Shakespeare Saved My Life (Bates) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently debating the constitutionality of capital punishment and life without parole for juvenile offenders. What is your opinion? Do you think that Larry, who came to prison at 17, should spend the rest of his life behind bars?|

2. What kinds of conditions are appropriate for violent offenders? Do you agree that long-term solitary confinement is, as judged by Human Rights Watch, inhumane? What about solitary confinement for juveniles, as Larry experienced starting at the age of ten, described in Chapter 15 (“Supermax Kid”)?

3. Is rehabilitation possible? What evidence can prove a prisoner’s rehabilitation? Do you think that Larry is rehabilitated?

4. Research has shown that higher education results in lowered recidivism and is, therefore, cost-efficient use of tax dollars: it is cheaper to educate than to incarcerate. But are prisoners deserving of higher education? Should their education be funded by tax dollars or by the prisoners themselves…or some other way? Should all prisoners have this opportunity, including lifers?

5. A teacher’s ultimate accomplishment is when his or her student becomes a teacher, passing on the lessons learned. What lessons did Larry learn from Dr. Bates? Do you  think that he was a good teacher in prison—and do you believe that he would be a good teacher in society if given the chance?

6. Would most husbands be as supportive of their wife’s prison work as Allan was? Why or why not? Would you support such work done by your own spouse?

7. In what ways was the work of Dr. Bates with prisoners grounded in her parents’ experiences as war refugees and immigrants? Do you think, as she does, that they would have approved of her work? Why or why not? Was she right to keep it a secret from them?

8. Both Larry and Dr. Bates accepted a number of challenges in their work. What are some of these challenges—and how did they face them?

9. “This prison doesn’t matter,” says Larry referring to the prison of concrete and steel. Breaking out of habitual patterns of self-destructive thinking can be more damaging and more difficult to break out of. How did Larry break those chains, with the help of Shakespeare?

10. Larry feels that we create our own personal prisons, and the author has identified a few of hers throughout the book. Do you feel that they both successfully overcame their own prisons?

11. Every one of the prisoners in the Shakespeare group said that he wanted to make a positive contribution to society despite his transgressions. What kinds of contributions are prisoners uniquely able to provide?

12. Macbeth said that he dared not to look on it (his murder) again, but Larry did. The book states that getting convicted killers to look on their crime (i.e., to examine the reasons for the offense) is a key to keeping them from killing again. Why do you think that is so important?

13. Acknowledging responsibility for his crime—as Larry has done—is considered to be an essential ingredient for demonstrating rehabilitation. Why do you think that is so?

14. Look at the following three chapters and consider how you would have reacted.

Chapter 6 – Newton’s In
Chapter 25 – The Shower (Me)
Chapter 26 – All Hands On Deck

15. Think about the Shakespeare plays you have read (or read a new one) and consider the ways in which you can find personal relevance in the four-hundred-year-old text. Do one, or more, of the characters have any traits that you have? Does he or she face a challenge that you have faced? Are there relationships among two or more of the characters that are similar in some ways to your own relationships?

16. What are your own personal prisons—and how can you overcome them?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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