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Here are the stories of a dozen men on probation from the busiest criminal court in Massachusetts who met together on a college campus for three months to read and talk about Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Bill Russell, as well as Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, and other authors who write about major life changes ”not only issues that have gotten probationers in trouble, such as anger and violence, substance abuse, or family breakdown, but also background problems like poverty and racism, the need for social justice, the weakening of community bonds, and the thinning of spiritual sustenance. Changing Livespresents its students with two challenges: personal self-examination in the reflective mirror of literary experience and group participation in a democratic classroom in which civic virtues are fostered by being exercised. Probationers see themselves in the characters they read about, and they acquire new attitudes as they talk with one another about their own plight. The classroom promotes respect for other voices and points of view, and they learn to take each other seriously in new ways. Changing Livesprovides a safe haven for reflection and earnest conversation, in which students no longer have to bluff or be cool, guarded, or evasive. Self-esteem grows as they discover they can hold their own in heartfelt debate, not just street corner banter. And because the classroom puts them on equal footing with authority figures ”teachers, probation officers, and even judges ”a new social awareness begins to emerge. The goal is partly to validate one "s personal worthiness and partly to build a new citizenly identity to replace the labels they have always been stuck with. Reawakening moral consciousness and a fresh commitment to society is essential if probationers are not to cycle endlessly through the limbo of street life and jail time.