Literature class a service alternative for some county offenders

Going before a judge in a courtroom with a probation officer by your side generally means that you have offended society and need to pay the price.

On Thursday, three men had a good experience in Lycoming County court: they were recognized for completing the county’s “Changing Lives Through Literature” program.

Two more men graduated but could not attend the ceremony.

Changing Lives Through Literature is an alternative to community service. The group met every two weeks for two hours to discuss books they’d read by Elie Wiesel, Russell Banks, Walter Mosley and others.

“I was teaching English and went back to practicing law – I really love literature and was trying to find some way I could combine the two,” said Angela Lovecchio, a city attorney who started the program here. “We started this last spring with the women.”

The group met at Madigan Library at Pennsylvania College of Technology and included Judge Marc Lovecchio, adult probation Officer Jeff Whiteman and Eugene McAvoy, Penn College’s dean of academic services.

Having “authority” figures in the room changed participants’ views of the people attached to the titles.

“With the judge being here, we get to know he’s a normal person and he talks to us like he’s one of us,” Eugene Blase said. “He’s here to guide us in the right direction.”

“I get 20 minutes in the office with my probation officer, and they have how many hundred guys? They don’t know you,” Jon Roberts said. “I think all the officers should have to do this program.”

Like many a discussion class, the books read generated broad, honest and sometimes impassioned debate.

At their last session, Anna Quindlen’s “Black and Blue” begat a conversation about power and its abuse. “Anybody who gets power, whether it’s a judge or parole officer, at some point uses power to their advantage,” Roberts said.

“If your viewpoint of power is such that everybody abuses it, then there’s no hope – no hope for our society if I don’t have integrity as a judge,” Marc Lovecchio said.

Then the conversation ranged over old questions of action and intent if its abuse if a cop doesn’t write a citation because he knows the motorist is a judge and turned to what men do when their ego is bruised.

Those who completed the class said it was fruitful.

“I wanted to try something new and see what I got out of the program,” Jeff Stahl said. “If you do what you’re supposed to do on probation, you won’t have problems – if you don’t show up it’s a different story.”

“This gives you insight at what you’ve been through and what you’ve done,” Roberts said. “Everybody thinks their lives are horrible and can’t get any worse – people are way worse off than you are.”

Partial funding for books was covered by the Lycoming Law Association, and anyone wishing to donate to the program can contact the adult probation office.