Friday, November 27, 2009

Criminal Thinking 2

What I'm reading: Feel the Heat, by Cindy Gerard.

I'm continuing the repeats of my Nov. 2008 series on Criminal Thinking, taken from my workshop notes. See last week's entry here.

A brief recap: Malinowski defines "criminal" as someone who lives a lifestyle of crime. To a criminal, the usual boundaries of authority don't apply.

In his presentation, Malinowski also stressed the difference between cause and influence. For example, poverty does not cause crime, but it definitely influences it. For Malinowski, the personal motivation that gives meaning to his job stems from his belief that a criminal has three basic choices.

1. Continue the life of crime. This will result in the criminal returning to prison, dying on the streets, or dying in prison.

2. Suicide. Not a recommendation but nonetheless, still a 'choice'. Fear keeps most criminals from suicide.

3. Change. Must be deep change. Without deep change, there is only slow death, so change becomes a "life vs. death" choice.

Malinowski's goal is to help offenders see the need for change, and to give them the tools they need to effect it.

A quick statistic: 97% of incarcerated people get out of prison. (Often many times,) Only 3% die in prison, either by the death penalty, of natural causes, or at the hand of other prisoners. In the Florida system, there are 100,000 inmates, and 129,000 who are out "under supervision."

Malinowski suggested that the next time you go to eat at a restaurant like Denny's, or Applebees, or TGI Friday's, you take a look around the back. Are there bicycles parked there? Odds are good that these belong to people who are recently out of prison, perhaps on a work release program. Since they can't hold a driver's license, they'll bike to work.

He told us of receiving a phone call (by law, they're required to answer all telephone calls from prisoners so they can't claim they tried to get in touch with them but couldn't reach them) from a recently released inmate. He went on and on about how he'd gotten with the program, had a place to live (girlfriend), checked in with a parole officer, and had a job lined up (graphic artist) that would pay him $1700. Malinowski didn't recall the name, so he looked it up in the prison computer system. The guy had been arrested 22 times, and had been in prison 5 times. He was calling because he needed $80 to rent the airbrush equipment so he could do the job and get paid, and to him, the easiest and fastest way to the money was to call the instructor of the Life Skills class.

One side note – why the picture of the binder clips? The stacks of class handouts were fastened with these clips. After unclipping them to pass them out, David's colleague automatically hooked the clips together and put them in his pocket, whereas we would probably just leave them on the table. Why? Because if you remove the prongs from the clip, they'll unlock a pair of handcuffs.

Along those lines, Nike once manufactured some elite shoes with chrome tips on the laces (anyone know the correct term for those tips? I did, which was my moment of fame in the class) which also were perfect for unlocking cuffs.


Elena said...

I'm sorry, but Malinowski is doing more harm than good by using common human characteristics and calling them a way to define criminals. I can easily think of many people who are high functioning, not criminals, and exhibit many or even most of these characteristics. In my town if you see that bunch of bikes it's because there is a culture of bike riding being good for the planet, even in the middle of winter in snow. The buses have bike racks on them. And, the same goes for every point he made. He's not describing criminals, he's describing people.

Terry Odell said...

Elena, as I (and Malinowski) stated, which I put in part 1, these are generalizations. Everyone has a vast set of characteristics. However, he deals with the criminal element, and those he sees tend to have another way of 'thinking'. Not that we don't all have bits and pieces of everything.

Of course, if your town has a high number of cyclists, you'll see more bikes.

As the series continues (if you're willing to read), he gives many other examples. And, he does point out that most of the ways criminals think (remember - his pool is the penal system) are very much the way children think -- but most children outgrow the "me" centric outlook on life.

Carol Kilgore said...

I think Zero State could also be applied to people who are depressed. I've known people like that. The difference is they didn't break rules like a criminal would.

Tamika: said...

There are so many elements to the criminal it's scary to imagine the innerworkings of their mind.

Interesting post Terry.

Terry Odell said...

Carol, just like with writing any characters, sterotypes are not good. But seeing the characteristics as possibilities that might motivate someone to become a criminal (and from last week's post, Malinowski is referring to those who are in the justice system, and are more likely than not to be repeat offenders) helps write more accurate and less cardboard characters.

It's one thing for a child to say, "well, don't spank me because I only ate ONE piece of candy, not the whole box". It's an entirely different thing when the sex offender says he only abused a few of the children at the day care center, so he's not really a "bad" person.

G. Miki Hayden said...


Interesting--well done--but here's my niggle:

"To a criminal, the usual boundaries of authority don't apply."

Uh, when you live in a criminal society--and that's to be determined by sharper minds within that society--then why should the boundaries of authority apply? If you're living in North Korea, for instance, and don't comply with the state, are you a criminal?

I ponder my Roumanian friend who was in the army there during the Communist period. He was in an anti-terrorist unit. What, to the government was terrorism? Could it have been freedom fighters in our definition?

As we ourselves are perhaps slidding into an increasingly confined, even authoritarian, system here in the West--hey, watch MI-5, if you don't believe me--we need to begin to consider what authorities we must, in the end, follow.

Our own greatest thinkers looked at these questions--remember the Founding Fathers?

At any rate, I do know the difference between a criminal and a person who follows some higher law, but I believe we have to look into such matters in today's bizarre and rather frightening political and economic situation.

Elena said...

Generalizations are dangerous. If what he believes is general then it explains why developmentally disabled people are routinely jailed in spite of having done nothing worse than to be different as per his "list".

Don't think I'm willing to read anymore. He has stated his beliefs. He's not the only one who has dealt with the "criminal" element. There is much written out there that is more to the point.

Terry Odell said...

I'm merely presenting fodder here, and I don't mind discussion. I don't find fault with the opening premise he's made, which is that if someone's in the prison system and wants to get out, he will probably have to change the behavior that got him in there.

The workshop didn't address whether or not the criminal was incarcerated for the 'right' or 'wrong' reason. Merely that he was there.

This was not a workshop on the system that puts people behind bars. It was what one man found as a way to keep them from returning. It's required that anyone up for release go through a program to attempt to transition them into the outside world, and this is one man's system.

I'm looking at this as a writer, not a cop or corrections officer, and that's my own perspective. Others are welcome.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Very, very interesting, Terry. This is exactly what I like doing--figure out what some of these guys are thinking and how that might help me write my mysteries. Thanks for sharing.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by.

Finding what motivates a character is crucial in having them come across as three-dimensional beings.

Anonymous said...

Having visited the maximum security Oklahoma State Prison situated here in our hometown, I've learned that rules inside are more stringent and the penalties more severe than in society. Example: a specific bench in the exercise yard "belongs to" a certain group. Anyone else who sits there can be beaten or stabbed for defying this unpublished, unannounced "law." If criminals realized how much easier it is to learn and obey society's more logical rules, they would be more inclined to avoid incarceration.

Katie Reus said...

I really enjoyed your post Terry. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing your notes :)

Terry Odell said...

Anon - thanks for the input. There is a strict infrastructure inside a prison, isn't there.

Katie - glad you're enjoying the series.

Anonymous said...

If you take into consideration that crime is nothing more than an expression of the will, (whether it's that of the individual or a group)in it's attempt to satisfy a desire or want of the entity that possesses it. Inside the Crimial Mind was written by Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D.
On p.168 he writes,"He sincerely believes that any sin he might have committed is more than compensated for by the good that he has done".
p.217,"At the heart of this program the premise that man can choose between good and evil".
p.255 "there are only three paths - Crime,Change, or suicide.
p.256 "My presentation often strikes an especially responsive chord in priests, ministers, and rabbis who have an interest in the philosophy and practice of the criminal justice system. One minister said to me withsome excitement,"This is so old, that it's new. It's all in the Bible"."
I read this back in 1997. The fact that every day people are implicated in both the book and program Malinowski teaches is because they're the same program. Sinners are not criminals in a secular society. Also, it's just a new coat of paint on an old house. In a religous context you could say that he is a preacher of his belief in the book. It's like I said to a psychotherapist that I met. I told her that she was a soul doctor. The secular version of a priest. Psyche being the greek word for soul. I just noticed that if you play the record backwards you can here rape the soul. I thought it was kinda funny.
Now I'll show you why religion is so messed up. If you take the fact that the program was unbiased in regards to the difference between a sinner and a criminal, You can plainly see that Mr. Malinowski can't possibly grasp the reality of the stuff he's shoveling. And I Quote! "He gave one interesting example. If you or I (assuming your not a criminal thinker - I can only speak for myself here!)" Am I wrong in assuming that he can't or is unwilling to accept the fact that he's human and therefore not perfect? He's the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. He's no different than the typical bible thumper who blindly believes what they are told or hear. Faith cometh by hearing, unless you read it instead. Half a book is only half the story, and as we all know, there are two sides to every story. He just does'nt realize it. Knowing something only requires you to be told something, it does'nt require that you realize it. Here is a simple test that you can use to check the actual sanity level of any indiviual. As was posted by, I think his name was karl or something like that. Insanity in the legal concept is not knowing the difference between right and wrong at a specific time. Ask anyone if they know the difference, and they will say, yes. Then ask them what it is and you'll be surprised to find out that they really don't. If you remember that criminals "rarely give straight answers to even simple, direct questions." A simple answer to a simple question only requires you to spit it out, so don't beat around the bush.
Needless to say I could write a book on the subject. But, some of us are not writers.
I sincerely hope that I offend noone. And if I do, remember what you said. The truth hurts.