Is It the Thinking?
The Roots of Violence
● “Crime is a product of the way a criminal thinks,” said Dr. Stanton Samenow, a clinical psychologist and consultant in Alexandria, Virginia, in the interview. He was part of a team that spent seventeen years probing the criminal mind through countless interviews and efforts to rehabilitate hardened, often violent, criminals.
Why do you feel that environment and upbringing are not critical?
Most poor people are not criminals. Many well-to-do are. Most minorities are not criminals, and many who are majorities are. Over half of the criminals we dealt with came from stable homes. Usually they had brothers or sisters or neighbors living under the same conditions who did not take a path of crime.
Are you saying that changing the environment is not enough?
Yes. Crime does not stop if you clear the slums. Crime resides in the minds of men, not in the slums. Changing the environment does not change the inner person. Even the Bible says, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7, Authorized Version) A criminal’s pattern of thinking must be changed.
What did you find were the most consistent thinking errors?
Of course the criminal did not consider them as such. But in The Criminal Personality we listed fifty-two faulty thinking patterns. Among the most consistent were (1) The view that the world is theirs to take whatever they want, whenever they want it. (2) The ability to cut off fear. They are superoptimistic. Fear of injury, getting caught or even a nagging conscience is simply cut off for the moment. (3) No sense of teamwork. If nine criminals were on a baseball team, each would think he is the captain. (4) They think in extremes—either they are Number One or Zero.
How do you change the thinking?
The individual has to want to change. You try to approach him when he is at a low. Perhaps he has been locked up or is about to lose his family. Instead of asking about his upbringing, making him feel as if he were a helpless victim of circumstances, we respectfully tell him how rotten his life is. We try to enhance his self-disgust.
What positive ideals do you teach?
The need of total commitment. Do not blame others. As one criminal who was making some progress said, ‘I used to think that if my parents had given me more love, I wouldn’t be a criminal, but now I wonder if being the kind of son I was made them that way.’ “I can’t” was replaced with “I must.” We taught empathy for others.
What prevents a return to crime?
We taught them to become their own critics—to take stock continually of whether their thinking is morally right. This continual moral inventory is the most important deterrent.
How successful have your efforts been?
After developing and refining our procedures, we worked closely with thirty hard-core criminals between 1970 and 1976. Of these, thirteen changed completely and are law-abiding citizens.