Class aims to change the way criminals think, behave

SEATTLE -- "This is the second apology I’ve done in a week,” said a convicted criminal, sitting in a classroom in south Seattle. “You guys are killing me!”

He was having trouble with the lesson that day -- an exercise in how to better respond to anger.

“You’re making it a bigger deal than it is,” said the man sitting next to him -- a felon who found himself in the class after getting caught up in drugs and alcohol.

“I don’t want to make the same mistake again, so I think a lot of it has to do with the thought process and how you deal with everyday life occurrences,” he said.

That man, along with other ex-offenders under the supervision of the State Department of Corrections, are required to take the course. Called “Thinking for a Change,” it teaches offenders to better react to situations they face in their everyday lives.

“What we’re doing now is restructuring their thinking process. When we’re dealing with offenders, one of the issues for them is how to handle their thoughts, their feelings, their attitudes, and beliefs,” said Lonnie Taylor, who used to teach the course for DOC.

“They’ve been built on their feelings so much, now they’re like, 'Hey I can think a little better. I can see a little clearer.'"

The course has helped former criminals rebuild their lives.

Hernandez, who didn’t want to use his first name, was convicted of two counts of residential burglary and one count of possessing a stolen vehicle. He got a chance to avoid prison time in favor of community supervision -- a “second chance” he said helped him turn his life around to raise his daughter.

As part of his sentence, Hernandez was required to take “Thinking for a Change.”

“Most of the guys that were in the class with me had problems with babies' mommas, the mother,” he said.

It was a problem he struggled with as well.

“I don’t like showing aggression toward her, so my thing is just walk away.”

But before the class?

“I probably would have been yelling back at forth. She’s going at me and I’m going at her.”

He said the class has helped him avoid behaviors that could put him back on the wrong path. He’s now going to school full-time and hopes to get into computer science.

Nicholas Aliabadi also graduated from the course after being convicted of a felony. He now works at a computer repair shop in Seattle's Sodo district.

“There were some things like basic social skills that I definitely picked up while I was in there,” he said. “Like how to negotiate better with people, and how to not get angry with certain things.”

The class is part of efforts to rehabilitate offenders and reduce rates of recidivism.

“The reason we offer programs, whether it’s education, chemical dependency, or sex offender treatment, is to reduce the likelihood that when they get out they’re going to harm somebody,” DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke told Q13 News in a recent interview. “These very people are going to sit next to our children on a bus, or are going to walk next to them in a shopping mall. So the reason we invest in programs is not so much for the particular offenders, but it’s in order to ensure we have greater success when they leave prison and hopefully become taxpayers and no longer burden the system and on top of that don’t create any new victims. That’s why we invest in them.”