Shakespeare Saved My Life
Shakespeare Saved My Life Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard By Bates, Laura Book Club Kit - 2013

Hmm. The murderer of a college student comes to a greater knowledge of himself, and resolves to never kill again after being exposed to Shakespeare in prison. I greatly admire Laura Bates' courageous dedication to her incarcerated students, and I think she makes a good argument for better educational opportunities for inmates. I also agree that the liberal arts are potentially far more life changing and contribute more to success than "practical" job or vocational programs. And it's certainly true that men who have experienced killing and solitary confinement can bring unique insights to the characters of Macbeth or Claudius or Richard II beyond that of the typical coddled suburban undergrad.

And yet, and yet... I was not convinced that studying Shakespeare promoted any personal growth in these men, nor did I see evidence that Larry, the central protagonist was as intellectually gifted as Ms. Bates believes. And whatever his scholarly gifts, where is the moral anguish over taking a young innocent life? Although Larry declares firmly that he will never kill again, there is little sense of remorse or a need to make amends, and Larry remains thoroughly self -centered.

The most hopeful chapter by far described performances and Shakespeare lessons Bates and Larry prepare for troubled high school kids. While I don't feel that literature, or education in general are "wasted" on inmates, how much better would we all be had they been given the chance to wrestle with these spiritually and intellectually challenging texts earlier in life, before it all went irretrievably wrong?

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