Gun Tutor is Alan Murdock. Alan is a certified NRA Pistol instructor, licensed Utah Concealed Firearms instructor and is authorized to teach Utah Bail Enforcement Firearms. He has written on firearms, archery, hunting and similar topics for Ammoland, Break Studios and Demand Media. Read more of his work at TheGunTutor.com.
Today a vote at the UN approved a treaty on small arms trade around the globe. The New York Times reported that before the treaty could go into effect as an international standard, it must be ratified by 50 nations.
The United States is unlikely to vote any time soon to ratify the treaty. Votes in the US senate fall short, and there are significant concerns the treaty would not meet the standard of the 2nd amendment to the US constitution.
Outside the United States there are concerns the treaty may curtail legal purchases of arms by other countries or citizens of those countries as well. Many of the terms used by the treaty are ill-defined. As has been discussed in past articles at theguntutor.com here, here, here, here and here, concepts such as “human rights abuse” are tenuous.
The right of states to defend themselves from outside attack, or the right of a subset within a country to defend themselves from violent oppression, derives from what historically was called “natural law,” the fact that the individual has the right to self-defense, and thereby the tools of effective self-protection. In Syria, for example, would a claim of “human rights abuses” stop sales to the Syrian Ba’ath party, or to the rebels who rose up after the government tried to crush a peaceful movement? This question is not only unanswered by the United Nations treaty, but it is ambiguous how such concepts would be applied following implementation.
Oxfam International arms control advocate Anna McDonald said “This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight, no treaty could do that, but it will help to prevent future Syrias.”
This author believes that the government of Syria had the opportunity to stop the civil war by entering negotiations with its citizens when they rose up in protest in 2011. Once the government proved itself willing to engage in tyranny by using deadly force against nonviolent protesters, the only thing that could stop it is a sufficient force to shut the government down, followed by effective nation building focused on developing a republic.
Under the UN standard, for a country to support either side of the Syrian conflict with arms, they simply need to build a coalition that accuses the opposition, either the government or the rebels, of causing human rights abuse. Such a standard could result in increased international posturing, divisiveness and war.
The standard the United Nations hopes for, a standard where weapons manufacturers are called out for providing resources to oppressive governments is, from one perspective, well-intentioned. However, this standard already exists in movements such as the Kony 2012 movement which brought together conservative and liberal groups around the world to oppose a despot. It is important to consider the risk that institutionalizing such opposition and moving it from the people to a governmental intermediary such as the U.N. may cause.
The Gun Tutor is Alan Murdock. Alan is a certified NRA Pistol instructor, licensed Utah Concealed Firearms instructor and is authorized to teach Utah Bail Enforcement Firearms. He has written on firearms, archery, hunting and similar topics for Ammoland, Break Studios and Demand Media. Read more of his work at TheGunTutor.com.
You may already know I love the M&P line of pistols. They are my favorite carry gun in any flavor – 9, .40 or .45. I would love to own the revolvers as well, but I’ve got an old Smith and Wesson model .66, and, well, I love that too.
I bought my M&P .40c (compact) as soon as they were available. I purchased mine when Smith & Wesson was still running a promotion to move the guns, two free magazines. I had followed the news about Smith and had anticipated some good developments and better pistols because of some of the press releases, business reports and that had been coming out. I had followed Smith’s partnership with Walther, and anticipated they would bring up their capacity in Smith branded pistols. I had also shot a full-size M&P .40 rental at The Place To Shoot in Portland, Oregon, and had loved the feel and controllability of the gun. I was ready to jump in with the .40c.
Since that time the M&P has been adopted by more police departments than I can think of. Recently, the Unified police of Salt Lake County began issuing the M&P as a primary sidearm, with Glock and Springfield authorized for duty pending qualification with the gun to be carried, but not issued.
This holiday season I bought myself the full size M&P in 9mm. I immediately looked over the gun to see what changes, if any, had been made since my early purchase of the .40c. The first thing I noticed was that the rear sight, which was a ramp on the earlier handguns, now has a notch or ledge for racking the gun off your belt or holster. The ramp is supposed to be a “snag free” design, but when you need to rack a gun single handedly, you want something for purchase, and the ledged rear sight is just the ticket.
A snag free ramp on the first release of the M&P 40c.
Either the snag free ramp or the notched sights add the benefit of extending the sight radius as far back on the slide as possible. The notch on all pistols are a quarter to half an inch forward on the slide. Many pistols such as the Glock and Springfield XD series come with a simple sight that, while functional, shortens the sight radius of the gun. On either the compact or standard size M&P, the added distance between rear and front sight provides the opportunity for increased accuracy, depending on the shooter and his or her capability.
The notch allows shooters to rack the slide off their belt during one-handed manipulation.
The second thing I noticed is that the Smith & Wesson extractor retaining pin has been replaced with a roll pin. This is a great option, because as people have started customizing their guns, many choose to upgrade the extractor. There is nothing wrong with the extractor as is, but some people want to change it out. The solid metal pins had to be hammered out with significant force, and some risk of damage to the slide of your gun. With the roll pin, the extractor is effectively retained, and the pin can be removed with significantly less force.
The two guns I chose have different features from one another. The 40.c has no thumb safety, but does have an internal mag safety. Externally, and in function, it feels very similar to shooting my Glock 23. It is a lever that, when the magazine is in place, is depressed, moving the trigger mechanism in line with the sear. As soon as the magazine is removed, the lever is released and the trigger bar is moved to the right, out of line with the sear. My M&P 9 has a thumb safety and no magazine safety. I had to get used to depressing the thumb safety on my draw stroke. At first it was irritating, but I realized I can ride the thumb of my dominant hand higher on the frame of any of my handguns, potentially reducing recoil and maintaining better control of the firearm. With my thumb on the safety the recoil from my M&P 9 is negligible, and I am very happy with my groups at speed.
The author demonstrates a “southpaw” high handed grip with the thumb firmly depressing the external thumb safety, aiding in the control of recoil.
I like to have an extra safety on the gun, beyond the trigger safety that comes standard on most modern polymer framed handguns. Numerous misfires have occurred on camera where shooters have gotten something stuck in the trigger guard while a shooter holsters his or her gun. While it is any gun owner’s responsibility to manage his or her trigger, having a backup can be of benefit. The thumb safety can be clicked on, or the magazine removed before holstering the gun. For new shooters who have not had the benefit of supervised shooting from childhood on, such added features can increase safety on what can be a swift learning curve.
Both guns have a sear release lever, which means you don’t have to dry fire the gun during disassembly. That translates to added safety as well.
The sear release (yellow lever) and magazine safety lever (just below sear release lever) can be seen inside the frame of the M&P40c.
Other differences are smaller. The M&P locking block is a little different in the earlier 40c pistol. The block contacts the barrel behind the feed ramp on three points. You can see where these points have rubbed the steel smooth. The new M&P 9 contacts on two planes. Both guns cycle smoothly. I am uncertain if these differences are based on the caliber or size of the guns, or if Smith & Wesson has made decisions about changing minor specifications as the guns are produced. In any case, the line of pistols is of exceptional quality and performance. Smith & Wesson remains my first choice in sidearm.
Two areas of wear are seen on the M&P 9 where the back of the feed ramp contacts the locking block.
Wear marks indicate three points of contact between the back of the feed ramp and the locking block on the M&P .40c.
The surface treatment on early pistols have a shiny, blued surface (left). the recent M&P 9 came with a matte black treatment (right). Both magazines feed flawlessly.
I have been reading a book, loaned to me by a pacifist friend, entitled, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” Before I dig in, I will give you an introduction to the material and some of the key concepts outlined by the authors, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. The premise of the book is that nonviolent insurrection is more effective than armed struggle when citizens want change from their government. There are several factors the book argues are necessary for success:
Mass, dispersed efforts – the authors argue that armed insurrections are performed by small bands of individuals willing to use deadly force who are backed by some form of financial support, either through factions in the country of conflict or through outside funding. They suggest that barriers to participation are high because ordinary citizens in many countries lack the skills, resources or willingness to participate in armed struggle. On the other hand, for the most part, attending a protest is a low barrier activity in contrast to armed resistance. The authors suggest that these efforts should be “dispersed” through a broad network. The authors mention using social media and mobile technologies to manage information across broad, grassroots networks. In their research they state that attempts to topple a government through the intervention of factions with strong leadership may fail due to power struggles among faction leaders.
Coercive force and media intervention – throughout the book, the authors highlight how media impressions, both through the amount of coverage, and the attitude about those countering the government, influence outcomes. They suggest that coercive force is absolutely necessary to create change in an unwilling leader. Armed insurrections reduce the insurgent’s power because they become complicit in bloodshed. Mass movements, on the other hand, evoke international response. Images of monks, laborers and the general masses being shot or beaten bring human rights groups and political power to the equation. Taking on victim status generates power – so long as there is coverage and someone with power to feel the protester’s pain.
Creating loyalty shifts within the government – a key to success, the authors indicate, is to move members of the existing power structure to the protester’s cause. With armed conflict, they argue, this is less likely, because groups entrench against their opposition. If their lives are in danger, they must fight or flee. Flight is an unlikely response from a group that holds power. In contrast, when the opposition uses nonviolence, it is more likely that some members within the government will have ethical qualms about excessive force, or that they will relate to some messages presented by the opposition.
A Complex Field of Contestation
The authors present several case studies that highlight the complexity of any political uprising. They describe the Iranian uprising against the Shah in 1979 as a partial success. The Shah was overthrown, but democratic groups that participated heavily in nonviolent protests to advocate for women’s rights, education, and liberalization of law were ejected from the decision process as a new Islamic religious government was established. The concept of democracy was exploited for another, more sinister purpose.
Another, more positive case study covers the 1986 Philippine ouster of Ferdinand Marcos for a new democratic government. The case demonstrates how mass movements and grass-roots organizing turned factions within the military against Marcos, leading to his removal from government and then to democratic elections. The case highlights the stabilizing force that the Catholic Church played in organizing anti-regime protests.
Evaluating the Cases from the Book
I find it a little disgusting to count the Iranian revolution as a success on any level. Citizen effort was exploited for other’s advantage. One tyrannical government was overturned for another. To count that as partial success, to me, seems like kowtowing to ideological thinking. The authors will bend over backwards to call a new tyrannical government a success if it manipulated peaceful protesters to do their dirty work for them.
In mass protests in the United States I have observed how interest groups utilize and leverage mass movements for their position. Anti-Iraq war protests in Portland, Oregon had groups such as anti-semites press anti-Israel, anarchists press anti-globalization, unions press anti-business and anti-enforcement on immigration policy. The war was the best thing that had happened for these fringe groups in a long time.
“Black Block” anarchist protesters at an anti-war protest in Portland, Oregon
Anti-Israel protester at an anti-war event. Location unknown
From my own observation it is hard to see this process as “working.” Occupy Wall Street encampments resulted in hot-spots for petty crime, like theft, drug related offenses, and felonies such as sexual assault. I’m hesitant to call this activity “working” to create something better.
In evaluating the case of the Philippine uprising, I suggest that the underlying mindset and grounding of opposition leaders in normative, stabilizing cultures such as long-standing religious traditions, in contrast to groups whose core objective is to destabilize culture (anarchists, adbusters affiliates, anti-semites, and occupyers).
The connection or lack thereof to campaign success based on a movement’s grounding in longstanding cultural institutions is something that is not investigated by the authors.
What Constitutes Sufficiency for the Public to Rise Up?
The book does not explore the question, “when should people rise up?” That question is explored in great depth in Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means by William T. Vollman. In his book, Vollman explores a broad range of means, from nonviolence to self-defense, to murder, and examines the ideological frame from which perpetrators act to justify their actions.
When you see the statistics Chenoweth and Stephan present, violent uprising, such as terrorist actions by insurgent groups, has only a 7 percent success rate. The authors state:
“Scholars often assume that violent methods of resistance are the most coercive or the most likely to force accommodation, thereby producing desired policy changes. For instance, some have argued that terrorism is an effective strategy, particularly in forcing democratic regimes to make territorial concessions. In contrast, Max Abrahms has shown that terrorists’ success rates are extremely low, accomplishing their policy objectives only 7 percent of the time. Abrahms nevertheless concludes that actors choose terrorism because it is still more effective than nonviolent resistance.”
The concept that peace can be more coercive than violence makes perfect sense to me, as you can understand from some of my earlier writing. Utilizing coercion against forces unwilling to yield is a foundational concept in peace studies literature. Looking at this from the perspective of self-defense and the use of force continuum, it is worth asking how one determines when coercive force is justified. The use of deadly force continuum is quite apparent – when one perceives death to be imminent. I suggest this nonviolent force continuum is much more murky.
When we look at the American landscape, we see a lot of leftist groups, such as the anarchists and anti-government agitators who show up at mass civil action, claiming our government is as tyrannical of the Shah, Marcos, or any of the rest of the truly tyrannical leaders around the globe.
We also have conservative groups making some of the same claims, but for different reasons. Federal actions against the Branch Davidians and other groups make some fearful that centralized government will act against people because of their beliefs.
In examining the political landscape in the United States, it seems that politicians are driving a wedge into this left-right split in the country, increasing the likelihood of various types of anti-government activity, whether of the non-violent type proposed by the authors or through violence.
Uprising in the United States
Over the past 20 years there have been both violent and nonviolent uprisings in the United States. On the violent side, Timothy McVeigh’s domestic terrorism comes to mind, as do eco-terrorist attacks by the Earth Liberation Front. Nonviolent uprising in the United States include anti-war protests, the Occupy movement, and the pro-Second Amendment activism that are currently underway.
Will Nonviolent Tactics Retain their Efficacy?
The book ends on a positive note. As it went to press, “Arab Spring” uprisings in Egypt threatened to topple a dictator. The authors tentatively called these a success, however, governments have adapted their response to the powerful tools of nonviolent protest, and the Arab Spring is widely considered a failure.
Because media coverage is a primary tool of social uprisings, governments have adapted, realizing their best response relies on effective media and public relations. Like politicians – Clinton smoked pot but didn’t inhale while Al Gore smoked pot with abandon and George Bush jr. hung his old college-era coke mirror in the oval office with impunity (that last is a joke, for those who don’t know me well) – governments have realized they can manage shock-and-awe media attacks through effective media intervention. Democratic, openly gay mayor of Portland, Oregon, Sam Adams successfully managed a sex scandal that came out in his first term. During his campaign, Adams had sexual contact with a minor. Despite the media risk, Adams maintained his position as Mayor with impunity. Adams later effectively justified police actions to shut down an Occupy Wall Street encampment, a movement that should have been successful in attaining its stated objectives, according to the premise of the book.
The Future of Nonviolent Protest
The authors indicate that nonviolence is a technique of warfare. This theme is repeated by many authors within peace studies. For strategies in conflict to be retained, they need to show continued success though time. As groups and individuals perceive they lack the ability to move their governments through politics or means of collective action, factions become more likely to form and rejection of nonviolence becomes a greater risk.
I am thinking about the pro second-amendment protests that are ongoing. As proposed bans on firearms have been pushed by Democratic representatives on the national and local level, various groups have had differing responses depending on their context and framework. Over the next few weeks I will explore the political and nonviolent protests, including state legislative actions to protest federal legislation, along with local rallying, social media, and other means, to protect the second amendment.
I will also discuss the seeming irony, which isn’t actually ironic at all, of using nonviolent means to protect the right to guns, tools of defense that might also be used as tools of violence. I’m looking forward to digging into this content.
Some people who have known me for a long time feel like it is a sudden surprise that I am so strongly in support of the second amendment. I attended a liberal arts program at a liberal public university, after all. Shouldn’t I understand that guns are the opiate of the uneducated and disempowered, the paranoid and the hateful?
“You are an anomaly among concealed weapon permit holders,” a friend from England told me. “My wife’s relative in Texas has a permit, and most of them lack access to resources and are extremely bitter.”
In my experience, that has not been the case. The people that I know who hold permits or who have taken concealed firearms permit classes with me have ranged from teachers to entrepreneurs, and yes, some working class people, but not those that fit the stereotype held by my friend. Most have had experience with crime, being victimized at some point within their lives. Many have lived the experience that when they need it most, they are the only person who can provide an effective response for their own defense.
I have written several essays about my own experience with crime and crime fighting, most notably my long essay posted to TheGunTutor about facing a felon that was released through the intervention of a community justice and offender reintegration program in Iowa. My essay has received positive feedback from people who understand the experience, but the groups involved in freeing the offender, after repeated notice, continue to remain silent. 30 years later, I am still the only person who is willing to create a proper response. I am doing that through telling my story. Liberal offender reintegration groups, bent on reducing penalties for offenders, and who use the word “accountability” throughout their literature, are unwilling to be accountable for their part in covering up and facilitating crime.
Many groups highlight the rise in incarceration rates and suggest that this is an example of injustice in America. At the same time, America is unique among countries – with a massive population, America is the only country of its size committed to stopping the perpetuation of crime within its borders. Lower incarceration rates of other countries can be indicative of turning a blind eye.
The criminal reentry programs sponsored by the American Baptists take such a position. On their website the program indicates a number of statistics about the justice system: 1.6 million people were reported behind bars in 2009 (1.5 million in prison and 780,000 in jail), over four million are on probation, over 800,000 are on parole. They indicate that one in 31 adults is under correctional supervision in the United States.
What they don’t indicate is why there are so many people in prison or under supervision of the justice system. What are these people under supervision for? If we were to go case by case through each of these 1.6 million cases, which would we be willing to overturn? I propose that one possibility for these numbers is that in America we are willing to take cases to trial. In many cases we don’t act soon enough, penalties are too lenient, and courts and police are overburdened with cases to the point they are unable to act when they should. Crime is a reality. The countries that have low prison and probation rates have these rates because they do not pursue prosecution aggressively. They simply accept crime as part of everyday activity.
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, America has 716 people per 100,000 in prison as compared to Cambodia with 101 people per 100,000 in prison. (2) The American Baptists would celebrate such a reduction. It would be a physical representation of the metaphor “setting all the captives free,” but what would the cost of such a reduction be?
In 2005 Dateline NBC ran a powerful special on child sex prostitution and slavery in which reporter Chris Hansen visited Cambodia and walked the streets to see who would approach him and what criminal services they would sell. (3) Approached almost immediately by child pimps selling sex with even younger children, it is clear Thailand has an insufficient rate of imprisonment to reduce harm to its citizens.
The American Baptist Church takes a position that would decrease sanctions against offenders and would allow the country to decline to a similar condition as depicted in Dateline’s report. In several publications downloadable as PDF documents from their website, the American Baptist Church articulates its position toward criminal justice.
But is it a bad thing to reduce criminal penalties? A single conviction can follow a person for years, decades, even a lifetime, reducing their employability, social acceptance and more. One benefit of incarceration is that offenders who are likely to offend again are separated from the community, theoretically sparing the public from offenses the person may commit during that time. I know in my experience, placing my offender behind bars would have spared me from facing several crimes at an early age.
If offenders are released to the public, how do we provide protection for the public? The Supreme Court has indicated that it is not the responsibility of the police or the state to provide protection for the general public. A 2005 case in New York supported earlier precedents when police failed to stop an estranged husband, with a protective order issued against him, from murdering her children, abducted from the yard as they played.
Should police and municipalities be held responsible to stop such crime? In fact, I would say, “no.” They do not have such a responsibility – as long as citizens are not infringed in preparing for and performing their own defense.
The proposals, both local and national, to ban guns and concealed firearms fail to take these realities into account. Organizations are actively working to reduce incarceration, police and governmental agencies are not held accountable for individual’s protection, and groups are agitating for a ban on reasonable self-defense.
Who will receive lifetime armed protection? Presidents, for one. Again, I think that is generally a good thing. I want my countries’ Presidents protected, but I also want the right, and the tools, to protect myself and my family.
Over the past six years I’ve been thinking a lot about a crime that happened to me as a child and how my perceptions and reactions to that crime have, over time, changed my perception of justice and the field of criminal justice. To give a quick summary, I was molested by a felon who was given pre-trial release and a suspended sentence through the intervention of an activist group associated with the First Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa. The group was funded by the American Baptist Church and a group of local churches in my hometown. In this rather long essay I will show the court documents that track the offender’s path from the court system into my home, and through recollections of my family and others, I will document the failures of the organization that led to a disturbing lack of response to the crime at its occurrence in 1977, and a further disturbing lack of accountability by the founders today. I will also tie the actions and mindset of the group to misinterpretations of social science research caused by looking through an ideological, faith-based lens.
My goal in this essay is to provide my experience as a case study in the literature of community and restorative justice. There are clear benefits from community involvement in fighting crime, and in restoring offenders who are willing to transform their lives from crime to success. However, unlike the case documented here, each offender must be managed, documented and treated with a critical eye. Offenders must demonstrate their willingness to change. The pitiable circumstances of the offender’s case are insufficient to demonstrate that transformation is possible. My experience speaks to the wrongs that community and restorative justice organizations can themselves be responsible for when they fail to effectively manage the true impact of their actions on the community.
My family became involved with a community reintegration program in early 1977. Called the Committee on Criminal Justice, and later, the Center for Creative Justice, the group “was created [in 1974] when concerned citizens recognized the need for community involvement in the justice system. Embracing the principles of ‘Restorative Justice,’ probation supervisory services provided by professional staff and trained community volunteers were initiated to meet that need.”
Reverend Roy Key of the First Christian Church preached from the pulpit that a young man CCJ was working with needed housing in order for the group to restore him to the community.
Although I was a small child at the time, I remember how Reverend Key greeted the congregation each Sunday. The sermon began with a reading from the Disciples of Christ lectionary, their book of Bible readings tied to the calendar. Then the pastor had a call and response greeting with the congregation before moving into his sermon. As a four-year-old child at the time, I always liked participating in the response. I remember one time missing it and standing up on the pew to loudly say, “Hi,” in the moment he would usually take to pause and look reflectively at his notes before going into his sermon. On that day everyone laughed, and I hid behind my father, embarrassed and grinning.
I remember the pivotal morning where he introduced the idea of housing this felon because when he introduced the idea it interrupted the usual flow of his introduction. As I waited for his usual call and response greeting the mood shifted in the congregation. There was a silence like people holding their breath while they listened.
Reverend Key said they had come across someone through the churches’ association with the UCCM, United Christian Campus Ministries, at Iowa State University, and one of the affiliated church ministries, the Committee on Criminal Justice, who needed help. The young man, who had been arrested for burglary and stealing a car, had suffered greatly in his life and, if he were placed in prison he would most certainly meet people who would mentor him into a life of crime. If the churches could find home placement, they could assure he received a pre-trial release so that he would not fall into negative influences while awaiting trial. It was also possible, that should the offender show growth and change prior to trial, he might receive a suspended sentence, allowing the churches to facilitate a lifelong transformation – to save him from the justice system.
After this introduction, our pastor went into his sermon. My attention waned, and the next memory I have is standing on the corner of 7th and Burnett, by the Fairway grocery store. Mom and Dad were in deep discussion about what they should do. They had a Christian responsibility to help, and this was one way they could get off the fence and take action.
My parents volunteered our family to house him. The offender, 18 years of age, was charged with two felonies and denied trial in the juvenile court. The offender’s parole officer, Richard Smith, gives a detailed account of how he found his way into our home.
In the following passage, names of volunteers and businesses have been replaced with letters, and the offender’s full name has also been removed, although employees of CCJ and the names of my family have been retained:
“The present period of Mr. (offender)’s life really began in the second week of March 1977, when the Honorable Glenn C. Sedgwick released him to the supervision of Ms. Lynette Hanthorn of the Committee on Criminal Justice pending the outcome of the Breaking and Entering and Larceny of a Motor Vehicle charges. Ms. Hanthorn immediately located residence and employment for the defendant. Dr. and Mrs. James Murdock housed and continue to house Mr. (offender) at (address and avenue name), Ames. Dr. Murdock is a mathematics professor at Iowa State University and his wife is an homemaker. They have one small child and another child on the way. The Murdocks supply a caring, supportive, guiding environment for the defendant. In the employment area, Mr. Z, who is manager of Q Machine Shop, Ames, and who also works in a volunteer capacity for the Committee on Criminal Justice, hired Mr. (offender) upon his release from jail. The defendant’s daily attendance on the job, however, did not prevent his termination by Mr. Z on week ago on June 3, 1977. Mr. Z’s action came after Mr. (offender) broke the shop’s shearing machine. This incident convinced Mr. Z that the defendant lacks the skills necessary to progress in a machine shop. Despite the recent termination, though, Mr. Z continues to remain interested in the vocational development of Mr. (offender).”
The document goes on to describe the offender’s involvement with the CCJ:
“Throughout this period of his release – almost three months – Mr. (offender) has been in daily contact with Ms. Hanthorn. She commends his performance under pre-trial supervision. Finally, the defendant has been most cooperative with this officer during the pre-sentence investigation phase of this adjudication.”
I was the “small child” mentioned in the parole officer’s report. An interesting artifact of the offender’s loss of employment, was that he was in our home all day, every day, with basically nothing to do. During that time he began sexually grooming me, toward what end goal, I do not know. I believe that, although he committed sexual crimes against me, that the true extent of his intention was not realized because I reported the activities described below.
The offender had the largest bedroom in the house, on the second floor. My father had helped him assemble a loft bed when he moved in, and a chest of drawers pushed up against the side made a little private cave underneath. I would go in and sit on the floor while the offender sat on his bed and talk with him – ask him questions about his model car collection and things.
During one of these conversations he offhandedly asked me if I had heard of sex.
Today, that would be enough to have his suspended sentence revoked in some jurisdictions. I am aware of one offender who had visitation with his children following a sexual abuse claim by a relative. After the parent had inappropriate conversations with one of his teen children about the illegal acts the judge revoked the visitation and allowed the parent to see his children only under direct supervision.
The offender described sex to me, not in terms of intimacy, but in terms of opportunity and advantage, indicating he had sex with women he met at parties while they were drunk. This conversation occurred either on a weekend before he lost his job or in the week after he was in our home full time.
On a second occasion he asked if I wanted to see where the sperm came from. This time he got off of his loft bed and sat on the floor with his back up against the wall. He unzipped his jeans and exposed his penis. I remember seeing a white spot on the side of his penis and asking if that was where it came out. I couldn’t imagine that something that you’d want to share with someone else came out of the same place as pee. He told me not to touch the spot on his penis and said that you sometimes get that when you have sex with girls who do it a lot.
Surprisingly to me, in the records there is a blood test that indicates the offender was negative for STDs.
On a third occasion when my mother had gone to run errands while my father was at the University, and I was left in the care of the offender, he proposed we play the “wee wee game.”
The offender put about two inches of water in the bottom of the bathtub and lifted me in. It was summer, and the weather was warm. Even so, I said I wanted more water in the tub. I had small, floating toys I liked to play with in the tub, and too little water just made it chilly, even given the summer weather. I splashed the water and the offender climbed in with me. He said, “I’ll grab yours if you grab mine.” He squeezed my penis between his thumb and forefinger, and I burst out laughing. I was a very ticklish child, and this was certainly not a kind of interaction I had experienced previously. He told me to be quiet.
I remember looking up and seeing the shade over the window blow open. We didn’t have air conditioning, and we relied on the house itself and the elements to provide what cooling they would. Our next door neighbor often looked in on me through the window and was known for calling my mother if she saw me doing anything that might be dangerous. I know the offender was concerned she would see or hear what was going on.
The offender told me to grab his penis, and I did. I let go right away, like it was a game of tag. He tried to coach me to stroke his penis, showing me with his hand. I thought the game was he was supposed to grab mine next. The offender became frustrated and lifted me out of the tub, setting me on a towel he had laid on the linoleum floor, and told me to dry off. There is a short gap in my memory at this point.
I remember huddling over the vent in the floor where cool air would slowly drift up from the basement. The offender was back in the tub. He told me to put on my clothes and to leave. He was stroking himself in the tub. I told him my parents always helped me dress. He got out of the tub. He seemed frustrated as he helped me put on my pants and underwear. He told me never to tell anyone about the “wee wee game.”
That is the extent of the sexual activity. You might think, “What’s the big deal? Why is this guy writing about some pervert who just got naked with him thirty-six years ago in a tub? Everyone’s got some weird experience in their life.” The reality is that even inappropriate conversations with a child about sex are harmful. They serve to harm boundaries and to increase a number of risks of the victim, including further victimization. To me, the direct actions of the offender, while harmful, were equally matched by the harms caused by the ineffectual response following the crimes. Yes, they are the root actions of harm, and no child should have to be in such experiences, but the way CCJ, the courts and the parole department responded, or more exactly, did not respond, created a sense of powerlessness and lack of access to justice that has lasted my entire life.
I will return to the narrative.
At this point there is another gap in my memory. I was at the bottom of the stairs in the foyer by myself when my mom came home. I felt trepidation and anxiety about telling her what happened. The game felt like something I should tell my mother, but an adult, the offender, had also told me not to tell, and I had promised I wouldn’t. Breaking a promise was bad, I knew.
I fidgeted, not knowing exactly what to say.
“(offender name) and I played the wee wee game,” I said.
“You did WHAT?” my mother said. My breath caught in my chest and I knew I was in trouble. My memory of that day ends there.
I have two more vivid memories of the offender in the next couple of days. My mother approached him in the living room. I remember watching as she asked him about the “wee wee game.”
My mother wrote an email to me in 2006, “He [the offender] said something that made it sound like he was helpless to control events and thought you were making it happen. He began saying that his father molested him.”
I remember looking up at my mother and the offender, hearing her questions and his excuse making, but from my memory I didn’t understand the context or meaning of the conversation.
My next vivid memory was in the yard on the south west corner of our house. When I think back on the event I refer to the afternoon as “the forgiveness ceremony.” The adults, my parents and the offender, were sitting in lawn chairs facing away from the house. I was sitting on the ground facing them. My father started out talking slowly.
I recall him saying something close to the following. “I have given it a lot of thought, and it is our Christian duty to forgive, whatever happened.”
I remember the offender, who had been sitting rather tensely, relaxed, as though he released a sigh of relief. The burden was off of him. Again, as with the previous incidents, I don’t remember anything past that moment regarding the afternoon. The result of that meeting was that the offender remained in our home.
The fact that forgiveness was given for me, in front of me, that forgiveness was forced on me, was not something that went unnoticed because of my age. I was quite alert to and aware of my surroundings. Most of my memories are cemented in my head due to a change or added tension in the interactions between people. I remember the body positions, the angle from which I was looking. I remember the build and release of these incidents, and they will likely stay with me my entire life.
My mother described this scene in her emails to me. “Your Dad and I had a conversation with (offender), who probably expected to be kicked out of our home. Trouble was, he had no other place to go. The homeless shelter on Kellogg was years away from opening. I told you the “wee-wee game” was wrong and that you shouldn’t do that again, and did everything I could to make sure you were never alone with him again.”
My mother was friends with a nurse at the local hospital who told her to get the offender out of the house, but the Christian conceptions of forgiveness and turning the other cheek were too powerful, too ingrained by the activist churches to be overpowered by voices of reason. My mother described her conversations with her friend, always ending with that same phrase, “he had no other place to go.”
But the offender did have a place to go, a place he belonged. A place the community had made just for him. The prison sentence was suspended for the purpose of reminding the offender that his continued good conduct was necessary for him not to go to the place where he had already been sentenced. A sufficient hue and cry would assure the offender went to his cell.
When the offender was forgiven, it felt as though the locus of guilt was switched from the offender to me. In my fourth year, I was too young to understand the complexity the adults around me were bringing to this situation. As is common with children and sexual abuse, I believed I had caused the problem. Had I told something I shouldn’t? Was I believed? Did I matter in this circumstance? This is certainly not how I would have framed it as a child, but looking back on my experience, this is how the lack of penalty for the perpetrator was received. If he had done something wrong he should have been punished, swiftly and in open court.
Although both of my parents felt there was no other place for him to go, my mother was not satisfied with forgiving the offender and leaving it alone. She continued to try to resolve the situation, but her frenetic energy didn’t help. She called Rick Smith, the parole officer.
My mother wrote in 2006, “After (offender)’s trial and conviction, he was put on probation and continued to live in our home. He had a parole officer then, and he was the person we were dealing with when things came up instead of Lynette, who I think might have taken us seriously. I called this parole officer, a young man who had just finished reading a short story by, I think, Sherwood Anderson, about a man who had been wrongly accused of molesting a child. He dismissed my concern, didn’t think there was anything to be concerned about.”
She also indicated that she spoke with the minister, Roy Key, of the First Christian Church, who had preached about the offender and who built the connection to the CCJ.
“I remember a conversation with our minister, Roy Key, at the First Christian Church, most likely with your Dad there, as well. This was before anyone understood the harm this kind of behavior does. Roy said he didn’t think your run-of-the-mill counselor would have a clue how to handle it, so we did not seek professional help at the time.”
In reviewing the case as an adult it looked to me like Reverend Key was trying to cover up the sex crime. The Iowa Code sections 232.67 through 232.75 were passed in 1978, the year following the abuse. (6) Issues around child sexual abuse were in the air in the 70’s, and state regulations were in response to the federal The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) passed in 1974. (7) CAPTA earmarked funding for state activities that would lead to prevention of child abuse, but it did not in and of itself mandate reporting or develop procedures to identify or stop the crime that happened to me.
My parents indicated they were not sure when the meeting with Reverend Key occurred, whether it was in 1977 or in the years following the offender’s return to prison. Reverend Key would not, himself, have been a mandatory reporter had that meeting occurred in 1978, but a professional counselor would have been, following the implementation of the law. My mother had mentioned this meeting multiple times when I was in elementary school, and having heard of mandatory reporting, it seemed to me that Reverend Key was facilitating a cover-up to protect CCJ and future religious intervention in the courts.
My father spoke with representatives of CCJ as well around the time of the abuse. My father wrote that: “I know I talked to Lynette (or it could have been Bobbie, [another CCJ employee] I tend to forget about her, but I have had it in my mind since this discussion got started that it was Lynette) but I don’t remember anything about the details.” The CCJ employees didn’t have a mindset toward reporting. Their emphasis was on reducing penalties for offenders for the purpose of creating an experience of “dignity” as reported in 1974 the Ames Tribune article on “Operation Breakthru,” the CCJ community corrections program.
“Operation Breakthru is a way by which community volunteers seek to establish one-to-one relationships with adults who have contact with the criminal Justice System. The program was established in Story County by the Committee on Criminal Justice, in the belief that persons in trouble with the law are entitled to treatment consistent with the enhancement of human dignity.” (21)
None of the conversations mattered. After the forgiveness ritual, the offender stayed in our home. I remember several other incidents that occurred. The last of these, in late August or early September 1977, resulted in his re-arrest and incarceration in the state penitentiary at Anamosa, Iowa.
It was, as I recall, a Sunday morning in August. My parents and I were preparing to go to church. One of my parents had left something in the living room, and being my usual high-energy self, I climbed down the stairs to the basement instead of waiting by the back door of the house where the car was parked. The basement was cool, and, as mentioned earlier, the house did not have air conditioning. The basement was unfinished, and I liked how mysterious and musty it was with its opening to the crawl space under the house and its strange, dark rooms.
At the bottom of the stairs was a little wooden shelf. On the shelf was a T.V. Our family did not own a television. When I discovered it, I thought the television had to be a present of some kind. I had found Christmas presents hidden away the winter before, and I had been asking for a television. My father had said we might get one, a little black and white television “when you are older,” and I was certainly older, because he had said it in the past, even if that had only been a few months earlier.
I emerged from the basement, ebullient over the discovery of the new gift. My parents were confused about what I was saying. “What? A Television in our basement?”
My father went down and found the TV. It was readily apparent where the television had come from. I remember the offender being handcuffed in the kitchen by a big man with a mustache. After that, the offender was gone.
Last year I contacted my father in an email to ask about the irony that a television was forbidden, but a felon was welcome in our home. He wrote back that “we were trying as hard as we could to protect you from what we were most afraid of, which was commercialism, militarism, and various kinds of wrong values, and we thought we were doing that by trying to live another way. We failed to protect you from something that wasn’t on our radar. ” (email 6/22/12)
I had found the television. I had caused his re-arrest. Justice was served. At the same time, in the back of my mind, I realized that the theft of the television was recognized immediately and the inappropriate touch was not. I had not even been interviewed about the crime in the bathtub or any of the incidents of inappropriate sexual conversations leading up to that afternoon. I had also not been interviewed about the television. Its existence was prima facie evidence of the crime. The television did not belong to the family. The offender did not have the means to buy it. He most likely readily confessed when approached about the crime.
Recently, when I pressed for more information about the timing of the conversations with CCJ and Ames ministers my father wrote, “If I try to force details to come to my mind it won’t be trustworthy. My general impression was that it was in the hands of the probation officer and that they [CCJ] regretted the way it had gone. Of course when we reported finding the TV, he [the offender] was immediately out of the house. I don’t know how many times I talked to CCJ during that period (between the abuse and the TV, and just after the TV), whether it was once or twice, and I don’t remember discussing it again while I was a volunteer with other people. It is not as if we were thinking at this point about how it would look and what we might want to know years down the line. It was just ‘what do we do right now to get through this?’”
Later, as I grew up, in elementary school I remember how hollow the messages by our earnest teachers seemed when they told us, “tell someone about inappropriate touch. Tell anyone, and if they don’t listen tell someone else.” I had told, and the message had gotten to the people who helped free the offender, and they had valued the offender over me.
The house got quiet, and I don’t remember anything over the following weeks until my brother was born, two days before my 5th birthday.
I haven’t studied memory extensively, but I believe that it is unusual for children to have as vivid memories as I have of this time. I have fleeting memories from even younger years; my mother pointing out badgers climbing out of a trash can behind our New York home before we moved, a wind-up toy diver sent by my grandmother and the shock when the toy broke and stopped swimming. I suspect the vividness of my recollections about this offender come from how drastically things in the home changed due to his presence, and how little prepared my parents were for these encounters. What were they to do? What procedures had CCJ put in place to effectively report crimes committed by those they had gone to the effort to release?
A book I use when teaching Consumer Behavior to marketing students suggests that memories are stored in a series of short-term formats, some fleeting, such as a scent as we walk by a bagel shop or fragrant tree, and some longer, like a phone number we need to remember long enough to punch into a phone, but that memory is not affixed into our long-term consciousness until we engage a cognitive process, termed “elaborative rehearsal,” wherein we begin “thinking about the meaning of a stimulus and relating it to other information already in memory.” (8) The level of confusion and odd behavior by all of the adults around me certainly led to elaborative rehearsal regarding these crimes and their context, so much so that I continue to consider them to this day.
Part of the elaborative rehearsal was due to a rather high level of reactivity that I had in the first four years of elementary school. I remember in first grade, for example, one of many situations that highlighted the difference between me and other children in school. I was putting on my boots to go out for recess. Most of the kids had slip on style boots, and a handful of kids were sitting on the tile outside the classroom still lacing and tying. For some reason I said out loud three letters.
“S – E- X.”
One of the other children looked up at me and said, “I know what that spells.”
I sat stunned, looking at him. He knew what it spells? I knew what it was. I wasn’t a first grader at all. That experience had been taken away from me. I slowed my work on the laces, allowing the other child to finish tying his books to run out to the playground ahead of me.
My family was in touch with the offender two additional times. We went to visit him in the Anamosa penitentiary. I remember going through the gate to an area with tables. He came out with long hair, looking very lean. He talked with my parents and I don’t remember saying anything to him or him directing anything toward me.
Later, my mother indicated she received a letter from him after his release indicating he had joined the Moonies and wanted to change his life. In the late 1980’s my mother went to the courthouse to see if there were any records on the offender and she found that his rights had been reinstated by Governor Branstad on the 25th of May, 1988. The document indicates that the right to bear arms is the only right not reinstated, and that the document does not constitute a pardon.
Each of these contact points created odd, mixed feelings in me. I remember wondering why my parents continued to care. I also remember being glad his right to bear arms was revoked. That would be something that would forever differentiate him from me. He was a criminal, and I was someone who from childhood, discovered, reported and stopped crime.
At the same time, I took the reinstatement of the offender’s voting rights as another affront: the Justice League, with their panel of self-appointed superheroes (CCJ) had utilized their self-righteous pro-crime behavior to set a captive free. Every time my mother had spoken in awe of Lynette and her organization I became angry. I imagined them talking their peace talk, wooing judges and legislators into facilitating more and more crime, all the while claiming success and salvation. The activists and their worldview disgusted me.
In opposition to what I saw as a pro-crime worldview promoted by activists, and in opposition to the reactivity I had felt in early elementary school, I had joined the Ames Police Explorers in 1986. Dale Royer had committed his arson against an Iowa State University professor one year prior, killing a young boy in the Ames middle school, a boy in the same grade as I.
Enough was enough, already. Rather than placating these criminals, freeing them and covering up their crime, what decent citizens needed to do was to get out on patrol to identify the risks as they occurred and to stop them before harm could be done. My offender was getting away. He could not legally own guns, but he could vote. The only reasonable thing I could see to do was act through law enforcement to assure that the offenders of others would not escape their full punishment.
My choice was half based in emotion and half in intellect, but it wasn’t wholly integrated with who I was. In many ways I was acting to right wrongs for others because there seemed no way to right the wrong that came directly from my offender and the other, communal wrong. I perceived that Lynette and CCJ had committed several intentional wrongs: one when they foolishly placed a felon in a home with children, another when they did not report the criminal sexual activity, and yet another, at their outset, when they failed to develop appropriate procedures to effectively manage their volunteers and community partnerships.
I joined the Police Explorers as soon as I could, at age 14, and to this day I commend the program and believe it was one of the best experiences I had as a youth. It was an opportunity to become involved in doing real justice, and it was my choice. No one pressed me into it. It was also an expression of wanting and seeking a normative code that was not influenced by ambiguity, reflexivity and cultural confusion.
I stayed in the program for two years. The weight of trying to overlay someone else’s justice onto my own was too difficult for a sixteen year old. I loved what we did – I loved the ride-alongs, and the camaraderie among the group was amazing, but my personal effort to seek justice was too complicated. I chose to go into the arts, a place where actors take on roles to explore possible meanings and outcomes, but at the end of the day the bad guys are really good guys who took on the role for a short time for the purpose of telling the story. Things didn’t have the weight they did in criminal justice, where years of work on a case could be overturned at the drop of a gavel, or the effort you put in to right a wrong could be unwoven by a misguided not-for-profit organization.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I left the Explorers the same year my offender had his rights reinstated.
For years I suppressed my interest in criminal justice. I went through eight years of college in the performing and fine arts, and today, have spent almost thirteen years teaching at an art and design college. The arts were full of possibility, emphasizing what could be rather than what is. The arts are supposed to be liberal and liberating – pure experimentation culturally framed to protect it from as many cultural attacks as possible. It’s not wrong, its art!
In 2006 my wife was registered in a Restorative Justice class at Portland State University as part of her post baccalaureate program in Criminal Justice. As usual, she read ahead and began discussing the ideas – liberating justice from punishment, sensitizing offenders to the harms they cause through dialogue and restoring offenders to the community without the lasting stigma inherent in a criminal record.
“That’s that crap those damn hippies were into when they freed the felon who molested me,” I said, as she described concepts outlined by Howard Zehr, John Braithwaite and others.
The philosophy that had led to my harm was much greater than one small college town in Iowa. I realized it was imperative to act and to address this original wrong. It wasn’t until I saw the tenants of restorative and community justice in print that I took the time to reflect on how, not just the sexual abuse, but the conduct of those around me before and after the abuse created their own harm. At the same time, it was this vastly inappropriate response that led to my interest in policing, but also that made criminology and policing a difficult field for me to pursue.
I decided to register for the Restorative Justice course myself. As part of my preparation for the course, like my wife, I read ahead, including an excerpt from an essay titled “The Early Years of CCJ,” written by founding board members Johnie Hammond and Jenny McCarley.
“It all began in 1972, when the ministry staff of Iowa United Campus Christian Ministry (UCCM) began raising concerns about penal reform. The Ames group had had some experience in trying to assist ex-offenders find employment, go back to school, or locate housing. After a good deal of discussion, we decided to sponsor a conference, which we called “Over the Wall.” The conference, held October 7, 1972, focused on housing, employment and the functioning of the criminal justice system.
“Judge Leo Oxberger spoke eloquently on the need for support services to help offenders succeed once back in the community. A Chamber of Commerce representative from Lincoln, Nebraska, talked about the success they had had in a partnership working to employ offenders and reintegrate them into the community.
“At the conference, people were invited to work toward and implement an action plan. Surprisingly, eleven people indicated an interest. For several months we struggled to figure out how to provide “the most good with the least money.” We decided that relying on volunteers rather than only paid staff would allow us to get the job done more cost-effectively. Ultimately, we decided to focus on volunteers working with low risk offenders who had been placed on probation through the courts. We now had a plan ready to market to a foundation or a funding source.
“After much thought and time, Bill Belli, an American Baptist pastor, and some of the other board members, wrote a grant to be funded by the American Baptist Church (ABC). At that time, ABC gave small grants for innovative community projects like ours and the grant was funded at $8,285 with a local soft match from the UCCM. We had a budget of around $17,000 our first year.
“Meanwhile, we turned our attention to finding a paid director for our program. Lynette Druivenga (later Hanthorn) resigned from the board so that she could apply for the job. There were two applicants, and of course it was clear that Lynette understood and was committed to the mission of the organization. She was hired, at the grand salary of $7,000 a year, with the understanding that she would be chief fundraiser, volunteer recruiter, speaker, trainer of volunteers, secretary and janitor. When Lynette first started, she was so frightened by public speaking that she had to have a board member with her so that if her throat closed up, we could carry on presentations for her. She certainly outgrew this fear and eventually began training international audiences in mediation principles. One cannot recognize Lynette for her many contributions to CCJ without also recognizing Bobbie Carlson. In 1975, Bobbie began working as a probation supervisor and has continued to this day.
“CCJ began as the Committee for Criminal Justice, and it was many years later that the name was changed to the Center for Creative Justice. As the mission expanded to include improving county jail conditions, mediation services, court watching, and developing a pamphlet on rights and responsibilities in relation to the justice system, the name change became appropriate. During this time, Lynette spent many hours in Des Moines, talking with legislators and with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court about the value of mediation in reducing burdens on the court.
“CCJ was originally located in “Frisbie House” where the First National Bank University Office is located now. “Frisbie House” was the original office for UCCM. When it was torn down to build the bank, CCJ moved to 304 Lynn Avenue, a house owned by the First Baptist Church in Ames. The Baptists have always felt a special relationship for CCJ, having provided the original funding and later providing housing for the offices. For many years, a Baptist church member was always on the CCJ board to facilitate communication with the church.
“We are proud of the small role we played twenty-five years ago in creating CCJ. Even when we no longer had an active role in CCJ, we have continued to admire the work that has been done, and appreciate the enormous contributions of hundreds of volunteers who have served on the board and as volunteers in mediation and in probation supervision. Happy birthday CCJ – We salute you!
“Those individuals originally involved on the board included:
• Bill Belli and Paul Bodine, UCCM ministers
• Bill Tysseling, a local attorney
• Marty Mill[er], Professor of Sociology at ISU
• Lynette Druivenga, one of Marty Miller’s students
• Arlene Jutting, Northminster Presbyterian Church Member
• Fiametha Hseih, St. Thomas Aquinas Church Member
• Johnie Hammond and Jenna McCarley, First Baptist Church members
“James Todd, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) worker”
While taking the Restorative Justice class I contacted my parents, beginning the dialogue that led to the comments above. I also contacted the CCJ board. One of their board members, Gene Deisinger, the commander of Special Operations for the Iowa State University police. Responding to a rather long email I sent the board disclosing the abuse and its origin with the release and placement of the offender, Gene referred me to Steven Holmes, the Story County Attorney, who was also a board member at that time. Steven clarified that the statute of limitations of the sex crime had passed when I was a teenager, but that an Iowa law had extended it significantly. Even so I was almost a decade too late to pursue charges.
I began searching for Lynette Hanthorn’s contact information to learn more about how the CCJ founders perceived their response to crime.
Lynette had made herself a public person over the years. Her story had been published on the CCJ website since 1995, and articles had been published in the Ames Tribune as early as February, 1975.
One article highlighted CCJ’s vision of a “dispersed corrections.” The Tribune wrote:
“When the CCJ was formed, a list of ‘needs’ for persons involved with
the criminal justice system was drawn up. The deficiencies for which
remedial action was thought to be needed were: inadequate parole-probation
system, which enhances the probability of clients again becoming involved
with the system; costliness of existing programs; the lack of education
opportunities for persons leaving correctional facilities; lack of community
understanding and concern by area churches.
“In response to the needs, the CCJ set specific objectives – establishing
a community-based ‘dispersed correctional facility’ as an alternative to
jail or prison; assisting clients in employment, educational and emotional
support, enlisting support for the CCJ programs and the general goal of criminal
justice reform.” (22)
Notably absent from the list were offender reform and public protection from crime.
Following her work with CCJ, she had gone on to run or found other nonprofit organizations. I found an exhibit of religious art by her at one non-profit, and sent them an email with no response. I went on to find a contact for her at a relocalization organization in Colorado.
I had several reasons for contacting Lynette. First, I wanted to let her know that the abuse had stuck with me and changed me throughout my life. I wanted to understand how she saw the world in 1977, and also how she perceived the organization in 2006. My first email disclosed the abuse and indicated that I planned to write about it in the context of exploring restorative and community justice programs.
I wrote to Lynette, “During the past couple of weeks I have been in contact with the Center for Creative Justice Board of Directors in Ames, and I’ve also spoken with the Steven Holmes at the Story County Attorney’s office. The statute of limitations on the crime has passed, and I am not interested in any kind of civil lawsuit, so my ability to address the issue is through putting all of the pieces together to understand how, when and why (offender) was placed in my home. I am also interested in why CCJ was involved less and less in his oversight. In the court record it states on 6.10.77, ‘His sentence is suspended and he is placed on probation with The Second Judicial District Court Services with the instructions for them to enforce strict probation considering that his release should be under the supervision of the committee on criminal justice on much the same basis as it presently is.’ The note was signed M.D. Seiser. At the time the CCJ involvement, according to my parents, was (offender) living in our home. My father recalls being trained at a later date by CCJ to work with those under the supervision of the state, but not prior to or during the time (offender) lived in our home.
“Today I registered to begin in January the same Restorative Justice course in which my wife is currently enrolled. I am hoping to write my paper about how to assess and mitigate harm that could come from reintegrative and restorative justice models.”
Lynette responded that she was shocked that she had no memory of the sex abuse, though she remembered the offender discussed in the emails. She indicated she would be willing to participate in an email interview and wrote in response to six questions I emailed her:
1. What was it like to be the everything person (I read the history
on the creativejustice.org site that describes you as “chief
fundraiser, volunteer recruiter, speaker, trainer of volunteers,
secretary and janitor”) for such a progressive organization at the
outset of the restorative and reintegrative and restorative justice
concept? I can imagine it would be exhilarating, frustrating, tiring,
and rewarding all at the same time. What were the struggles and
2. How did the housing mission and parole facilitation mission relate
to one another? It seems that the housing mission has been let go and
I’m wondering if there was discussion of that while you were there, or
if it just dwindled as parole facilitation grew or became more
3. In the parole function, did parolees have both a state issued
parole officer and a CCJ parole counselor, or did CCJ facilitate
documentation that was submitted to the state (maybe I don’t
understand the process – how was the parole function handled)?
4. How much was law enforcement accepting of and involved in RJ
during the 1970s. It seems from reading Facing Violence by Mark
Umbreit that much of the law enforcement and legal community was very
skeptical during the early years.
5. Was CCJ involved in collecting data to show the effectiveness of
RJ models to the local Law Enforcement and legal community, or was the
group focused on practice and implementation of emerging theory and
research from others?
6. What kind of background check/training did volunteers or those
offering housing go through and what kind of commitment did they make
in terms of time?
Lynette wrote back:
“I’ve woven my responses to your questions into one piece, hoping to
give you a bit of a picture of what was involved in the development of
CCJ. Chances are you will have more questions, but the following is
what I can share now.
“To be the ‘everything person’—this is common in the beginning of most
nonprofit organizations. It took three years, 1971-1974, to set the
stage for becoming an organization and it was originally called the
Committee on Criminal Justice. It takes time to find one’s way in what
is being developed, and in 1974, I was the only staff person whose
first job was to determine the philosophy of CCJ and work towards
CCJ’s acceptance in Story County. Local magistrate Larry Munsinger
took the risk to court order misdemeanants under CCJ supervision the
first year of operation. This was risky considering that a nonprofit
organization had this responsibility. However, the action was approved
by the Iowa Attorney General and created an opportunity in Story
County to view the criminal justice system in a new way. That
opportunity was not well received by the Story County community
initially. After ten years, CCJ was viewed as an asset. There were ups
and downs, but the important piece was to continue discovering ways to
‘treat people with human dignity’.
“A mission had been given to me. Before graduating from Iowa State
University in Sociology, I took courses in criminology and interned
with the Iowa Women’s Reformatory in Rockwell City (which no longer
exists). My studies at ISU influenced me greatly, especially the
teachings of Dr. Harry Cohen and Dr. Marty Miller, and works by Ivan
Illich. Shortly after graduating, I was hired by the State of Iowa to
supervise the activities of a women’s halfway house in Des Moines. The
experience forced me to look at corrections from a greater community
perspective. Returning to Ames after a short but intense time at the
halfway house, I met with a small group of other concerned citizens at
United Ministries in Higher Education. I learned early on that there
is nothing you can do alone. That group involved such locally notable
folks as Johnnie Hammond, Jenna McCarley, Reverend Paul Bodine,
Reverend Bill Belli, and Bill Tysseling. For three years, we met and
looked at a better way to provide community corrections, and finally
we put on a workshop, “Over the Wall”, at Iowa State University that
identified needs for people in the correctional system—housing,
employment and emotional support.
“But there were other things that pressed on us, such as new
legislation for LEAA funds for community corrections and no citizen
representation on state, regional, and local planning boards for
allocating funds. This was the impetus for a friend Greg Nepstad and
me to write a plan for establishing judicial districts in Iowa with
citizen involvement, which was presented to the Iowa Department of
Corrections and soon after incorporated statewide.
“But what was the ‘treatment’ determined by these districts and what
did it mean to be community based? We questioned the effectiveness of
current probation and parole methods and anticipated the need for
alternatives to institutionalization and different applications of
probation, so we investigated “intensive intervention”. This could
mean more intensive involvement by the probation and parole officer,
nonresidential intensive treatment (individual and group guided
interaction), residential programs and out of home placement
alternatives, and possibly a community correctional center.
“In the early 1970’s there were no superior probation programs for
reducing recidivism rates which hovered around 70% effectiveness.
Programs such as Community Delinquency Control Project and Community
Treatment Project were not proven more successful in preventing crime,
but offenders normally not released to community supervision could be
safely and effectively handled in intense intervention without
institutionalization. The San Francisco Rehabilitation Project for
Adult Offenders provided offenders with a helping relationship focused
on changing patterns of behavior. The purpose was to replace a jail or
prison term with professional counseling in the community. The cases
consisted of 1) younger people, 2) high number of property offenses
and 3) low number of drug offenses. The recidivism was at least as
effective as imprisonment and economically the returns exceeded cost
“In 1972, I began reading material by Judge Keith Leenhouts and
attended his conferences on Volunteers in Probation and Parole (VIP).
These involvements had an immense impact on me which I shared within
the group meetings.
“The concept of ‘helping relationships focused on changing patterns of
behavior’ was operative in the development of CCJ. Jenna McCarley was
helping a man who was on parole (conditional release from prison) and
that relationship maintained our interest in working with people
coming out of prison, but that interest was not maintained by the
continuing development of the regional judicial districts in the mid
‘70s. An evolution in state, regional and local activities occurred,
and CCJ responded to changing needs. The years blend together in my
memory so I don’t have a timeline of events, but by the late 1970’s
CCJ was involved specifically in the probation supervision
(conditional release from jail) of court ordered simple, serious and
aggravated misdemeanors. These supervisions did not involve officers
with the Department of Correctional Services, but were supervisions by
CCJ staff members and community volunteers. Recidivism rates were
reduced by better than 90% because of community volunteers who gave
generously of themselves. Great friendships were born between
volunteer and ‘client’ and these positive outcomes spoke volumes with
personnel of the courts, law enforcement, human services and
businesses in the county. However, CCJ continued to work with
correctional officers with the 2nd Judicial Department of Correctional
Services in supplemental services for persons on pre-trial release for
a felony charge, parole and probation at the felony level, such as
employment leads, helping relationships, but less and less in housing
arrangements (there was no decision because the need diminished).
“Initial CCJ volunteer training took place over a six-week period with
additional sessions on special topics. Once a contract for the court
was signed by a probationer and volunteer supervisor, the CCJ staff
reviewed interactions, offered support, and provided individualized
assistance as needed. The training was developed from input by ISU
staff, Open Line Confidential Services, VIP, therapists, lawyers,
parolees, probationers, and our own learning over time. Volunteers met
with probationers weekly and made a one-year commitment, the length of
a court ordered probation. Housing arrangements were short term, a
month to two months. Families would open their homes to individuals
who were on pre-trial release. There was no specific training for
families but there were court ordered conditions included in the
pre-trial release contract whether with CCJ or with the Department of
Correctional Services. Volunteers were generally well known in the
community and a background check was rarely used.
“By late 1970’s, I saw the value of mediation for some of the probation
cases, seeing that there was no reason to handle certain cases within
the courts. Mediation was not a household word as it is now. With the
support of the County Attorney Mary Richards, we gleaned the
experience of Mediation Services in Cincinnati, Ohio, for bad check
recovery and civil and criminal mediations. Although the
implementation of the mediation program took time, a bad check
mediation program was underway by mid-1980. This led the way to
utilizing mediation in other civil and criminal areas, including
matrimonial, barking dog, theft, assault and battery, and contractual
issues. Legislation had to be created for the recognition and funding
of mediation services throughout Iowa, so writing amendments and
lobbying the legislature became necessary. During this time I became
acquainted with Mark Umbriet and other leaders in Victim Offender
Mediation. With Mark’s assistance, the benefits of mediation (we did
not use the wording of Restorative Justice) were demonstrated for law
enforcement personnel in Story County resulting in CCJ developing the
top selling Victim Offender Mediation video for a five year span. (I
have no idea what has happened to the video and I have no copy.) Of
course, immersion into mediation brought me face-to-face with the
concept of Restorative Justice, a topic I presented at various
conferences in the late ‘80s through the mid-90s. The organization
emerged into creative areas and CCJ took on a new name in 1989 or
“Because of CCJ’s funding sources, the organization documented all data
to demonstrate effectiveness or lack of. Initial funding came from a
grant proposal to the American Baptist Church. CCJ was one of fifteen
projects selected for funding nationwide. It is the only project from
this funding that is still functioning. There was a wide range of
funding sources to be accountable to and CCJ was successful in
securing necessary funding for its programs. I resigned from CCJ in
1994, but remained in contact doing consulting work nationally and
internationally through 1995.
“In the recent past, I had the opportunity to visit the Center for
Creative Justice. In its present form, I hardly recognize the
organization because it has moved away from active community
involvement. The reasons for the changes are unknown to me, except
that the movement of an organization is guided by its leadership.”
I had been shocked to read the history of the CCJ on their website and to see the name conference, “Over the Wall,” which, to me, represented a clear intent to help offenders escape from prison. To hear that the housing mission had no training associated with it, even three years into its operations was even more surprising. The description of ‘supplemental services’ for the 2nd Judicial District also seemed, in Lynette’s description much less active than I had perceived it as a child. The final sentence caught me off guard as well. To me, someone who had joined the Police Explorers at age 14, it was obvious why an organization that worked with offenders, some of the most erratic citizens with the lowest thresholds for self-control, would reduce its community involvement to a manageable span of control. I began to wonder what mediation between CCJ’s founders and me might look like. How would they respond to a request that they be restored to sanity?
I perceived the early CCJ as an organization with failed operational procedures whose founder upheld her organization as a burgeoning mission from God, incapable of seeing its weaknesses even after the harm caused by their organizational failures was disclosed. In 2006, the Center for Creative Justice website still listed victim/offender mediation as one of its services, though the current leadership has reorganized somewhat and now limits its services to facilitating adult probation. (5)
At the time, I did not have access to the court documents, including the parole officer’s report, quoted at the outset of this essay. I merely had a photograph of pages from the “big book,” a hand-written summary of court cases. I did not realize then that the comment by Judge Seiser that while on probation “his release should be under the supervision of the committee on criminal justice on much the same basis as it presently is” was in response to parole officer Rick Smith’s extensive report which described not just CCJ’s involvement, but Lynette’s involvement in particular. Rick smith wrote: “Throughout this period of his release – almost three months – Mr. (offender) has been in daily contact with Ms. Hanthorn. She commends his performance under pre-trial supervision.”
I believe the daily interventions by CCJ were what Judge Seiser was referring to when he stated the CCJ supervision would continue, “much as it presently is.” Somehow, this got lost in the mix as the judge’s intentions were passed in a game of telephone to my family. As my mother wrote, “After (offender)’s trial and conviction, he was put on probation and continued to live in our home. He had a parole officer then, and he was the person we were dealing with when things came up instead of Lynette.” My parents were confused about how the parole was granted, and on what conditions. They did not realize that the daily interactions with Lynette were the foundation of the suspended 20 year sentence. My father wrote that “ In the end it was the court that said (offender) could have a suspended sentence with probation PROVIDED that he continued to stay with us (or maybe it was provided that we said he could stay with us) because he was (they said) doing well with us. At some point I took CCJ training and became a volunteer and worked with a couple of other people who never stayed with us. I guess I told the CCJ guy I talked to the other day that I was a volunteer for (offender), but I couldn’t have been, because I hadn’t taken any training yet.”
In Dialogue with the Professionals
The instructors at Portland State are amazing, and the Restorative Justice instructor in particular went above and beyond the call of duty. One opportunity she created for us were online chats with top researchers in the field. Howard Zehr, a founder of Restorative Justice and Todd Clear, an early researcher in community justice were two of the noted guests we were given the opportunity to “chat” with. Both researchers welcomed student emails and conversations, and I was able to talk with each about my particular interest in community and restorative justice thinking.
Clear pointed out in emails that, while there were many experiments and mistakes in the early years of community justice, and he acknowledged my experience as an example of these mistakes, he pointed out that social studies of community and restorative justice have changed the field.
On Mar 8, 2007, at 6:18 AM, Todd Clear wrote:
“Your mail raises a long host of issues, and I will probably only be
able to address a handful of them.
“First, let me affirm an obvious fact. You were victimized twice, once
by the person you family housed, and again by the response to the information when it came to light. In view of all that, your ability to put it into perspective is admirable, and I hope that by talking about it you will have a chance to get some peace about it.
“That said, your mail focuses on two ‘policy’ issues. The first has to
do with boundaries in RJ systems. The second has to do with fairly
technical issues like training and policies and procedures. Then you ask if
anyone is studying the issues you have raised…
“There is, I do not doubt, a need develop clearer P&P [process and procedures] about RJ programs, and I want to say that a lot of work is going on about whether people convicted of sex crimes ought be included in such programs (there is also work being done on domestic violence cases, as well). Finally, there is the wide, wide variety of RJ programs, from circles to family supports (like your parents tried to do) and so forth. So the big picture is pretty complicated.
“My own biases are these.
“(1) We have a well-established literature now, about correctional
programs, that some types of programs work well with some types of people but not others. And we do not know, a-priori, what these interactions are. So we have to study program outcomes to learn what works, with whom (and to
try to understand why). When it comes to RJ, my sense is that we should
spread the net very widely, not exclude any kind of person for any kind of
reason, until we gain evidence that certain types do not work well. This may be true with people convicted of sexual crimes, but the jury is still out.
“(2) No matter how well a program works compared to the average, it
will sometimes fail. The failures do no mean the program does not work
overall, but that the program does not work uniformly. There is no panacea, no magic bullet. Indeed, one way to look at the situation you described is that the person was given a “program” of a short stint in jail followed by a community program, and it did not work. (As an aside, the 55%
recidivism rate for people released from prisons suggests that prisons, as a program, have limits, too.) So the question is not, “what works?”, but ‘what strategies are better than others?’
“(3) Look at any situation in hindsight. It is much much easier to know
what we should have seen at the time.
“You know these things too, or at least I think you do from reading the
So there is much to be studied here…much work to be done. You appear
to be one of the well-suited people to do this kind of work, and I hope you
can devote at least some of your career to it.”
I had pointed out the organizational flaws – the lack of training, weak delegation and control mechanisms that seemed to have left leaders and the Board of Directors in the dark about the harms perpetrated by their offenders.
In a follow-on email to Clear I wrote “In reading Mark Umbreit’s Facing Violence: The Path of Restorative Justice and Dialogue, it jumps out at me that the Texas VOM/D [Victim Offender Mediation/Dialogue] had funds initially budgeted by the state in 1996 for the 1997 fiscal year, but these funds were retracted due to having ‘no policy or protocols for utilizing volunteers’ (Umbreit, 2003 p.69).” (9) I saw that some funding sources have taken into account weaknesses of proposed organizational plans, and have put controls in place to manage the outcomes of the funding recipients.
Clear’s perspective seems to suggest that experimentation and risk are necessary components of learning what works, but he doesn’t state what should be done about redressing the failures of this risk-taking.
My conversation with Howard Zehr was scheduled over the phone. Zehr was the founder and director of the Elkhard County PACT, now the Center for Community Justice in Indiana, the first Victim Offender Reconciliation Program in the United States.
In our conversation I suggested that groups of “well intentioned” people had created concepts like restorative justice and community justice. Zehr asserted the word “activist” on these groups, a definition that I accepted. I agreed that “activist” might be a good word, because, in my experience, the groups had been so certain about their goodness, and about the “harm” caused by the procedural justice system represented by the police and the courts, that it was almost impossible for them to perceive that their own activities could create risks to the community as well.
Zehr seemed less inclined than Clear to agree that a scientific approach, one that utilized data to identify where such new theories work and where they don’t work, should be at the heart of the profession, but he did agree that his organization had undergone a significant change, one that brought criminal justice professionals into leadership roles and that followed professionalization trends as they swept the field of policing during the 1990’s.
Explaining Restorative Justice and Community Justice
To understand the context within which CCJ was functioning requires a bit of history. Theories of criminality and responses to crime have evolved significantly throughout history, from Britain’s cessation of public executions in 1868 (17) to the professionalization of policing in the US during the 1960’s through 1980’s, where training and operations were made more consistent across the country, our social response to crime is an ongoing project. These theories have come under contention, and further reform of “police professionalization” is ongoing. (18)
There is no one thing we can point to that we can call “proper punishment,” because even from one decade to the next, standards change. Community Justice is one such trend. Started in the early 1970’s, the goals of the movement were broad – to increase the involvement of the public in resolving justice. Community justice could come from a conservative bent, encouraging the public watch to help catch and thwart more crime, or from the liberal mindset, involving the community in providing a second chance, reforming those who had done wrong. David R. Karp and Todd R. Clear write in their Community Justice, A Conceptual Framework:
“Community justice broadly refers to all variants of crime prevention and justice activities that explicitly include the community in their processes and set the enhancement of community quality of life as a goal. Recent initiatives include community crime prevention, community policing, community defense, community prosecution, community courts, and restorative justice sanctioning systems. These approaches share a common core in that they address community-level outcomes by focusing on short and long-term problem solving, restoring victims and communities, strengthening normative standards, and effectively reintegrating offenders.”
Restorative justice emerged during a similar timeframe, but due to the theoretical complexity of the system, and the necessary training to orient people who might lead restorative activities, it took more time to influence community justice leaders across the country and to impact individual local programs.
Restorative justice is a model that, according to Howard Zehr, rests on three pillars toward “putting things right.” (13) The first pillar states that “restorative justice focuses on harm.” The position contends that in contrast to the legal system, which looks at violation of codes and laws (and which can often leave victims cold – i.e. the police are to arrest offenders and courts are to try the case; neither of these organizations have any responsibility to give victims a therapeutic or healing experience in response to crime) restorative justice looks at abstract concepts like “harm” and focuses on “restoration.” The second pillar is that “wrongs or harms result in obligations.” (13) Zehr states that “offenders must begin to comprehend the consequences of their behavior,” assuming that offenders don’t understand that already, and that they will care to comprehend if they don’t. The second pillar also emphasizes the responsibility of the offender to make the situation right. The third pillar is called “engagement,” and it focuses on “inclusive, collaborative processes and consensual outcomes.” (13) With esoteric statements like, “Restorative Justice is respect -Restorative Justice is a river,” and “restorative justices is a compass, not a map,” (13) it is hard to see how a model that supposedly shifts and adapts with the winds could ever be measured successfully or could be applied evenly across jurisdictions or even similar cases. Its detractors might compare it to replacing the courtroom with a wizened shaman.
The community model emphasizes the integration of the community into existing justice systems with a pragmatic outlook. The authors identify similarities and differences from traditional justice systems, processes and outcomes that can help to measure its success, and they are willing to identify challenges to implementation including concerns about the need for due process and individual rights. While the community model as articulated by Karp and Clear includes elements of restorative justice, these differ from Zehr’s vision of the movement. As Zehr states, “restorative justice is not primarily designed to reduce recidivism or repeating offenses.” (13) Community Justice as a whole is clearly focused on exceeding the traditional court system of justice on benefits and outcomes.
Throughout my course in Restorative Justice I felt that the work of the early CCJ was lax, irresponsible, and that those who funded the organization did so without auditing or controlling the use of their funds effectively. At the same time, I had looked into the work of the current leadership. In 2006 board members included law officers from the department where I had participated as a police explorer, including Rollie Link, known to me for door busting drug raids in Iowa. The senior employee, Mark Kubik came out of policing, a field I respected, because he would have seen the realities of conflict and the necessity to use reasonable force to control wrongdoing and harm. There wasn’t anything soft about this new crop of employees, and I was certain they wouldn’t participate in the risk-taking the founding board and employees had so enjoyed. In a 2006 email from Mark he stated, “The Center for Creative Justice (CCJ) currently offers Adult Probation & Dispute Resolution Services to the Ames & Story County Area. The agency at no time would be involved in the process of placing any individual into a private home.”
Release of records
In 2012 I was able to retrieve the court documents that fully fleshed out my experience. When my family first got the documentation from “the big book” we were told the notes and documents from the case would have been destroyed, but by 2012 sufficient time had passed that the parole officer’s notes and psychological assessments of the offender had been put into microfilm and added to the public record.
According to the parole officer, my offender had an absolutely terrible childhood. It is understandable that an activist group would read the record and have their hearts broken by the fact that this newly minted adult never had a chance in life. Adopted at age four, the offender “was very undernourished. He could not speak and fell often. The first years we spent teaching him to eat, walk and talk,” according to a statement taken from his adoptive mother. The adoptive family took him to a hearing expert (he had some hearing loss due to persistent ear infections) and utilized as much medical expertise as they could access to help him develop.
From the outset my offender struggled in social situations, having to repeat the first grade due to his behavior and learning. Again, according to statements made by his adoptive mother, “In his first two years of school he was listed as a problem child. If you were looking right at him, he would do as he was asked but could not be trusted out of sight.” The subtext of the parole officer’s report is calling out “Labeling Theory,” one of the modern sociological principles on which some liberal responses to crime are founded. To greatly simplify the concept, criminality is increased over time by an offender as a response to being tagged and singled out – “they say I’m bad, but they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
The parole officer addresses another key criminological theory in his notes: “From the age of nine to the age of fourteen, Mr. (offender) states that material things were nice in the family home and that he had most everything but affection. During this period he felt neglected and rejected in relation to his younger brother. At the age of fourteen the defendant had his first appearance in Juvenile Court.” This draws out a point from another sociological principle called Anomie theory. A key component of Anomie theory is that perceptions of parental rejection correlate to increased crime risk.
Anomie Theory is recalled again in the parole officer’s next statement: “Continued difficulties at home sent Mr. (offender) to Wentworth Military Academy for the 9th grade (1973-1974). Grades improved from C’s and D’s in the 8th grade to C’s and B’s in Military School.” The offender is described as romanticizing this year, and was extremely disappointed at losing the opportunity to return, due to lack of family funds. According to researchers at Iowa State University, “Anomie theory posits that persons who have little access to legitimate means of obtaining success are more apt to engage in delinquent behavior than are individuals who perceive adequate access to such means.” (11) The subtext in the parole officer’s report is that this was a missed opportunity to build a bond between the offender and an institution that helped him see a legitimate path to success, one that could mitigate his behavioral quirks that led him to offenses in the past.
According to the report, the offender returned home, and began skipping school. “By November 21, 1974 he had walked into Shelter House in Ames requesting help for his problems at home and at school.” The offender, with permission from his adoptive parents, took up residence at the Shelter House. It was intended to be temporary, but after the offender broke into his parent’s tavern they disowned him (further evidence of the influence of labeling and anomie). Following this circumstance, the offender entered a series of state institutions until he was released to Lynette Hanthorn of CCJ and placed in my home.
The Parole Officer’s report summarizes a series of psychological reports completed while the offender was in state care as a youth, but it minimizes and leaves out pertinent information that would help a judge make a determination of the appropriateness of placement in the community.
Rick Smith, the Parole Officer, writes that the offender was held at Mary Greely Hospital on three occasions. He notes that Psychiatrist W. N. Shelton wrote, “His diagnosis was ‘runaway reaction to adolescence,’ with the suggestion of a ‘deep seated neurosis of long-standing, which would require intensive psychotherapy over an extended period of time… Such treatment would prob- (sic) have to be initiated in a closed setting.” Such a setting, I would suggest, might be a residential school for criminal offenders, a psychological facility, or a minimum security prison, so long as psychological treatment was part of the program.
Smith quotes the Mental Health Institute, Cherokee, report that indicates “He did not demonstrate any thought disorder while in the hospital; however, his schizophrenic scale on the MMPI was 94. Shortly prior to his discharge he escaped and stole a car with two other patients. It was felt the patient was a follower in this.” Rick Smith’s report failed to indicate that the patient, later my offender, was also prescribed Mellaril 50, an anti-psychotic.
It is from the psychopathic hospital at the University of Iowa that Rick Smith creates his greatest omissions. Smith boiled down a two-page assessment to two sentences, stating: “After a stay of two weeks in 1975, the Psychopathic Hospital’s discharge summary states the existence of ‘no psychosis, depressive disease, or confusion.’ The Hospital’s final impression was ‘Anti-Social personality disorder.’” What Smith left out were several disconcerting comments that would lead this reader to great concern: As a child “he was known to set fires.” His sexual experiences are described with the statement: “In recent years he has been sexually active, having intercourse with multiple partners that he meets at parties.” While this could describe consensual sex, it might also suggest opportunistic sexual activity that could today fall under the category of date rape. The wording of the psychologist is ambiguous. Is he describing group sex or separate events at which he had sex with a single individual? At the least, his behavior was risky. Lastly, the conclusion states, “Plan: Recommendation is group home placement. If an open institution fails to control his behavior, a closed institution like the State Training School may be tried.” There is nothing noting the offender is prepared to live in a private home or to reenter the community on his own terms.
The parole officer significantly altered the intended meaning of the final psychological assessment. Conducted at the Iowa Training School at Eldora, the title of the document, “discharge recommendation,” indicates that, although the offender has gained some benefit from The Training School, he is to be dismissed upon turning age 18 and that he will be turned over to a parole officer who can address the offender’s case through the courts.
Smith ignores a three-page discharge report, instead, cherry picking a paragraph from an alternate psychological report. Unlike the other documents quoted by Smith, the full text of this report is not included in the court documentation. The paragraph provided by Smith indicates: “‘it is pretty obvious (the offender) is extremely sensitive and bitter over his childhood, and these feelings continue to dominate him at a time when he should be looking toward the future instead of ruminating about the past…. He needs to be kept in situation which can be handled by him and work through it until he reaches success. He also needs to realize that his abilities and present situation are not the same as it was when he was going through the frustrating experiences of childhood. He needs to be in contact with people who can be seen as supportive of him.”
The discharge report that was submitted to the judge contrasts the parole officer’s assertion the offender should be in a supportive community with a description that:
“he tends to be very much on guard and is cautious not to let anyone into his private world. Other than expressing some desire to complete his GED testing, he has shown little concern and has not made any definite plans for his future.
“His vocational machine shop instructor Mr. P has contacted two employers in the Ames area in an effort to obtain employment for (the Offender). (The Offender) has been aware for some time that he will be leaving the Training School on his eighteenth birthday, and for this reason his overall behavior has deteriorated in recent weeks. This has prevented planning for off grounds employment so he would have the needed funds following his discharge.”
This decline in behavior is not noted by Smith in his report to Judge Seiser. Instead, Smith moves to a description of the offender’s improvement since living in my home. Apparently, from the available record, the offender was released to Hanthorn and placed in my home without any risk assessment or additional psychological workup. The record indicates increasing criminality matched with increasing supervision, but somehow he is magically whisked out of this net by CCJ without any question. By the time he has been in my home for three months, Smith suggests that the offender had social contexts stacked against him, that the offender was unfairly labeled in elementary school and by his parents. He experienced anomie through loss of access to institutions that helped him to gain small measures of success. He went unloved throughout his entire life, and only began to open up emotionally when he was placed in a family with access to a small child.
The Criminal Record
According to the parole officer’s report, the offender had numerous criminal acts: breaking and entering his father’s tavern, Larceny of a motor vehicle, possession of 1,000 hits of speed, and burglary. According to my father, while in Anamosa State Pen the offender was transferred to a maximum security facility for lighting a prisoner’s room on fire. While on a road trip my father emailed me, “I’m in Fort Madison this afternoon and I found a place with Wi-Fi. It just dawned on me that this is where (offender) was sent to after he set fire to someone’s cell at Anamosa.”
Though the arson is not in the documentation I received from the courthouse, I have no reason not to believe my father. The other facts as my family and I have remembered them are corroborated by the documentation. By the time all was said and done, all of the risk factors suggested by the psychological reports had paid out: his childhood propensity for setting fires, his sexual choices which relied on picking the low hanging fruit, his inability to be left unsupervised, his propensity for burglary and theft. Who was it that looked at this record and didn’t see a train ready to go off the tracks?
There were multiple opportunities, I believe, to stop the ability of the offender from the sexual crimes against me. The parole officer could have represented the full reality of the offender in the report to the court. The judge could have required a full assessment of the psychological record by himself or by a professional psychologist to determine if the parole officer’s report was warranted. The offender’s loss of employment could have been recognized for what it was, yet another example of the offender’s risk – he didn’t like work, so he broke a machine so he could go home. In many instances, to receive a suspended sentence, an offender must have employment AND housing. This was not a guideline the court followed either at the time, or in this instance. Employment failed just prior to the suspended sentence being issued, and could have triggered a deeper assessment of the situation.
While in my home I remember a petty theft that could have, if treated correctly, revoked the suspended sentence. The offender enjoyed making model cars. I remember my father telling me to stay away from the glue, which emitted a strong fume. The model building looked fun, and the cars looked like toys to play with. Because the offender did not have tools to manipulate the glue, he borrowed a vegetable peeler from the kitchen drawer. Its scooped tip made the perfect shape to apply glue to the tiny pins that needed to be inserted to adjoining slots on the other parts of the model.
When my mother discovered the glue-saturated peeler back in her drawer she demanded that he replace the peeler with a new one from the hardware store. The offender had a job. He could buy his own tools for building his model.
That afternoon, the offender loped back into the kitchen with a well-used, crumpled paper bag which he handed to my mother. She opened it to find what looked like a used vegetable peeler. She became enraged. How could he steal something when he had been given this opportunity for change? He insisted he had bought it at the hardware store on Main Street and that they had given him a pre-used bag. When asked about the receipt he said they didn’t give him one. My mother threw the peeler across the kitchen at the wall
Begrudgingly, she eventually accepted the peeler, not knowing what else to do. She couldn’t prove he stole the peeler. Based on her perception of the objectives of the pre-trial release, the goal was incremental transformation. Would it do for the family who had taken him in to report additional offenses? That, of course, was the benefit of moving him into the community, after all. In the halfway houses and other places he had lived, every infraction was documented. In the community, the magic of forgiveness could take hold for the purpose of transformation. Unfortunately, the message the offender received was that in this home he could be himself. He could commit crime on his own terms.
I corresponded with Lynette on two occasions: the first, documented above, in 2006, I disclosed the abuse, my intent to write about it to impact the literature on restorative and community justice, and to learn more about the founding and values of those who created the organization.
In 2012 I contacted her a second time, through a new non-profit she was working with. This time, having received the court documents, histories and interviews that confirmed many of my suppositions I was contacting her to see if she and her group would be willing to recognize the wrongs they had committed, and to see if they would recognize the wrongs and follow the precepts of the restorative and community justice they claimed believed in.
In July 2012 I wrote:
“I have continued considering our email conversation of several years ago
regarding the sexual offenses of (offender name) against me, and I have
some further questions regarding the way CCJ worked with the courts in
pre-trial release and how that interfaced with sentencing and so forth. One
of the things I remember when Reverend Roy Key spoke from the pulpit about
(offender) was that he said that here was a young man who had an unfortunate life and a lot of bad experiences, and that if he were to go to prison he would be surrounded by offenders, and essentially be acculturated into a life of crime. The opportunity was to essentially save him from criminality that was in part to blame by the justice system itself. I also remember Rev. Keys aying that CCJ hoped to work with the court to get a suspended sentence for (offender).
“Does that memory make sense in relation to what CCJ’s goals were?
“I should also indicate that I am in the process of writing about my
experience, essentially making my abuse public and identifying some of the
difficult organizational issues that caused the situation to be overlooked
and mishandled by both the parole officer and CCJ, resulting in significant
personal suffering. In fact, I believe the way I experienced it was that
the church and CCJ dumped a high risk offender off at our door, and when I
reported the abuse to my mom we went to each place – Roy Key, the
parole officer, CCJ, and were simply turned away. I feel set up for harm
and that the offender and offense, while huge in their own right, is only
about 10% to blame. Everyone knew he had no boundaries, and yet no
preparations were made to handle someone the state was ready to put in the
Lynette wrote back:
“While I have been searching for someone who could shed more light on the past, much time has passed. Sadly, I have been unable to find former CCJ supervisor of volunteers Bobbie Carlson who I felt would be very helpful. She is a no-nonsense, caring individual who also handled home placement.
“To address your question of the organization’s goals, CCJ emerged out of local community concern and was inspired by Volunteers in Probation founded by Judge Keith Leenhouts of Royal Oak, Michigan. The initial funding for CCJ came from the American Baptist Churches augmented by local funds, including funds from faith communities in Iowa who were supporters of this community concept. Members of the community became volunteer probation supervisors who took on court-ordered supervision of simple, serious, and aggravated misdemeanant cases, sometimes felonies.
“CCJ’s goals were to provide housing, employment and emotional support for people in trouble with the law. These three elements were identified as essential in impacting positive change in people’s lives. Housing might mean living with a couple or family who have opened their home for such a purpose. Involving members of the community was important to successful integration into the community for alleged offenders.
“Several families made commitments to provide housing and support, including the pastors and members of several congregations. Regarding (offender name), CCJ agreed to arrange a home placement because the information that the Department of Correctional Services and the court provided about (offender) indicated that community housing was appropriate. Your parents Jim and Peggy Murdock offered their home.
The placement ended abruptly, handled by the Department for Correctional Services. I don’t remember the specific events surrounding this but CCJ remained in contact with your parents and they continued to volunteer with CCJ. I have great respect for Jim and Peggy.
“Much time has passed and these are things I have little memory of and cannot address fully, and I doubt that I can be of further assistance. I recognize that your experience is what matters. The result of this home placement is that you experienced harm and you were not protected. For this, I am deeply saddened.
In essence, her response indicates, “It’s not my fault – Bobbie handled volunteers, and it’s not my fault – Judge Leenhouts came up with the concept, and it’s not my fault – the American Baptists funded it, and it’s not my fault – it was necessary to put the community at risk to save these ‘alleged’ offenders, and it’s not my fault – your family volunteered, and I don’t remember.”
In looking at the public record, however, the expectation of the court was that this offender was Lynette’s accountability. Two documents link the expectation of the court that Lynette Hanthorn and CCJ under her direct supervision would oversee the offender on a daily basis: first, the parole officer’s report that states “the Honorable Glenn C. Sedgwick released him to the supervision of Ms. Lynette Hanthorn of the Committee on Criminal Justice,” and that “throughout this period of his release – almost three months – Mr. (offender) has been in daily contact with Ms. Hanthorn.” The second document is the suspension of sentence, noted in the Big Book, where the clerk of court writes, ““his release should be under the supervision of the committee on criminal justice on much the same basis as it presently is.” In those words I read no equivocation, no lessening of the accountability of Mrs. Hanthorn or the CCJ.
There is no record, except for the parole officer’s report which minimized numerous risk factors and was written three months after Lynette placed the offender in our home, indicating that the offender was prepared to be in the community. By that time the logic was circular: he’s safe to be in the community because he is in the community.
The American Baptist Mission: What Should We Then Do?
As the CCJ history and Lynette Hanthorn indicated, The American Baptists funded fifteen organizations in 1972, including the grant proposal written by Bill Belli. Today, the American Baptist Church has an extensive organization called the American Baptist Home Missions, including a prisoner reentry and aftercare program.
In the magazine The Christian Citizen, Volume 2, 2010, the American Baptist Church outlines its program for Churches as Stations of Hope. Rev. Dr. Dee Dee M. Coleman in the volume’s opening article states, “The church has to step up to the plate and make sure that restoration comes to our communities. There has to be an opportunity for people to be forgiven. Otherwise, the crime rate will only get worse.”
Will it only get worse? My parents were seduced by this logic. They forgave the theft of the vegetable peeler, they – or at least my father – forgave the molestation, and they helped CCJ keep the offender in the community. Given the wrong circumstance, forgiveness makes the impact of crime worse. The statements made by the American Baptist ministers are hyperbole, meant to lull the listener into ideological thinking, and out of logic.
The American Baptist publication goes on to describe what they call the “cradle to prison pipeline.” They write, “so many poor babies in the rich United States enter the world with multiple strikes against them: born at low birth weight without prenatal care to a teenaged, poor, and poorly educated single mother and absent father. At crucial points in their development from birth to adulthood, more risks pile on, making a successful transition to productive adulthood significantly less likely and involvement in the criminal justice system significantly more likely.” (12)
This quote could almost be pulled directly from the parole officer, Rick Smith’s, assessment of my offender. One begins to wonder if the officer was more mapping the offender’s experience to an ideology than assessing the risks and opportunities of moving the offender into a diversion program.
The document goes on to state, “School practices such as tracking, social promotion, and one-size-fits-all zero tolerance policies fuel the prison pipeline.” Every facet of organization in society is vilified as constructing criminality, from education to employment and eventually, government – in the eyes of God. “If called to account today, our nation would not pass the test of the prophets, the gospels, and all great faiths. Christians who profess to believe that God entered human history as a poor vulnerable baby, and that each man, woman, and child is created in God’s own image, need to act on that faith.” (12) Separation of Church and State are not sufficient for this ministry.
Society is itself portrayed as Godless and criminal. How could anyone, under the pressure of salvation, stand up and report a crime committed by another on him or herself, or on the community?
It is the American Baptist Church’s Family Freedom Toolkit which creates the roadmap and solidifies the ideology. In this document, Reverend Griffin, a former Appellate judge, (4) articulates a position that portrays the justice system as nearly utilizing terror techniques to “interrogate, humiliate, accuse,” and ultimately to “torture” citizens through criminal investigations. (10) The document goes on to tell saccharine stories of forgiveness with trite but high-pressure study questions.
“What does this story tell us about how communities shut out those who really want to see Jesus?”
“How must the church imitate Jesus in showing compassion and offer forgiveness to the alienated?”
“With which of the actors in the story do you identify?”
Well, to tell the truth, I identify with the jailer who maintains order, looks out for risks, and confiscates shivs from the inmates, but that guy was left out of the entire story.
Recommendations of the toolkit include sourcing members of the court and justice system who might be sympathetic to these belief systems for the purpose of leveraging your intended outcomes: freedom for the accused. Chapter four of the toolkit has recommendations including:
“Familiarize yourself with the criminal justice process and the issues related to crime,
incarceration and reentry and its impact on families and communities.
Identify the resources that are available in your community to help defendants, prisoners,
returning citizens, victims, and their families.
“Start building partnerships and formal and informal networks of support for this work.
“Help the defendant in preparing for his legal defense or sentencing.
“Forgive him. And encourage his forgiveness of himself.
“Help in preparing for release from prison.
“Help prepare for community supervision (e.g.,
“Address the issue of residency prior to release.
“Address the issue of post-release employment.
Each of the points indicated above represent a behavior exhibited by CCJ that increased the risk of the community and to me through actively reducing his sentence for the purpose of ‘restoration’ and ‘dignity.’ It is as though CCJ’s activities became the handbook for the American Baptist Ministries.
The toolkit goes on to uncritically highlighting incarceration rates while failing to acknowledge that the rate is due to actual pursuit of criminals in the United States as opposed to permissive attitudes toward crime in many “low incarceration” countries. (I have another short piece pending on this topic).
It supposes that criminal courts are prone to “ratcheting up charges,” and enjoins church members to “reverse the incentives” that lead to this “overcharging” of offenders.
The clear message of the toolkit is, ‘the courts, police and prisons are bad, and only by being uncritical, faithful and forgiving can you make it to heaven.’ These are the same messages I believe my parents were indoctrinated with through their involvement with the ministers involved in promoting and supporting CCJ. I believe it was these ideologies that caused my parents to falter when they needed to act.
The Social Science behind the Error
In 1980 three professors from Iowa State University published an article in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency based on research they had conducted since 1976. The group included Martin Miller, one of the founding board members of CCJ. The article the three professors published, Contemporary Theories of Deviance and Female Delinquency: an Empirical Test attempted to verify the consistency of the relationship between individual traditional theories of criminal deviance across gender.
Finding that, “General theories of criminal deviance are now no more than special theories of male deviance,” the scientists set out to show an equal correlation between female offenders and four common theories of crime as had been previously correlated to male offenders. The scientists did several things to increase the quality of the data over previous studies. First, they used self-reported offenses rather than official state data. Common experience tells us that more offenses occur than are caught.
A case in point is that my students in business classes have indicated the businesses they work for do not prosecute thefts. There is ongoing debate on this topic, but some studies have shown that self-reported criminal offenses are more accurate than arrest or prosecution or parole data, although they are at risk of individuals over reporting due to a number of reasons (I don’t have a handy source on this statement, though I can dig up some information for interested parties). Second, they tested multiple theories, “attempting to operationalize key variables associated with anomie, labeling, control, and differential association theories,” (11) and they were successful in creating a correlation between female criminal deviant behavior and each of these theories.
The problem comes when we examine the underlying framework for these theories and begin to consider whether a correlation of criminal activity with theories of crime has anything to do with the circumstances described in the theories causing crime. An example; suppose a theory suggests that people learn criminal behavior because they associate with others who commit crime. It may also be possible that people who choose to commit crime choose to associate with and discuss ways of committing crimes with others who choose to commit crime, in which case the theoretical framework in the first statement could be positively correlated, but would not in fact be the cause of the crime. If the correlations were to be the cause, then the answer is simple – reverse the social relations of the individuals caught up in crime and their criminality will stop.
In the sociological test conducted by ISU professors, college students were trained to administer the test to school children. The questions were hypothetical. In one section of the test students were instructed to give free form answers to a series of prompts. “Remember that we are interested in your opinions and that there are no right or wrong answers.”
“13. My friends don’t seem to like me as much as they did in the past. 14. I often feel awkward and out of place. 15. It’s not worth planning for anything in the future because I really don’t know what is going to happen these days. 17. I often feel like it’s not worth even trying to change things in my life.”
When we examine the matrix of questions used to investigate the correlations to the theory we can see how loaded the study was. It reads like a scene out of Blade Runner. In particular, it reads like the opening scene where Holden, a “Blade Runner” trained to pursue genetically engineered warriors, is conducting interviews. (16)
You’re in a desert, walking along
in the sand when….
Is this the test now ?
Yes. You’re in a desert, walking
along in the sand when all of a sudden
you look down and see a…..
What one ?
It was a timid interruption, hardly audible.
What desert ?
Doesn’t make any difference what
desert.. it’s completely hypothetical.
But how come I’d be there?
Maybe you’re fed up, maybe you want
to be by yourself.. who knows.
So you look down and see a
tortoise. It’s crawling toward
A tortoise. What’s that?
Know what a turtle is?
I never seen a turtle.
He sees Holden’s patience is wearing thin.
But I understand what you mean.
You reach down and flip the
tortoise over on its back, Leon.
Keeping an eye on his subject, Holden notes the dials
in the Voight-Kampff. One of the needles quivers
You make these questions, Mr.
Holden, or they write ‘em down
Disregarding the question, Holden continues, picking
up the pace.
The tortoise lays on its back,
its belly baking in the hot sun,
beating its legs trying to turn
itself over. But it can’t. Not
without your help. But you’re not
Leon’s upper lip is quivering.
Whatya mean, I’m not helping?
I mean you’re not helping! Why is
Holden looks hard at Leon, piercing look.
Leon is flushed with anger, breathing hard, it’s a
bad moment, he might erupt.
Suddenly Holden grins disarmingly.
They’re just questions, Leon.
In answer to your query, they’re
written down for me. It’s a
test, designed to provoke an
They’re just questions, Leon.
But the questions are tied to the outcomes the scientists wanted to hear. One of the most complicated components of sociological testing is that the framing and order of questions can change the outcome of the test. By going through a litany of statements asserting that a positive, clear outlook is unreasonable, the questions start to imprint in the student’s mind that it might be reasonable to agree that it’s not worth even trying, and maybe that drug abuse and criminal activity might be a reasonable response.
The only way to test whether the theories are the cause is to provide questions that correlate to theories that derive from an alternate foundational theoretical framework, such as individualistic theory. Individualistic theory would presuppose that rather than social relationships and access to resources and power, individuals are responsible for the outcome of their actions. A proponent of this type of theory might suggest that if poverty and lack of access to power structures is the cause of crime, then all poor people would be equally likely to commit crime. We know there are plenty of people of simple means who do not go around robbing, pillaging, raping and molesting, in spite of their lack of access to money and means.
What if, rather than the predetermined replicant questions posed by the 1976-1980 study, the scientists had asked students to respond to series of propositions about individuality in addition to the questions about social relationships and social causes? What if people less predisposed to self-report crime, or less predisposed to commit crime, have a conservative, individualistic approach and those predisposed to commit crime or to self-report crime have a socialistic mindset, ready to blame collective causes for their actions?
18. I am responsible for my actions.
19. When a kid in class gets punished for something wrong I know he or she did, I think it’s fair.
20. If a teacher doesn’t apply the rules correctly it makes it more likely kids will act up.
21. When you see a fight on the playground it’s important to report it so the problem can be dealt with immediately.
22. Sometimes a teacher will pass blame from the person responsible to a group of people. It confuses the situation and makes it more likely that in the future kids will pass blame rather than take responsibility for their actions.
I suggest that these questions would have result in an equal correlation to crime. That is, people who believe in the statements would be in the lower self-reported crime area while those who opposed these would be in the high self-reporting category. There might have also been interesting data across gender. Are male or female offenders more likely to give credence to personal accountability, for example. Were we to find this type of correlation, the kind of action implied would be quite different. Where there a correlation to individual responsibility there would be an emphasis on teaching values, accountability, and honor.
My offender, for example, recognized the greatest personal change while he was at military school and lamented his inability to return. Maybe efforts to get him back into a military academy would have worked to help him continue on a positive trend.
The mopey, depressive questions in the original survey put respondents in the likely category of affirming the position the scientists held, that social roles determine criminality. They frame the mindset, then create a self-fulfilling prophesy through the answers they gleaned. If alternate questions such as the individualistic questions I propose, had made it into the study it would have better tested whether the anomie, labeling, control, and differential association theories were merely correlated, or if the theories could be acted on directly to stop or reduce crime, as CCJ believed.
As a board member of CCJ and one of the major influencers of Lynette, Mr. Miller’s work created an imbalanced proposition – crime correlates to a lack of social inclusion and an abundance of labeling. The uncritical response to this assertion is to create social inclusion and to get offenders away from the courts and put them in the community, away from supervision.
I believe Dr. Miller is a good scientist, but any good scientist would recognize that correlations are not causes. I believe, though he stood as a board member for CCJ during its founding years, that these correlations were converted to statements of belief by students that took courses from him in the undergraduate college, including Mrs. Hanthorn.
As an academic aside, I would like to highlight a trend in social science research for design and advertising and to relate it to social engineering like that of the early CCJ. I use Consumer Behavior research, because, that is basically what CCJ was doing with offenders. They were trying to convince their audience to change their behavior – exactly the goal of advertising. CCJ was selling the idea of “not” conducting a certain behavior. One need only look at the ineffectual approach of Adbusters and their anti-consumer anti-ads, or the ineffective and sometimes counterproductive nature of 1980′s anti-drug advertising. (20) The concept of releasing an offender so that intensive interactions and family living will induce change is quite a steep hill to climb. Let’s look at the methods of motivation documented in the social science research.
Consumer behavior notes two approaches to influencing customers. The first, behavioral methodology, (and I will focus on operant conditioning, not classical conditioning) focuses on rewards and/or punishments to highlight the relationship of a product or service with a desired end state. (8) In a recent consumer behavior class I highlighted how 1980’s Oil of Olay commercials provided both an immediate benefit (a reward), and also helps avoid a long-term punishment. The product is a beauty aid for today (benefit) and provides moisture to avoid wrinkles (the long-term punishment for not using the product regularly).
To sophisticated consumers, behavioral models are quite apparent in their manipulation – framing the world in reductive terms and pulling or pushing on simple manipulative tools to motivate action. Over time these methods have less and less impact on consumers.
From a restorative or community justice framework, the traditional court system would seem like such a system of rewards and punishments – “do not commit crime or incarceration and possibly, if the crime is repugnant enough, death.” Sophisticated offenders, such as gang members, will simply account for prison time as part of the cost of doing business, especially since communication channels may allow them to continue using others on the outside to commit offenses for them. Something more to the heart of the matter – something targeting the mind of the offender – is necessary to resolve this culture of offense.
The second method studied by consumer behavior researchers emphasizes the functioning of the mind. Focused on cognition, the Cognitive model suggests that advertisers can engage with the processes of thought inherent in each of us. Humor is itself a cognitive process. A phrase or a quirky context comes into our mind, we put the pieces together or compare something implied by the statement or image in our mind, and out comes delight and laughter. Storytelling and narrative are cognitive, because rather than a singular idea, parts of the story play out over time. Attention and thought are necessary to put the moments together in the mind into a whole.
Target and Neiman Marcus partnered with popular TV series “Revenge” to create a series of commercials that utilized “Revenge” actors. The series starts with a woman preparing packages for the “guests,” stars of the show. As a contrast to ordinary commercials, each of five or six commercials is unique. They are played in sequence, one at each commercial break in the show. In each narrative short, one guest receives a piece of apparel from the Target/Neiman Marcus line, delivered by a mysterious female figure that sneaks into the scene to leave the gift.
In the final commercial, all of the characters are brought together. The secret is revealed: the event is to celebrate a roll out of new designs developed by a young entrepreneur on the show.
The story will only be understood by followers of the show. The aura of mystery echoes the twists and turns of the television series, and the glamour and mystique of the party scene depicted in the rollout of the event, in the video above, expresses you, the end consumer, can have a piece of the glamour of the extremely wealthy characters in the series. To create a compelling relationship between the narrative and the end state the advertisers have determined, through research, that the consumer is seeking, the consumer has to be engaged in watching and putting together the story – and they actually need to have enough desire for the end state advertised to take the actions the advertisers are promoting.
The actions of the CCJ and the extensive storytelling in the Family Freedom Kit and other publications by the American Baptist Church’s reentry mission suggest that they are taking such a cognitive approach. The deep weakness in their model is that the only contextual framework they have worked to understand is the mindset of the religious follower: someone who already wants to be contrite and to sacrifice for the opportunity to enter heaven. The end state is set, and sacrifice, turning the other cheek, providing housing, and ultimately, offering up one’s children to offenders are the mechanisms established for salvation.
What the American Baptists and potentially other groups like them have not done is to assess the end state the offender wants to get to. Out of prison is the first goal. Out of the watchful eye of the state is the second. A place of comfort is nice, and when they can be free to be themselves, it seems to me, they are most happy. The point is that the end state, a “non-offender,” is our goal for the offender– not the offender’s goal for him or herself.
The offender’s goal may be convenience based, as was suggested about the sexual proclivities of my offender in the psychiatric notes to his file. If the cognitive approach is to work with offenders, their end state must be understood by us, and the means to get to that end state – the advertising – or in the case of these organizations, the type of program they have to go through has to be focused on their end state. These religious organizations and their flocks are ill prepared for the level of assessment and work that needs to be done to make a cognitive approach actually work to reduce recidivism. Instead of making a model that works to transform offenders into non-offenders they do the next easy thing – to manipulate the faithful into believing the court system is unjust.
In advertising today, much of the advertising uses a combination of cognitive and operant conditioning. Insurance commercials are a great example. Most of the commercials out there use humor for a majority of the commercial. The advertisers are making an assumption: you already know about insurance – either you want it or you don’t. What they can do is propose their value proposition – their rewards and punishments in an interesting, humorous narrative way. They use cognitive models to help sophisticated viewers past their built up barriers to behavioral conditioning, then they provide the behavioral rewards/punishments in a cheeky, ironic way to make sure you remember them.
Check out these insurance videos as examples:
To understand this commercial and why it is funny, you need to know about Dikembe Mutombo’s shot blocking career, and to realize that you could save 15% or more on car insurance.
In the next series of “Mayhem” commercials by Allstate, you can see how fears (punishments) and insurance (rewards or safety nets against punishments) are narrativeized to good effect.
The point is that today, rewards and punishments, combined with effective storytelling FRAMED FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE MESSAGE RECEIVER are necessary to produce change in the audience. This is complicated, sophisticated work. The best application of restorative and community justice is in close collaboration with behavioral, punitive systems and with extensive training, reporting and documentation with a critical eye toward the offender. Churches and their average parishioners are unlikely candidates for this complicated and dangerous work.
The Ames Committee on Criminal Justice, now Center for Creative Justice, sponsored by the First Baptist Church and the American Baptist Church, was a case-study for the techniques and concepts now articulated in the American Baptist Prisoner Reentry Program. Because my case was covered up by the employees and pastors that worked with the CCJ, the American Baptist Church has deepened the ideology. Believing that it works, they have expanded the reach of their programs.
My particular case stands as an example of the risks inherent in an approach that vilifies justice, pressures community members into forgiveness and accepts and covers up wrongs, and it is important for the American Baptist Church to understand and recognize the deep flaws in the foundational concepts espoused by its reentry program. My offender was a burglar, larcenist, drug trafficker with self-disclosed sexually risky behavior who was undercharged (the court was, I believe, levered through CCJ’s involvement to ‘ratchet down’ the true extent of his offenses, waiving the drug charge, as noted by the parole officer), painted as a victim, and placed in a private home where the courts would have limited access to documentation of his continued conduct. Mixed with a cockeyed religious perspective – forgiveness, mixed with representations of the court system as risky and harmful….you can see multiple freight trains of risk set to collide.
I believe the documentation represents an ideological toxic soup. Further, I believe these ideologies, created in the late 70’s and ongoing today through the work of the American Baptist Church ministries, have the result of supporting crime and criminality instead of reducing it. By vilifying the legal system, they promote covering up crime to reduce incarceration instead of documenting, stopping the crime, and righting wrongs.
To this point, it is important to realize that not all community or restorative programs are created equal. Although the American Baptist reentry program talks about restoration they heavily pressure victims to provide forgiveness, indicating that without forgiveness they cannot pass the judgment of the saints. Howard Zehr’s conception of restorative justice does not require or even expect forgiveness out of its work, even though offenders and victims may have the opportunity for face to face conversation. With all of these programs lumped together under the umbrella of Community Justice, there is risk that the outcomes of the mix are truly immeasurable and insufficient as a framework for justice.
When I look at the contrasts between the initiatives of the 1970’s and the ongoing academic research of Todd Clear and the applied work of the current team managing the Center for Creative Justice I notice several things. First, the people doing the work in the 1970’s were operating from an ideological frame of reference. Howard Zehr notes in The Little Book of Restorative Justice that at the outset he believed restorative justice should stand in the place of procedural justice, but that as of his book’s publication date, he believed the two approaches to fighting crime could work hand in hand. From the history of CCJ formerly published on their website, I believe it is clear they were operating from a similarly ideological, emotional and limited framework. I believe they saw the correlation between offenders and concepts like anomie and labeling and assumed that these were more than correlations – they believed such things as anomie and labeling were causes of crime. If they believed that providing normal social relationships for deeply disordered people and countering the moniker of “criminal” were the tools of restoration and reintegration, and they believed that procedural justice was involved in creating the conditions whereby criminals would be minted in a “cradle to grave” pipeline, it might seem obvious to launch a high-risk mission to help offenders escape “over the wall.”
The board’s failure was allowing the employees and volunteers act independently and at a distance and in failing to determine proper tracking, documentation and reporting. The group certainly had the intellectual capacity for such detailed work – a doctor of social science, Martin Miller, and Johnie Hammond, a longtime board member who would go on to serve as a State House Representative from 1983-2003. Hammond held degrees in social work and business, the first from the University of Minnesota and the second, with distinction, from Iowa State University. She would have been trained in standard business and social work file management, case documentation, and accountability to senior management.
I have a further thesis that will take much more research to explore: namely that the founders failed due to particular personality traits. Today, top companies use personality profiles such as the Caliper test to identify and match personalities to types of work that employees will be successful at and will find meaningful. In such tests individuals are either more people oriented or outcome oriented. Lynette remembered my parents and wrote she held them in high regard. I can see no means other than ideology by which she could judge my parents. She didn’t train, test or investigate their decision-making regarding the offender. I don’t see how she could have evaluated the merit of my parents in regard to such dangerous work. For example, in her responses she indicated that volunteers were not background checked or investigated; after all, they were known to the community. They fit in. They complied. Their ideology, not their actions or behavior, matched the ideology of the group.
I propose that individuals with such a social orientation do not value the level of detail, tracking, and follow-through necessary to successfully lead work with criminal offenders. I also propose, and again, this will require much further investigation, that when people act from an ideological, people-first-outcomes-last framework, they utilize coercive force to keep followers in line with representing the ideology as successful. If you don’t comply with our saintly peaceful intent you will be cast out of the kingdom. Lack of tracking, hierarchy and management tools such as delegation and control can be seen as a method of obfuscation, decentralizing accountability to later represent individuals and groups as not accountable for their actions.
If we were to look at this from a restorative framework, wrongs were done by the founding Board of Directors of CCJ, as noted by Todd Clear in his email to me, through blindness, through ideological thinking, through lack of self-examination and risk assessment and through failure to track, document and follow through on their commitments to the court. It is also possible that wrongs were done by the parole department in Ames through their failure to have an effective documentation and reporting system.
Another wrong was done by Reverend Key when he discouraged further investigation into the abuse. My parents committed wrongs by falling prey to the ideological thinking of the 1960’s, the further ideological frame of the early CCJ, when they accepted the offender and when they kept the offender in our house.
Some of these wrongs can be seen as inadvertent: innocent, almost. However, through examining the conceptions the founders held about crime, the picture becomes more sinister. The only way they had to test their theory of a “dispersed correctional facility” (22) was to actively deceive the courts for the purpose of helping offenders escape ‘Over the Wall.’
When I was a child we had a parakeet in a large cage. The bird had moved with us from New York to Iowa when my father got his tenure-track position at Iowa State University. The cage had sat up front on the passenger’s lap in the cab of our moving truck as we made the journey from New York to Ames in 1975, and my parents had worried the bird might not survive the trip.
In Iowa, during the summer, we had sometimes put the birdcage hanging from its stand outside the back porch for sunlight and fresh air. I remember my mother going outside and her shocked response, realizing the cage was open and the bird was gone. When confronted, the offender affirmed that he had opened the cage, but he didn’t state why. My mother applied a metaphor of this offense to the offender – he longed for freedom and hated to see anything caged. The metaphor expressed the belief system promoted by CCJ.
My father, a birder, was more pragmatic – the bird had no skills outside the cage. In fact, the cage was what sustained the bird. In non-tropical environments the bird was outside its ability to survive. This bird’s beak continually grows throughout its life and it needs a cuttlebone or mineral block to chew to sand its beak down. A pet also does not understand the risks involved in being in the world – cats, cars, winter and migration, other birds that might attack it for entering their territory. The bird was tropical by origin. In a sense, for the bird, being free was not really free. My father believed our pet would likely die by winter. In this, there is no metaphor.
I have asked for some remedies, none which have been granted:
First, and most simply, a written, public apology from the CCJ recognizing the high-risk behavior the group engaged in by actively pursuing release, for failing to establish a meaningful reporting structure, failing to follow through on the judge’s expectation of oversight, failing to have a review and assessment procedure for families volunteering to accept offenders, and failing to train these private jailers who took CCJ’s offenders into their homes.
Second, I have asked for some form of mediation or restorative process to help the original board understand what kinds of risks they took and the harms they caused. Of course, the offender is responsible for his criminal actions, but were a demolition expert to put a package of dynamite by a baby, no one would blame the explosive. They would hold the person who placed the package accountable. To date, the only response I have received from the management at the Center for Creative Justice is that the board of CCJ has directed its employees to take no action in the matter. Though the CCJ claims restorative justice as its framework, the board is not interested in restoration.
Third, I have asked the pastor of the First Christian Church in Ames, Iowa, the church that initially supported the group, and which still houses CCJ on its property, to present a sermon acknowledging the missteps and the failure of the group to see clearly as they forged ahead. This wrong started at the pulpit with ministers preaching about the high-risk offender who needed to be saved, and it should end at the pulpit as well. This is unlikely to be granted as Johnie Hammond, the founding board member, co-author of CCJ’s early history, and Iowa State House Representative is a significant member of the church.
Fourth, I have asked the American Baptist Church, through its minister on the board of CCJ to revisit its documents and to remove the anti-justice language that leads to covering up crime. In one publication the church acknowledges that detractors claim risks in the reentry and restorative model. I’m not a detractor. I have no problem with creating a better justice system, but my experience isn’t an abstraction. The risks their ideology creates are realities. The church merely denies these realities in its documents for the purpose of pressing an ideology on its members. I assume the pastor of the First Christian Church, as a board member of the CCJ is disinterested in supporting my request to appeal to the American Baptist Church, of which the Ames First Baptist Church is a member, as there has been no response from the First Baptists.
Fifth, I ask the elected representatives, and you, the people, to support changes to the way crime is reported and tracked on both state and national levels. Currently “recidivism” merely asks the question, “Did an offender commit another crime during a given period?” A person could be paroled for shoplifting, commit murder, and be said to recidivate. Another person could be paroled for the same shoplifting, then shoplift again, and also be said to recidivate. I am asking for a more dynamic system. My offender started with arrests for burglary and larceny of a motor vehicle. He went on to commit petty theft, child molestation, and breaking and entering and burglary when he stole the television I found in the basement. Did he simply recidivate, or did he commit what I call “aggravated recidivism” – an expansion of his criminal activities into yet more heinous crime? The state should be interested in the question, “To what extent do diversion programs expand the scope of an offender’s criminal activities during the time the offender would have been off the streets were he or she incarcerated?”
Sixth, I appeal to governmental agencies to change the way that recidivism data is collected and reported. Data on governmental agencies, non-profit organizations and for-profit treatment centers must be accessible from government websites, and must be accumulated through outside audit, not by managers whose job retention, pay structure and public recognition are derived through their own data collection and reporting. There is too much at stake for managers. The risk of organizations concealing crimes to support statistics is extremely high – 100% risk in the case documented herein. The only way to counter the risk internally is for organizations to reward and recognize managers for catching and documenting re-offenses by those under their supervision, a proposition that would likely be abhorrent to those with the restorative and community reentry mindset.
Seventh, I also appeal to regulatory bodies to require organizations involved in working with offenders to provide documentation of potential risks to employees, volunteers and members. Another example: also in Ames, Iowa, the Catholic Church was the victim of an arson. The arsonist was a person the church worked with through their prison ministries who felt the church had not served her needs sufficiently. Parishioners were unlikely to be aware the mission was working with such highly unstable people and that property and life were at risk. Along with this, there needs to be documentation on how to report crimes for investigation outside of the channels managed by the organization. Victims should not be routed to board members of the organization for reporting purposes. Outside audits should be put in place to verify this training requirement is met.
Eighth, you might wonder about my parents and their choices. I have addressed their missteps with them privately, but I consider them to be victims of the larger wrong – the pressing of ideology toward mandatory forgiveness. That position is heinous. Forgiveness, punishment and accountability are mutually exclusive concepts. When they are rolled into one, and when the community is expected to relieve the government of its function and to take abuse for the purpose of saintliness, we suffer tyranny from either religious or ideological positions. We have a separation of church and state for a reason and it must stay that way.
Ninth, I ask you to examine yourself and the risk factors around you. Developing a healthy protective mindset based on clear thinking can help you and your family remain safe in the face of activism that can increase your risk. Learning about your state laws regarding arrest, including citizen’s arrest, and self defense are great ways to begin. Clear boundaries are the foundation of safe environments. If, like my parents, you are unclear about boundaries and you operate from abstractions about offenders as victims, not recognizing that a deeply flawed person is likely to have wildly inconsistent and unanticipated reactions to their environment, you are creating risk for those around you. Clarity, consistency, and drawing a line in the sand that shall not be crossed are the foundations of safety.
Study Guide Questions
With which of the actors in the story do you identify?
What roles might the church, state, or individuals that facilitated this wrong take in righting the wrong?
Are there crimes that you have been pressed to suppress by your community? What steps, such as reporting or writing about wrongs, might you take to bring justice to your community?
Would you be willing to contact your legislators to advocate change to the methods used to record recidivism to include aggravated recidivism, when offenders released into a diversion program expand the range of their offenses by visiting http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml ?
Would you be willing to examine further literature, such as America’s Most Wanted, To Catch a Predator, and HBO prison specials to learn more about why policing, investigation and incarceration remain irreplaceable parts of our justice system?
Would you be willing to learn the laws about use of force in self-defense or defense of others, force in arrest, and the citizen’s right to arrest in your state?
About: Alan Murdock manages Interior Design, Graphic Design, Fashion Marketing and Foundation Arts at a small design college in Salt Lake City, Utah. He continues to explore his interest in reducing crime through part time work in security and writing about crime reduction on his blog, http://www.theguntutor.com. Alan is also a Utah Concealed Firearms Permit instructor.
Last week I received a cryptic message in my inbox.
“How much ammo do you have stock piled?”
I replied, “I don’t have enough. I saw an article California is considering an ammunition purchasing license. Is that part of the national plan?”
I love shooting. If I could spend every day at the range, I would. In the last month I’ve seen the shelves at the gun shop go bare in the AR department. I have seen stacks of ammo, but either the supply line is there and the ammo is being restocked, or the purchases at my local gun shop are not as high as in other parts of Utah.
“Not that I know of…… But A LOT of people are now talking civil war as well… So wait and see….”
I suspect the ammo is being quickly restocked. Facebook posts circulated around the Christmas holiday indicated one small Utah seller distributed more than 100,000 rounds in a single weekly order with one buyer taking 70,000 rounds to distribute among friends. The LA times reported that more than 3 ½ years of magazines were sold in one 72 hour period by Brownell’s, a top supplier of firearm accessories.
“Consumer demand has been “unprecedented” recently, according to a statement attributed to company President Pete Brownell on gun owner forum AR15.com.” (2)
According to the Business Insider, both gun and ammunition sales are through the roof. “This year had already been a boon for gun sales. According to the FBI’s website, there were 16.8 million background checks for gun ownership through the end of November. That’s the most since 1998, when FBI began tracking the number of background checks.” (8)
America has voted with its wallet against Dianne Feinstein’s proposed ban, but will it invoke the second amendment for the purpose of protecting the constitution?
In a video by known hothead, James Yeager of Tactical Response, Yeager lambasts businesses that backed off of AR and similar rifles saying, “do your American and your civic duty to protect the second amendment, and we start with protecting it with our wallet. Next, it’ll be with guns. Your responsibility to be ready for the fight is coming.”
But what portion of the gun-buying public is Yeager speaking for? Are citizens stockpiling because they are preparing to fight for their rights, or are they looking for an investment? NFA licensed fully automatic guns sell for 10 to 15 thousand dollars as compared to $800 – $2000 for a similar platform in civilian legal semi-automatic format. The value of recently purchased arms are likely to skyrocket under a permanent future ban. Some people made significant money reselling ammunition under shortage during the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should ammunition restrictions go into place, current stockpiles could turn into future cash for savvy buyers.
The term “Civil War” on Google Trends shows a declining trend since May, 2004, but it saw a sudden and unusual spike in November this year. The topic spikes in May each year because it was in May that the south seceded from the Union. It was, for example, on May 20, 1861 that North Carolina adopted the secession resolution. (1)
The term “secede,” however, has its highest peak ever in November 2012, concurrent with searches for “civil war,” and an increasing trend in “gun ban” searches.
These searches peak in November, before the Sandy Hook shooting. In fact, they sharply decline in December. ABC news reported that after the November 6 reelection of Obama, petitions were started on the Whitehouse petition site requesting that states be allowed to secede from the Union, beginning with the State of Texas, which surpassed the required 25,000 signature requirement by more than 94,000 signatures. (9)
The Washington Post writes, “White House officials say the package of proposals is almost certain to include new restrictions on guns, particularly assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But aides said it will also probably include mental-health initiatives and, as Obama noted Wednesday, a close look ‘at a culture that, all too often, glorifies guns and violence.’” (4)
While the President requested plans, including investigations into psychology and means for more successful interventions with the mentally ill prior to violence, a search for “mental illness plan,” “plans to deal with the mentally ill,” and “congressional committee on mental health and violence.” Results in out of date research and a 2006 committee dedicated to “curbing the criminalization of mental illness.” (3)
In September 2012, the Huffington Post reported that cuts to mental health funding had already significantly impacted the ability of states to serve their poor. “Experts and mental health advocates say the reductions have led to longer waiting lists for care, less money to help these people get housing and jobs, and more people visiting emergency rooms for psychiatric care.” (5)
So, while the New York Times attacks gun rights (6), and while Dianne Feinstein puts the finishing touches on a proposal that has been in the works over a year (7) before the Sandy Hook shooting occurred, no work has been done on the true root of the issue: culture, including how we handle mental illness.
The trend for our hot topics, civil war, secede, and gun ban do seem to be positively correlated, but they seem to be associated with the November 6 presidential election, not with the December 14 shooting. The trend for searches on mental illness, unfortunately, is not cyclical or trend based, but highly consistent. There has been little change in this search term, even given the shooting.
So, we are going to get over the fiscal cliff, one way or another, and we are heading into a new year. On January 3rd we should see these new plans for our America. Will Biden and his committee sweep Feinstein’s maniacal, one sided little post-it-note of a plan off the table? Will they fulfill the President’s request and present a plan to address violence, or will they take the easy way out, blaming the inanimate objects and further dividing the nation?
Regarding the run at the gun shop, I believe some are purchasing for investments, hoping a ban will drive up the value of their guns. Some simply want a gun they can shoot for fun before their chance to have one is gone. And others fear that the proposed ban is directly related to an increased risk of tyranny.
That’s what the second amendment was written to protect against, and what I believe the Supreme Court will state in cases following such a ban. I further think that it is telling that all of the news is focused solely on a gun ban, and that all searches for recent work on addressing social ills that lead to violence, regardless of the tool used to inflict harm result in research that is years old. It is also interesting that, though President Obama requested research into how to improve access to mental health care, the only information is on decriminalizing mental illness, a trend that directly increases the ability of a violently mentally ill person to gain access to a firearm. My point is that the work being done is a sham, but I believe it will be corrected through checks and balances.
There are some that don’t trust the governmental checks and balances system to work, however. Another series of Youtube videos demonstrates how to pack a trunk with a resupply of guns, ammunition and food to be stored at various locations in case of gun seizures in the wake of a national ban. America hasn’t been happy with its elected officials in fourteen or more years, and, with dissatisfaction leading some to petition for secession simply from the election itself, regardless of whether people are purchasing guns for investment or to prepare to fight for their rights, it is certainly not the time to press an unconstitutional agenda.
About Alan Murdock:
Alan Murdock is a certified NRA pistol instructor and Utah Concealed Firearms instructor. Alan Teaches firearms classes in Salt Lake City, Utah as The Gun Tutor. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alan.murdock#!/pages/The-Gun-Tutor/284464574944107. He also produces video and writes about firearms and personal defense issues. His blog can be found at www.TheGunTutor.com
In England doctors have called for a ban on long kitchen knives since 2005 (1), mirroring an analysis by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine suggesting that “having a gun generally makes women and their families less safe.” (2) What both studies suffer from is the cause-correlation fallacy. It is not the weapon that makes women or victims of assault in general less safe, it’s having a criminal in the house that makes them less safe.
Around 2008 at the school where I worked in Portland Oregon brought in a representative, Sara Johnson, from the Portland Police Department’s WomenStrength program.
“We always want to start with de-escalation when possible,” Johnson said, “Move a heated conversation to a public place. Assailants will often try to move a victim to a private place where they can exert more control unobserved.”
She pointed out that most violence is between parties known to one another. The highly publicized examples of stranger danger, terrorist attacks and mass shootings are the rare occurrences.
“First, attempt to talk the assailant down with simple, non-threatening language following three simple steps: 1. Describe the behavior: ‘when you,’ fill in the blank,‘yell or get in my space, it” 2.describe how it impacts you or makes you feel, “makes me freeze up so I can’t address the real problem,’ or ‘feel afraid of you.’ 3. Tell them what to do. ‘Take a step back: I’ll feel better if we go out on the steps or into a public place to talk.’ That is different than insulting them. ‘You make me feel threatened because you are such a jerk.’ ”
Remaining in discourse is the first and primary tool of de-escalation and any form of conflict resolution. Johnson highlighted an important skill in dealing with interpersonal conflict: externalize the conflict so it is not about you and the other person. The context can be examined openly, and if the assailant is willing to work in the issue, so much the better.
Johnson explained that not all assailants will start or end in verbal negotiation and de-escalation. “If the assailant won’t stop or back down and moves to a physical threat, the second level of defense is physical force – punching or kicking. If the assailant moves up to the next level, bringing a deadly weapon into the assault – a knife, gun, pipe, blunt instrument, you may utilize a deadly weapon in your own defense or the defense of another to stop an imminent threat.”
What she was describing is the use of force continuum, the foundation of all self-defense as the protection of the right to life.
“To defend yourself, if de-escalation fails and the assailant continues the assault or escalates to deadly force there three options for defense with a weapon. Less lethal options include pepper spray and stun guns like Tasers. Those can be used against a physical assault. Conventional weapons like guns, knives, and batons can be used against a deadly assault, and weapons of opportunity – your purse, a flower pot, dirt, gravel, a rock. With weapons of opportunity you need to be careful, because if it is potentially deadly, like a bottle that can cause a percussive injury or break and be used to cut, it cannot be used against physical assault. That would make you the assailant.”
When we look at how force is perceived through a reasonable force continuum, as has been enshrined in law from time immemorial, we can see how strange and off base the British doctors who are for requesting a ban on kitchen knives. It’s not the knife or, as in board game Clue, referenced in the title of this article, the candle stick, or the rope that caused the murder. It was Professor Plumb or Mrs. Peacock or Mr. Green in the observatory with the rope or the dagger or the pipe. Banning the rope isn’t going to do a bit of good if you don’t deal with the assailant who has it around your neck, and if it were me on the wrong end of the rope I’d want a gun in my pocket to help resolve the problem.
To return to the British problem, a Home Office spokesperson responded to the claim, “The law already prohibits the possession of offensive weapons in a public place, and the possession of knives in public without good reason or lawful authority, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade not exceeding three inches.”
In England, self-defense is not considered a “good reason,” to carry a knife, much less a gun, as an “offensive weapon” is “defined as any weapon designed or adapted to cause injury, or intended by the person possessing them to do so.”
So in our case of defense, the knife is already determined to be illegal because its design could cause injury, outside of the nature of assault and defense, not because of the intent of the bearer. And our flower pot – should we carry it for self-defense becomes illegal because our intent is to use it to do harm to an assailant, should an assault arise one arise.
In 1953 British law banned carrying anything for the purpose of self-defense. (3)
The Home Office spokesperson cited this regulation, stating, “An individual has to demonstrate that he had good reason to possess a knife, for example for fishing, other sporting purposes or as part of his profession (e.g. a chef) in a public place.” (1)
In many instances this has resulted in a “might makes right” scenario in England. The victim is unauthorized to meet the assailant’s force, and must hope that his or her strength is sufficient to save his or her own life.
“The BBC offers this advice for anyone in Britain who is attacked on the street: You are permitted to protect yourself with a briefcase, a handbag, or keys. You should shout ‘Call the Police’ rather than ‘Help.’ Bystanders are not to help. They have been taught to leave such matters to the professionals. If you manage to knock your attacker down, you must not hit him again or you risk being charged with assault.” (3)
England is violating a fundamental human right through its laws. America is trying to do the same. By attempting to define certain firearms as “assault” weapons, politicians are trying to create a circumstance where a possessor has to have a “good reason to possess” the weapon. As we can see in the British problem, once governments begin down this path they will simply erode, step by step, the human right to self-defense and the right to effective tools for that defense. Currently it is the continuation of the assailant’s attack that determines how many shots may be fired in defense of life or limb. With proposed regulation, it will no longer be the nature of the assault that determines appropriate defense, but the nature of the arm used in that defense.
About Alan Murdock:
Alan Murdock is a certified NRA pistol instructor and Utah Concealed Firearms instructor. Alan Teaches firearms classes in Salt Lake City, Utah as The Gun Tutor. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alan.murdock#!/pages/The-Gun-Tutor/284464574944107. He also produces video and writes about firearms and personal defense issues. His blog can be found at www.TheGunTutor.com
When evaluating a political campaign such as Dianne Feinstein’s war on guns or the interminable left and right-leaning anti-police cabal, we have to look at overall strategy and tactics. For years elements in both the activist left and right have accused the police of “militarizing” their activities. The left, in particular, has been working to ban policing tools, even down to pepper spray. With the current attack on gun rights these activists have effectively found a back door to banning guns and other weapons from our police, leaving not only civilian concealed carry permit holders at risk, but law enforcement, and our society as well.
If the government is able to describe a semi-automatic as a “weapon of war,” haven’t the anarchist left and reactionary right won their argument that police are militarized?
Last week in a response to petitions to the Whitehouse on guns, the Whitehouse press department wrote, ”The President called on Congress to pass important legislation “banning the sale of military-style assault weapons,’” (1). On December 19 the Washington Post reported that , “Obama reiterated his support for the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms but said the country’s leaders need to find ways to keep ‘weapons of war’ out of the hands of the irresponsible few.” (2)
Weapons of war have been highly regulated since the 1934 National Firearms Act. Future sales of these weapons to civilians was curtailed in 1896 as part of the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act, and only a limited number of previously registered machine guns are available for purchase. Projecting a military status onto non-military weapons only serves to further call police “militarized” when they have semi-automatic rifles and civilians don’t.
Alex Jones, who has accused the government of being behind the Oklahoma City Bombing as part of a plot to create a “New World Order,” (3) posted a video on his website, Info Wars, by leftist activist Michael Moore in which Moore blames Homeland Security for the pepper spraying of ‘Occupy’ protesters at the University of California. (4) At the event protesters swarmed police who were leaving the area and used a British anti-riot technique called “kettling.” The protesters surrounded the police and wouldn’t let them leave until officers used non-lethal force to break the barrier.
Video documents protesters kettling officers to force a confrontation.
Moore stated in his video, released in November, 2011, “the fact that our police departments, now even campus police departments, have been turned into armies – they’ve been militarized mostly through grants from the Department of Homeland Security. And actions like this now are occurring it seems like, every day, all across the country.” (4) Moore sees the use of pepper spray as an example of police militarization, even though pepper spray and other eye irritants have been used for decades as a non-permanent method of pain compliance. Pepper spray is one of the technologies that replaced such risky techniques as the choke hold and sleeper hold.
Moore described the use of pepper spray to free the officers as the “ Tienanmen Square” of the Occupy movement. (4)
One can presume that by posting the article and video, Alex Jones and his staff writers concur with Moore.
The claim that the police are becoming militarized was, at the time of the University of California protest, not new. According to Indy Media reporter Joan Annsfire, Moore spoke in San Francisco a month prior, “we are in the throes of something else, totally predictable but frightening and potentially devastating nonetheless: the militarization of the police. Moore mentioned this specifically in his speech.” (5)
On Michael Moore’s website a March 2012 article by Allison Kilkenny, an activist left radio host, reported that police stormed a Miami, Florida apartment building where Occupy protesters were living. The officers used “shotguns and assault rifles” to sweep the building. Not until the 9th paragraph, requiring a reader to scroll to find the facts, does Kilkenny acknowledge that officers were responding to “reports that residents inside were stockpiling weapons to use in an upcoming demonstration.” (6) The article goes on to report the department is acquiring new vehicles and radio equipment and tries to equate that to the “militarization” claim. No shots were fired during the brief police action.
More mainstream liberal publications like the Huffington Post have gotten into the anti-police game. Radly Balko, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post claimed in September 2011 that 9/11 caused the police to become militarized, but then makes the claim that police were actually militarized in the 1980’s under Ronald Regan, except that it was militarized in 1994 when excess supplies were donated from military budgets to policing budgets. (7) One is left wondering if the militarization of the police actually occurred under the Greeks or possibly in the Garden of Eden when a snake donated excess apples from the tree of knowledge to humankind. They put clothes on and became more guarded for the first time, right?
The Huffington Post has published no fewer than 15 articles in the last year promoting the concept of “police militarization” claiming everything from radios to bullet proof vests to guns as examples of militarization. (8)
What Kilkenny, Moore and Arianna Huffington and her staff understand, and what they want to overturn, is that the individual right to to self-defense contained in the right to life and further detailed in the second amendment, is extended as a responsibility to police. If the individual right is infringed, the right of the police to use those same banned weapons is also infringed. The only difference in rights of Police Officers from ordinary citizens is that they have the right to use one level of force above the citizen to perform their responsibilities. They also have the added responsibility, due to their oath, to act.
That is why they sweep a building with guns drawn when they have received a report that weapons are stockpiled for a violent purpose. The only claim the protesters would have to injustice is if the department swept other buildings where the same claim was made but did not go in with weapons drawn.
The only way these activists can break the police is to break the individual – to take our right to effective tools of self-defense. As soon as the President uttered the language of the activists, “find ways to keep ‘weapons of war’ out of the hands of the irresponsible few,” at the same time that Dianne Feinstein proposes White House backed regulation to keep non-military weapons such as semi-automatic pistols and rifles from the hands of all, the activists had effectively won the rhetorical battle.
Once gun bans for citizens go into place using either the “weapons of war” or “military-style” rhetoric, the next step is for activists to demonstrate that police have these banned weapons and reignite the claim that police are simply an extension of the military.
You can read the full extent of Feinstein’s plan online at the LA Times. Morgan Little wrote on December 16 that Feinstein wants to “ban the sale, transfer, transportation and possession” of guns prospectively. (9) She also wants to ban “big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.” (9) Thankfully, we use magazines instead of clips to hold more than 10 bullets, but we suspect Feinstein will figure that out before January.
This ban will be quickly turned by activists into yet another attack on law enforcement, pushing to remove semi-automatic civilian rifles and handguns from their possession. Departments that issue 30 round magazines will be targeted as “militarized” abusers of the people.
What can you do right now? Demand your congress persons and your president that anti-police language be removed from any gun legislation moving forward. Require that no gun other than a fully-automatic machine gun be defined as a weapon of war. State that semi-Automatic rifles are an antiquated technology because they have not been the primary issue weapon for service members since the Korean War. Demand that legislation protect the right of the police to go beyond the rights of the people to fulfill the responsibility they have sworn to uphold. Ask your congress persons and president not to side with activists who are trying to portray our police as a militarized force through a back-door gun ban.
I bought my first handgun after watching Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine. At the time I had a burning question in my mind. I had been a Police Explorer beginning in 8th grade until my sophomore year in high school. At that time a shooting occurred in my town in which a parent manipulated a youth into shooting another adult.
As a youth myself, I couldn’t parse the circumstances of this crime. The case never went to trial because it was resolved in back room negotiations between the prosecutor, judge and defense team. Because of this, the facts of the case where concealed from public view.
As a justice oriented person, I could not conceive how this circumstance could come to be. For me, things fell into clear “wrong” and “right” categories and there was nothing I could conceive that would manipulate me into using illegal, illegitimate and unauthorized deadly force against anyone, or was there?
In the police department where I Explored there were a variety of opinions around risks posed by the occult following the case of the West Memphis Three. One officer I knew perceived great risk. After a call came in about a couple on a train track bridge with candles and a blanket he proposed the candles might symbolize the occult. The meeting on the bridge was potentially a suicide ritual. The officer referred to national police training on the risks of the occult to officers and the community. Another officer sighed and rolled his eyes, tired of conspiracy theories coming in to basic patrol duties. The couple on the bridge indicated the gentleman was leaving the next day and that they wanted to have a romantic final night together. The officer in charge warned them of the risks of being on the train bridge, and indicated it is private property that cannot be trespassed and sent them on their way.
I observed the variety of opinions of the officers and it stuck with me. At the time of the shooting described above I thought about the risks caused by mistaken perceptions that could spin off of of a heavily mediated case like The Memphis Three. Could it be that cause-correlation fallacies could impact me into increasing risk rather than protecting the community? Could I be manipulated through a variety of positions into going onto a similar bridge, gun drawn, expecting Satanists to be sacrificing a victim and spreading the blood on the ground? Or worse, could an individual manipulate me into doing harm to another? Could my own conception of justice be turned toward political harm as Communism, Nazism and Fascism turned people toward causing harm to others in the name of righting “wrongs” against workers, national identity, race, or even something as abstract as governmental efficiency. (Fascism proposed that complete control and complete alignment between government and business would result in the greatest form of society.)
The environment was too murky. I couldn’t, as a sixteen year old, comprehend how to make sense of these abstractions, and I retreated into relativism. Maybe there was no “code.” Maybe ethics, morals and the framework for right and wrong was just made up as we go along.
If one person could commit attempted murder and face no incarceration, and another could face stiff penalties, maybe I was putting faith in the wrong place. I stopped shooting, one of my favorite weekend pastimes, and locked the guns up. My family sold our .22 rifle to another family of an Explorer and eventually donated a Remington pump shotgun to a flea-market fundraiser for a human rights group. I also resigned from the Explorers and got involved in the arts, dance and theater.
I went to college to study literature and the arts – the world of inquiry and exploration. The university culture, which promotes inquiry into the roots of every value system you bring into it did its work. I graduated effectively incapable of testifying in court without destroying my own testimony. I moved on to graduate school.
I became a college art instructor following graduation from my Master’s program and slowly began re-constructing my framework for justice. The first rule: it’s reasonable for an instructor to control and manage a classroom and to expect certain conduct from students. Bullying and grade grubbing is unreasonable conduct from a student. Once a student’s conduct begins to negatively impact the learning environment for other students it is reasonable to follow a documentation, reporting and accountability process. A college student has no “right” to education. Misconduct will cast the student out of the school and may also result in civil or criminal penalties should harm be sufficient.
After becoming a full-time faculty member the Dean asked to chair several student conduct committee meetings. My experience, though small, with procedural justice made me an effective moderator among faculty members who wanted to provide benefit of the doubt to the student and others who couldn’t see the reason not to move to summary judgment.
At the end of my first year of teaching the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. I had an afternoon class to teach, so I went in to the school early to see how we would handle the day’s schedule. The college, which did not have cable television at the beginning of the day, had CNN up and running in the library by 11am. Students were released to go home, watch the coverage in the library, or stay and work during their class period. For the most part, instructors stayed to work with students, and I went back and forth between the classroom and the library to touch base with my students in both areas.
9/11 changed things for the whole nation. A budding anti-globalization movement, spurred on by activists like Michael Moore, was crushed as Americans realized that international trade was not the evil a small group of activists portrayed it to be. Terrorism was capable of true horrors – taking two passenger planes and crashing it into a building of innocent civilians. Personally, I saw a few things – first, I realized that I, just like most people in America, am immune to the manipulation that I had so many questions about. My life experience made me someone who would think for myself and who would not take manipulation from an ideological position to do harm. My willingness to use deadly force extended only to stop the illicit use of deadly force or to stop or prevent a forcible felony. Second, I saw that the positions on culture and counter culture bandied around in the arts were false. I saw some counter-cultural artists and activists in Portland, Oregon claim that finally, Western culture was reaping what it deserved. Some of these activists even delighted in the attack, a concept that is clearly wrong and is based on delusional conceptions of society.
When I finally saw Moore’s Bowling for Columbine it solidified things for me. His emotional argument against guns relied on the cause-correlation fallacy again and again. Charlton Heston’s principle based code was concise, clear and to the point. It was this intellectual showdown that proved the truth. Sociological conceptions that “deviance is contextual, and therefore fluid and that fluidity means that identifying crimes is wrong” is off base and illogical. (I will write further about this concept in later posts – this is basically the foundational justification for all counter-cultural movements since the 1960’s).
I’ll call these false conceptions of culture ‘interest group liberalism.’ In contrast I prefer classical liberalism.
Today’s liberals argue that sexuality is an individual right and that to protect people from the harm of sexually transmitted disease we need to preserve freedom, provide education and arm people from the time of youth through adulthood and old age with the tools to help protect themselves. They acknowledge that condoms in and of themselves do not make people fully safe – there are risks involved, but the risks are better than infringing on individual rights and legislating how sexual activity will play out to keep the community safe. I would agree with their assessment.
The same group will turn around and say that, although the police have no responsibility to protect the community and the military has no right of intervention within the country, individuals should be stripped of their tools of protection, and that all activity around self-defense must be regulated to the point that people do not have the right to protect themselves. They say that the risks to the community of self-defense tools are too great, and that they must be made illegal. I would disagree with their assessment, as it violates the core principles that give rise to the conceptions of safety through education and protection in the case above.
A classical liberal perspective would agree that people need to be educated about risk and trained in safety as a core principle that would span a full range of activities from sex to driving to guns to texting to social networking. The principle would drive the strategy and tactics, not reaction to any individual circumstance of pregnancy, drunk driving accident, bullying, driving while texting, or shooting.
Michael Moore takes the illogical ‘interest group’ approach that has taken over the title ‘liberalism.’ On Christmas Eve Michael Moore wrote a convoluted, “deranged and delusional” piece on the Huffington Post. In his blog post he states that gun bans will reduce gun deaths and proposes that we ask New York City mayor Bloomberg, citing that murders have gone from 2,200 to under 400 – due to gun bans, not because of gentrification and skyrocketing costs on the island that have led to a monoculture in Manhattan. (My point is not that gentrification has caused the change, but that Moore ignores the multifaceted nature of crime and crime control for an ideological and narrow political purpose.)
He acknowledges that proper use of firearms is part of the solution, writing “And here’s the dirty little fact none of us liberals want to discuss: The killer only ceased his slaughter when he saw that cops were swarming onto the school grounds — i.e, the men with the guns. When he saw the guns a-coming, he stopped the bloodshed and killed himself. Guns on police officers prevented another 20 or 40 or 100 deaths from happening. Guns sometimes work.”
At the same time, he wants a nearly wholesale ban on guns including “automatic (machine guns, already regulated – see my article The New York Times Attacks the NRA) AND semiautomatic weapons (almost all pistols and rifles) and magazine clips that hold more than 7 bullets (if all semiautomatic weapons are banned there are almost no magazines to be regulated as most bolt-action rifles have an internal spring mechanism rather than an external magazine). We need better background checks and more mental health services. We need to regulate the ammo, too.”
Who are these officers that heroically show up with their guns to stop the assault? They aren’t miracle workers. They are civic minded people akin to the majority of private gun owners who follow the law and practice safe handling to reduce the risk of accidental, much less criminal harm. These officers are human and they are fallible. Making extreme discrepancies between what police may own and what civilians may own distorts that perception – or in other news is Moore preparing for an argument that, now that these guns are banned to civilian owners that the police are ‘militarized’ and therefore shouldn’t have ‘militarized’ weapons like the semi-automatic rifles they brought with them to stop the Sandy Hook shooting? On that point I’m not sure. I’ll check in with you in a year to let you know if in fact it is the case.
I want to look at a few of his additional requirements. First, the “seven bullet” stipulation. The only guns that have seven or fewer bullets are “1911” model semi-automatic pistols (banned under Moore’s position because they are semi-automatic) and revolvers. Second, how will these “better background” checks be conducted? I suppose he wants medical records to be seized by the government and used by criminal identification bureaus to investigate people. Is he proposing wiretapping, access to internet records and random psychological interviewing? These are options for investigation that liberals have rightly contested, stating that the risks created through protecting privacy are worth the reward in a free society.
Once all “semi-automatic” and their evil detachable “magazine clips” (Moore throws in both terms because he doesn’t know the proper name) are banned. What of the revolvers? With practice speed loaders can be used to result in an impressive overall rate of fire. Shall those be banned as well?
In reality there are no guns with capacities small enough for Moore. I believe examination of his oeuvre will show that this is the case for civilians, police and military as well. What meaningful contribution can we take from someone who doesn’t believe our culture is legitimate in the slightest?
Moore goes on to hit his hot points: America’s problems are caused by identity politics issues – poverty, racism, and a pervasive “me” society. I really don’t know what world Moore lives in. When I look around I see full donation bins, stories of kindness, “Heroes” celebrated for their good works on CNN, and people who are willing to step up to help face disasters around the country and the world.
What I would like to see is a classical liberal approach which would cross a range of issues adopted by parties including the democratic and republican parties. Starting a conversation around core principles and developing policy from that core set of concepts is something missing from current debate on many more issues than guns.