Thursday, July 17, 2008

Inside the Criminal Mind: Criminal Thinking, Part 1

Last night's class on "Inside the Criminal Mind" was fascinating and crammed full of information—much more than I can cover here, and definitely not in a single post. So, this may turn out to be a series. I took fast and furious notes, and the speaker provided handouts, but I'll say right up front that these are the facts as I understand them, and there might be places where I'm not spot-on. These are the facts and opinions as our speaker presented them, not necessarily mine. However, he's the expert, and most of what he said made perfect sense to me. As always, one can't make broad generalizations, and there are always exceptions. Feel free to ask questions.

Our speaker was David Malinowski, the Regional Transition Coordinator for the Florida Dept. of Corrections. He became interested in the field of criminal thinking after realizing that traditional approaches with education did not work in a prison classroom.

Anyone incarcerated in the Florida prison system is required to go through a course from the Transitional Life Skills Center, within 6 months of release to help transition them into the "responsible" world, which is the way Mr. Malinowski refers to what most of us consider the "outside" or the "free world." The class was designed to address myths and mistakes often made when dealing with a criminal population and what is required for true change to take place.

First, he spoke of sympathy for the victims, who get lost in the system. He referred to the need for the offenders (another term he uses) to understand that whatever they did hurts people. His goal is to lead them toward change, but change has to come from the offender. Nobody can force change on someone else.

If one can make a generalization, it's that the criminal mind works on the "rules don't apply to me" foundation.

According to Malinowski, Criminal Thinking is erroneous thinking that comes automatically out of fear, like a reflex, or is a reaction.

Thinking leads to Feeling leads to Behavior. Criminals live out of their feelings. They don't move past it to cognitive behavior.

We've all been cut off in traffic. We react emotionally at first (although if you live where I do, the tourist population with it's "I need to turn left here, and it doesn't matter that I'm in the right hand lane" style of driving tends to become commonplace enough so that natives are aware of it, look out for it, and let it slide).

Although those who are not desensitized to idiot drivers can curb their immediate reaction to do something to the driver of the car. As responsible thinkers, we might hit the horn or flip the bird, but we don't normally crash into his car or shoot him.

He went on to give three basic reasons for crime: Power, Control, and Excitement. And three areas of crime: Property, Assault, and Sex.

To a criminal thinker, information is power. They will collect facts which may or may not be useful at the time. But if they know something about you, that gives them power. Those working in the system don't (or shouldn't) keep family photos in their offices.

He gave one interesting example. If you or I (assuming you're not a criminal thinker—I can speak only for myself here!) stand in a classroom doorway for 15 seconds and look around, we're likely to notice things like gender and racial mix of the group, the instructor, who's looking at the instructor, etc. When the offender stands in the doorway, he's noticing who's got an open purse, the keys on someone's desk, who's got cigarettes, and even the classroom roster on the instructors computer screen.

The criminal sees his behavior as normal. He's probably done it dozens of times without being caught. There are probably very few real "first time offenders" in prison. They're there because it was the first time they were caught.

I think that's all for today. Check back tomorrow, and I'll continue.


Cindy K. Green said...

This is great Terry. I'll try to get back to find out what else you gleaned. ;)


Terry Odell said...

Glad you found it useful, Cindy. I'll keep sharing. It'll take a few days.

Melanie Atkins said...

Awesome, Terry. My youngest son got himself involved with the wrong crowd for a time, and brought home a couple of questionable people -- and I could see them as I read this. Assessing my house, looking for my purse, etc. Thank goodness he came to his senses and is now on the right road. That's scary stuff.

Terry Odell said...

It was a genuine eye-opener for me last night. I'm such an honest person, I have trouble believing everyone else isn't.

Ray said...

This looks like good information. I can't wait until tomorrow's input. Just finished a book about a stalker/killer who imagines his victim is in love with him. When he finds out they aren't they are teasing/lying. This blog helps my understanding of that dynamic. And I have a daughter who won't listen when told to keep her phone number off of My Space.


Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Ray. Glad you stopped by. Sounds a little like the character you're describing couldn't deal with it not being all about him.

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating stuff! Thank you for posting this! I'm looking forward to more.

There should be another category for writers--a subset of "Responsible Thinking." I don't know about you, but when I walk into, say, a classroom as described, I would first notice what everything looked like, and then the moods of people, who's uncomfortable, what the teacher's doing, if the windows are open, etc.

Looking forward to more! :)

Terry Odell said...

I think your point is well taken, am. sleuth. What we see in any situation will be filtered through our own mindset. We have to remember no two people will see things the same way. I'd never really considered what a criminal would pay attention to.

And it's ALL book fodder, isn't it!

Lee Lofland said...

Great post, Terry. I wish everyone would take the time to read it. I can't say I fully agree with each of your instructor's points (I was in the business for over twenty years). I think there's a middle category that falls between responsible and irresponsible. Still, he seems very, very sharp. Wish I could hear him speak.

The thing that impressed me the most is that he seems compassionate about the problems associated with criminal offenders. Most people do not realize there's often underlying problems that drives a person to commit a particular offense.

Terry Odell said...

Glad you popped over, Lee. As I said, I might not be reporting exactly what he intended me to understand (although most of today's post was simply verbatim from his handout). He had some interesting stories on how he regarded the prisoners in his classroom when he first started working on the program, and how much he learned as time went on.

Also, he's dealing with those who are on their way out of the system (often not for their first time). His goal is to affect change, and for the criminals, that's a 180 degree turnaround in their thinking.

And you were in law enforcement. He deals with the guys you caught, and he undoubtedly has a different filter for what he sees.

He'd be the first to admit there's no 'one size fits all' generalization, or that there won't be exceptions to anything he put forth.

I'll have some more stats and stories tomorrow. Please come back and give us your take.

Lee Lofland said...

Terry - I've definitely seen both sides. I started out working in the prison system (youthful offender and adult minimum, maximum, and medium security levels) for several years (Remember, I'm old :). So, I've had the unique experience of investigating the crime, arresting the suspects, putting them in jail and prison, and supervising and teaching them while they were incarcerated. Then I sent the ex-offenders back out on the street to possibly start the cycle all over again.

I've also witnessed an execution via electric chair, and I've shot and killed a bad guy during a shootout.

I'm looking forward to reading more of this post. This stuff is very interesting to me because I'm someone who believes jail is not always the answer.

Terry Odell said...

Lee, one thing on David's 'wish list' was a separate system for those convicted of crimes like DUI, substance abuse and other crimes at that level.

In Florida, at least, judges will often sentence a criminal to more than one year so that he's put in the state prison system instead of the county jail system, which frees up county money, but doesn't help the overcrowded prisons.

Annette said...

Great post, Terry. Thanks for sharing this info. I'm trying to get into the head of my antagonist and it's not a pleasant place to be. This helps me understand him a little better.

I will check back tomorrow.

Jude Mason said...


A really interesting and informative post. Reading it, I kept nodding, realizing I knew a good deal of it but didn't know I did. Criminals have to think differently than those of us outside the system. If they thought the same way, they couldn't do what they do and live with themselves. I'll definitely be back for more.

Terry Odell said...

Annette, Jude - It's always fascinating to have new insights -- writing fodder is everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terry,
This is the first time I have ever read any of your posts and really don't blog much, however I did spend some time in prison and for a substance abuse problem at that. And maybe I was a criminal before but once I left prison i knew so much more on HOW to be a better one!