How Poetry Can Lower Recidivism

Students admitted to a restorative justice program often must attend an educational seminar, which we at Vantage Pointe provide. These courses aim to improve decision-making skills, including how to avoid using drugs or alcohol. The seminar opens with an analysis and discussion of a poem that addresses the complexities, including the emotions, that attend a crucial decision, possibly a life-changing one.

Poetry works great for this purpose because poems recreate so beautifully universal human experiences. They also tend to transcend judgment, allowing the reader to reflect more freely on past choices and to learn from them. 

We like to use Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” because teens find it both accessible and personally revealing. Through close examination of its meaning, they come to more deeply understand their own lives’ challenges. 

This understanding invites the student to take a more sympathetic look at themselves given those challenges, but it also shows how they can move on. At the end of the poem, the speaker reflects, “I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.”

The speaker, the “I,” in the poem implies that we avoid the road less traveled because it is hard, but also that only that hardness can temper our characters. The “sigh” with which he or she “shall be telling” their story comes from recalling the “slings and arrows,” as Shakespeare put it, that s/he had endured as consequences for their decision. Going through Teen Court or Sentencing Circles is just such a choice. These programs are hard, but meeting their demands can make “all the difference” in the future of a child, even into adulthood. Teens get that.


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