Brain landscapes and Crime

 Brain Change, which is now available for purchase.

Unraveling the Mystery Of Criminal Behavior.

This article asserts the use of incarceration as punishment is inappropriate and incapable of addressing the causes of criminal behavior.  The present day Punishment Model is obsolete and inflicts additional damage to those caught in its web.  I was incarcerated for more than seven thousand days and lived the constant, daily absurdity of incarceration.  I was forced to interact with a common fearful and rule focused prison staff.  My research and my prison experiences are the foundation for this article.  

In place of incarceration as punishment, I am promoting a neurological approach, a Brain Care model focused on repairing damaged brains which are the major cause of behavior.  Prisoners’ neurological reflexes to events, whether true or imagined, are the source of their criminal behavior.  

The foundation for my Brain Care model is based on the discovery of brain plasticity by Michael Merzenich about thirty years ago.   Brain plasticity means the brain is strong enough to resist change but weak enough to be changed.  This plasticity offers an infinite number of brain developments and later brain changes.  It puts all behavior somewhere on a continuum not just either responsible or insane. Therefore, unraveling criminal behavior is complicated.

I was given a scholarship to attend college and upon graduating I was asked to teach Sociology to high school students prior to my accident.  At that time, no one would ever have expected me to end up in prison.  However, two months before that graduation, I was involved in a severe one car accident that bounced my brain around inside my skull.  My skull was shattered and I was unconscious for 7 days. My neurological landscape and its behavior were instantly changed.  My new neurological landscape reflexes produced chaotic, disruptive and antisocial responses.  Clearly, my brain’s neurological changes were the precursor to my criminal behavior.

After my car accident I immediately left my wife, had a series of arrests and quit my teaching post.  Next, I was sentenced by the new federal guidelines to two hundred and sixty-four months to a painful and meaningless life of punishment, as it was for most prisoners.  

As a philosophy student I read Camus’ work where he tells about the Greek legend of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods for eternity to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again once he got it to the top.  This was a metaphor for the individual’s persistent struggle against the absurdity of life. For Sisyphus, then the only alternative was to rebel by rejoicing in the act of rolling the boulder up the hill and for me to choose to rejoice in living twenty-two years in federal prison.  The gods condemned Sisyphus to rolling the boulder for a lifetime and Judge Schbazz condemned me to a meaningless life for twenty-two years in prison, but neither the gods nor my judge could keep us from reframing our situations into a joyous adventure. 

That Greek legend inspired me to accept my own individual struggle against the absurdity of incarceration.  I began my joyous life by reading fifty pages of nonfiction everyday, focusing on neurology and learning about the effects of brain damage on behavior.  Living on the compound I found some common clues explaining our criminal behaviors, about myself and my fellow inmates. 

Being incarcerated as punishment inevitably creates bitter convicts.  Learning to reframe every moment of incarceration into a joyous worldview created better citizens.  We must understand that Brain Plasticity allows revisions of our brain’s neurological pathways.  We will repair our traumatized children, rather than cycling them through our courts, hospitals and prisons as punishment only to see them end up in a graveyard way too soon.  

Such transformations will also require recognizing and changing parenting, community cultures, institutional influences and the role of the media.  Our children come into the world without a worldview, but they catch their worldview from their experiences.  Thus, you and I are responsible for the brains we are creating on a daily basis.  Focusing on plasticity we can understand the importance of addressing criminal behavior neurologically through Brain Care Centers  

I am asking everyone interested to continue this conversation with me for implementing the Brain Care model for repairing damaged brains.

Thank you,

Lyle Wildes