As a student in the Changing Lives Through Literature program, you will be expected to live by the rules outlined by your probation officer (PO) and your instructor. It is important to make sure you know the rules and responsibilities of participating in a CLTL program. In most cases, you will be expected to attend all classes and do all of the reading. In some cases, you will be able to substitute CLTL discussion group meetings for meetings with your PO. All of this depends on your court and your program.
The students in CLTL classes may have been sentenced from the bench by a judge or may have been selected from clients at a particular court by a probation officer. Each state's sentencing guidelines deem which perks are available to students for participation in the CLTL program. Many of our programs offer some time off the probation sentence, and some offer a fee reduction, but this all depends on the rules of a particular court.
Most of our students have prior records; some records are extensive, and many students have a history of having served jail time. We serve both men and women, most often in same-sex groups, and the students in our adult programs have been as young as seventeen and as old as seventy-five. What seems important for success in the program is the degree of willing participation in CLTL. While courts may strongly recommend CLTL, ultimately, participation is voluntary for most.
Many of our students have physical, emotional, and sexual violence in their backgrounds. Most come from poor or working class families and are struggling to make ends meet. Many students arrive as avid readers. Reading abilities and interest in reading vary enormously from town to town and within an individual program. Some programs serve towns with primarily African-American populations, whereas other programs are racially diverse or found in primarily all-white communities. Students in CLTL are expected to treat each other civilly in the classroom and respect the rights of all group members. CLTL students often have many issues that they must deal with while on probation, along with attending the CLTL program, such as jobs, housing, relationships, family, health, substance abuse, sexual orientation, stress, and, often, sheer survival. However, the classroom is expected to be a place where we all come together in spite of our differences.
What cuts across the board is that you need to be willing to assume some responsibility for your choices and to allow the program process to take hold. If you are a student in CLTL and you are reading this, we assume that you are motivated enough to understand the program, but it cannot be said enough times: your own involvement in CLTL is what will make you successful. Success comes from giving as much of yourself as possible to each class and taking the time you need for your reading. Success means not giving up when a book is hard to understand. Success means reading the book even if seems irrelevant to your life right now.
Some students take notes and bring them to class so that they are able to be more active in the discussion. Others read parts of a book over again just before they come to class. Many share the books with family members and talk about them long after class. We expect that many of the characters in these texts will touch you and that many of the themes in the readings will have meaning for your life. This is not a program you can get through without working to the best of your ability. Although the CLTL program seems simplistic and, often in the beginning the readings may not seem relevant to the reason you have been "sentenced" to attend the program, as you work through the text and discussions, you will start to make connections. And the readings may make you struggle with issues and values. As Danny, an offender, said a few years ago after encountering some of the deeper issues in a text, "Crime is easy. Shakespeare is hard."
Information, testimonials, and methods that will be of particular interest to you are scattered throughout this website. Here you will find resources for students, testimonials by students who have been through the program, a discussion forum, lesson plans that may connect you to the way texts are viewed by instructors, homepages of programs in different states, our CLTL newsletters, and links to outside sources. Take some time to explore the site. For those of you who are returning students, we hope that you will give us feedback on your experiences and help us develop the CLTL website into a place that serves your needs and helps you continue to stay connected.
Videos (may take a few moments to download):
CLTL student Rick Perry reflects on how the program helped him (video).