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Joseph Reardon

Barnstable Men's Program

Judge Joseph Reardon

When Presiding Barnstable Judge Joseph Reardon heard about Changing Lives Through Literature from Judge Robert Kane, he remembered his own Freshman Literary Seminar at Brandeis University with fondness. A lover of books, culture, and music, Reardon set about starting a CLTL program at Barnstable District Court. Since 1995, 12 cycles of seminars have been held at Cape Cod Community College and, according to Probation Officer Hank Burke, Reardon has a "near perfect attendance record."

Burke said that "before warehousing someone in a correctional facility, Judge Reardon wants to try every alternative. He puts his money where his mouth is." In Reardon's experience, "when we put someone behind bars, we're doing nothing to address this person's soul. We don't change them. We aren't changing anything. The biggest problem in penology today is that, until people internalize changes, locking them up doesn't work."

Reardon finds a common thread in the minds of the men who come before him regularly: "Most of the men are self-centered outside of their own pleasure at the moment. We're use to communal thinking. They don't have families or extended families. They're not used to thinking of themselves in community." Discussing literature helps to change that. "I'm in awe of the group dynamic, which encourages this metamorphosis from an unthinking state of existence to a realization of the greater world outside," said Reardon.

During the seminar discussion, the men are free to express anger, fear, love, jealousy, resentment. "There's a transference at some point in time; the class starts taking on a life of its own. The men stop saying 'he' and start saying 'I.' It's incredible when people start talking about why I hit her, why I'm a boozer--everyone starts to identify." Reardon recalls one group talking about the rape scene in Deliverance, when a "talkative young man fell absolutely silent." The next week he started talking about being seriously abused as a child; given the man's background and associates, it was probably the only time and space he'd ever had to talk about it.

The constant message Reardon tries to pass on is that each person controls his own attitude; each person decides how they should live. "Nobody can make you feel inferior unless you allow them to. You can't control how people see you but you can control how you react to that. Attitude is 90% of life, 10% is what happens to you, 90% is what you do about it."

The message seems to stick. "It's wonderful," says Reardon, "you can literally see them changing their thought processes. If this program starts off with ten men - if we can change one of these men - it's well worth it. I submit that three or four or five are regularly changed and in a significant way. The cost of program is miniscule compared to incarceration."

Reardon, whose favorite CLTL books include Old Man and the Sea and To Kill a Mockingbird, looks forward to his continuing involvement in this "exciting adventure."

Applying CLTL to the Drug Courts
The Imperative Role of the Judge
Introductory Remarks for a CLTL-Conference Juvenile Panel Discussion
The Role of the Community Judge
Sentencing Defendants to Read
Why Changing Lives Through Literature is Beneficial to Judges and Probation Officers

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