Observations on Thinking Errors in USP Leavenworth Faith-based LCP
Closed Thinking Error--Doug Fencl
Doug Fencl is a retired FBI Special Agent. Among his many career assignments, he served the agency as an investigative polygraph examiner. After his retirement from the FBI, Doug graduated from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Since 2006, he has worked as a part-time contractor with the Leavenworth Life Connections Program.
This particular “thinking error” should be addressed first, since it is the primary obstacle to the change process, and the main impediment in dealing with the other thinking barriers. In general, the criminal has created a world view/belief system that promotes irresponsible behavior, and which is inconsistent with a responsible perception of reality. Questioning these erroneous suppositions can be a particularly difficult challenge, since the criminal views any disputation of his beliefs as a personal attack, and when confronted, will often respond in anger, blatant indifference, or the utilization of a myriad of tactics intended to shift the focus of any inquiry away from him. In short, the criminal thinker is not self-critical or self-reflective, and will often use any means possible to protect his self-made belief system that allows him to continue irresponsible/criminal behavior while still maintaining a good opinion of himself.
Our goal is to assist the criminal in becoming more receptive and self-critical by challenging his self-serving notions of reality. Lesson one under Closed Thinking in The Kingdom Thinking Series will demonstrate that there is only one reality created by God, and that any attempt to protect the errors of one’s own construct of reality is to live in a delusion which is antithetical to biblical truth. The antidote to closed thinking is honest self-reflection and openness to new points of view. The biblical concept of a “hardened heart” is synonymous with closed thinking in that each ignores advice, correction, and guidance, often viewing the aforementioned as an assault on the criminal’s already over inflated self-image.
Victim-Role Thinking Error--Kendall Hughes
Kendall Hughes has been a federal prison chaplain since 1998 after serving as a Church of the Nazarene pastor for three years and missionary for seven. Chaplain Hughes oversees the Life Connections Program at U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth, KS.
One of the common pitfalls for inmates is to believe they are victims of the system, of a poor upbringing or of someone who informed on them. They may focus on a perceived injustice or error in their conviction and claim it is the reason they are in prison. So if you ask them why they are in prison you might hear answers such as, “Someone ratted on me.” “I was just taking care of my family.” “I had to carry a weapon to defend myself…” In other words they present themselves as a victim of the system and don’t admit that they really did anything wrong. However, if you ask them the following question, you may get to the root of the reason society does not want them on the streets: “If a judge watched a video recording of every second of your life and your thoughts for ten years prior to your conviction, how many arrestable actions and thoughts of arrestable actions would she see?” Once they have answered this question, help them see that even though they may not have gotten caught doing all those things, if they don’t address those kinds of activities in their lives and eliminate the thinking that allows them to act that way, they will return to prison.
When they encounter difficulties they may think it is an excuse to give up on doing the right thing and go back to crime. Many who recidivate will tell you that they “tried” to do the right thing and, “tried” to get a job etc., but something went wrong. Difficulties that a responsible people would see as a setback or challenge to overcome are seen by our learners as an excuse to return to crime. Helen Keller once said, “Self-pity is the most useless of all emotions.” For our learners, it is a most dangerous emotion for it leads them to the thought, “Because I suffered this injustice, I deserve to get high, or drunk or the easy money of crime.” If we can help them to see self-pity as a dangerous feeling for them we can lessen the likelihood of relapse and recidivism.
"I’m Okay" Self-Image, Thinking Error--Kendall Hughes
In order to feel good about themselves while at the same time living a criminal lifestyle our students employ two facets of a superior self-image. The first facet is to focus on their personal good deeds. They may tell you they are really a good person, their gang was actually a community service organization or they tithed on their profits from selling drugs. It is not uncommon for them to justify their crime by saying, “I was supporting my family.” By this they may mean that they did pass some of the profit of crime back to their family, but fail to mention the large sums of money they spent on their own car, clothes, illicit relationships and addictions. A drug dealer may feel generous because he buys a burger for the neglected child of an addict he sells to. He focuses primarily on his good traits and actions, and feels that these balance out his occasional crime.
The religious criminals are especially adept at using this facet of the superior self-image. Their religious views are often concrete and legalistic and enhance rather than impede thinking errors and harmful actions. Because they have attained a degree of religious knowledge they can feel superior to anyone of a different viewpoint or who is less knowledgeable on that particular subject. They can even criticize and harm those who don’t share their beliefs and feel self-righteous for doing so.
The second facet of this thinking error is ignoring the harm they cause others. They bristle at being called a criminal. They will point out that they in fact love their children and would kill anyone who hurt one of them. All the while they neglect their children and spend more time with their “associates” than their family, and end up incarcerated and away from family responsibilities for years. Thus, what they call a love for their families is just sentimentality about children.
They may minimize pain they caused by equating hurting someone only with shedding blood. “I didn’t hurt her, I just raped her.” “I never would have shot them; I just pointed the gun so they would respect me.” Thus, they fail to acknowledge the emotional, financial and psychological ripple effect of their criminal acts.
Reckless Careless Attitude Thinking Error--Doug Fencl
The hallmark of this thinking error is the criminal does not consider the future negative consequences of his irresponsible/criminal actions as they relate to himself, his family, the victims of his crimes, or the community at large. The criminal’s thirst for the exciting and forbidden is often his singular focus, a kind of tunnel vision, which becomes so habitual, that his ability to empathize with others becomes severely diminished, and at times, seems non-existent. A thinking error of this nature leads to an apathetic attitude, an attitude that views a responsible life style as dull and unrewarding, culminating in his reluctance to engage in responsible activities which he considers boring or disagreeable. As one can well imagine, this type attitude, or world view, has no room for responsible obligation, either to family, friends, or community — obligation is tedious and tiresome, a complete contradiction to his lust for excitement and recklessness.
In order for the “reckless attitude” criminal to change, he must begin to appreciate the concepts of empathy, obligation, and self-control, each of which is a characteristic of a Christian life style. In short, the criminal has to begin to comprehend that a reckless attitude is essentially an ego trip in which his own misguided priorities (excitement regardless of consequences) are in opposition to biblical teachings, since inherent in this attitude are the sinful inclinations of no regard for one’s self, the other, the future, or God’s Kingdom.
The criminal, who professes to be a Christian, will need to understand that his reckless lifestyle is in discord with the way Jesus lived his life. The Christian life is a life of responsibility and obligation. A life devoid of either is reckless and sinful. This lesson will emphasize the importance of self-control which manifests itself in responsibility and obligation, the story of Christ’s mission on earth being the example. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), or the Parable of the Reckless Servant, will be an example of irresponsible actions by a servant who shirked his obligations, the result of which is banishment - hell.
Instant Gratification Thinking Error--Doug Fencl
This thinking error is basically the “I want it now” mentality, coupled with a decision making process that utilizes feelings instead of facts as a precursor for subsequent irresponsible behavior. The criminal often lacks patience, and believes that success should be a short term endeavor. This thinking error is often the reason for the criminal’s choice to not live a responsible life which requires an attitude of endurance and an appreciation for long term planning. The criminal wants his desires, often dictated by feelings, to be met immediately, while exerting as little effort as possible in the process. If any task becomes too difficult, the criminal will frequently quit, blaming persons or circumstances for his failures. The criminal’s failure to complete his education, his failure to hold a job, and a string of unsuccessful personal relationships are many times consequences of a “fast and easy” life style that is devoid of patience, endurance, and long term planning.
As with the other thinking errors, the criminal has lived so long with a “fast and easy” view of reality, he has little, if any, appreciation for the concepts of patience and endurance, his feelings, rather than facts, are regularly the impetus for his rashness in making decisions. The criminal must begin to understand that his past failures, including prison, can often be directly linked to an attitude of instant gratification, an attitude that is contrary to biblical truth which esteems patience and endurance. Given the opportunity, and an attitude of openness, the criminal should be able to connect his incarceration, and many of his current problems, with his “I want it now” attitude.
The biblical remedy for a “fast and easy” attitude are the concepts of patience and endurance. Patience is the ability to build toward the future, make decisions based on facts/faith rather than emotions/feelings, and to endure a trying situation by understanding rather than reacting. If patience is “the fruit of the Spirit” as described by Paul, then the opposite of patience, or the works of the flesh which Paul condemns, is instant gratification, and letting feelings rather than truth control one’s decisions. The parable of the Prodigal Son will be used to illustrate the aforementioned remedial concepts of endurance, patience, and facts over feelings.
Fear of “Losing Face” Thinking Error--Chaplain Kendall Hughes
Many of a criminal’s irresponsible actions and thoughts are connected to fear in some way. This is not always obvious because he may refuse to admit his fears and come across as super-optimistic, over confident or even arrogant. Consider the inmate who dropped out of High School not wanting to face the difficult assignments and yet claims, “I’m writing a book that is going to make me rich and famous.” This refusal to face their fears is evidence of the depth of their insecurity. For example, while a responsible person may feel nervous about a job interview, they will recognize this fear and discuss it with a friend. Our learners, on the other hand, may choose to avoid the fear of rejection by finding a myriad of reasons not to even apply for a job.
Their fear of losing face stems from insecurity. They don’t want to be revealed as something less than the image they are trying to maintain. Their thinking exaggerates the consequences of taking on a new task or job and being exposed as somewhat less than brilliant. They may not have attained some of the basic accomplishments our society would consider important for success. But instead of admitting this, they cover the perceived inadequacy by intimidating others, showing super optimism, or unrealistic expectations.
Since their self worth is not based on solid accomplishments, they can quickly deflate into an exaggerated sense of worthlessness and helplessness. When a flaw or weakness is pointed out in their plans they can go to the other extreme and threaten to give up on any responsible solution. This is not so much a genuine depression or humility, but rather self-pity. The outcome may be that they claim helplessness, saying they can’t reach a responsible solution. When in reality they are saying they won’t reach for a responsible solution because they are afraid of a failure which to them means losing face.
The responsible answer to fear is not the absence of fear, but the courage to face our fears. Our learners can be helped by seeing that God works through caring people whom they can trust to help them. These are friends to whom they can admit their fears without being belittled or seen as weak. Consequently they can receive advice and even criticism from these trusted friends and see it as helpful input rather than a devastating put down.
Power Control Thinking Error--Ron Smith
Ron Smith is a retired Commander from Kansas City, MO. Police Department. For a number of years now, Ron has spent over thirty hours a week as an instructor with the Leavenworth Life Connections Program, and volunteers as a Prison Alpha leader inside the U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth.
Power and control is a thinking error manifested in the person who feels compelled to dictate the circumstances of any situation they may encounter. We are by nature social creatures and, as such, we need and seek to have relationships with others. The criminal personality, however, struggles with the concept of responsible relationships, and will often attempt to pursue and maintain relationships only within the parameters he defines for his own selfish advantage. Controller tactics include, but are not limited to, anger, violence, intimidation, threatening, aggression, cynical attitudes, silence, and general bullying; which are all ways to manipulate and control others. As an example, an offender may goad someone into a verbal or physical confrontation because he enjoys fighting for power (the issue is secondary.) He gains gratification from provoking people into emotional or irrational responses but is quick to claim provocation by others when challenged.
The common objective of these offenders is domination and subjugation. What varies is the means and intensity by which these are pursued; i.e. the way in which anger and/or violence is expressed. The motivation for the “controller” is self-interest, self-aggrandizement, and self-preservation, even if it means committing criminal or arrestable offenses. The “controller” is insensitive, exploitive, deceptive, critical, uncooperative, and unwilling to reciprocate positive gestures. In short, anger, lying and manipulation become the behavioral norm for the controller, the excitement garnered from the acts of control feeding his need for power.
The “controller” is adept at avoiding acceptance of responsibility by denial, trivialization, counterattack and feigning victimhood. When called to account, the “controller” views it as provocation and justification for anger and retaliation. As can be readily seen, the criminal’s need to control is extremely detrimental to meaningful, interpersonal relationships, and the criminal’s desire for power and control negates the empathy required for responsible relationships. Correctives may include, choosing to let go of control, empathy and cooperating even when at a disadvantage.
Possessive Attitude Thinking Error--Ron Smith
“It’s mine,” reflects the possessive attitude, and is a frequent belief among criminal thinkers. They view themselves as entitled to claim any property, place, and/or person(s) as their own possession. This peculiar thinking barrier is a common trait which selfish and conceited offenders display, in that they put themselves and their needs at the forefront. They give heed to their priorities, their goals, and care little about whom else might be affected in the process. They do not subscribe to the “Live and Let Live” philosophy, but rather, substitute it with a strong attitude of “me first, by any means necessary.” Strategies may include being manipulative, scheming and plotting, in an attempt to satisfy their desires. However, intimidation, coercion, and physical violence might also be employed to help the offender get what he thinks is rightfully his. One may see this attitude in street gang members or organized crime figures that lay claim to a neighborhood or community, including everything and everyone in it, as “my turf.” The possessive thinker may also assume that any woman he’s sexually attracted to is his for the taking. This sense of ownership is an expression of the control function. These people seem to have a great inherent desire to control situations and people and are unwilling to reach compromises with others.
The offender with the possessive attitude trait is highly self-centered and self-obsessed. Even in the most pedestrian interaction with others, this trait is seen in their choice to not consider the feelings of others. It becomes their earnest desire to be seen and heard more than anyone else thus, making them oblivious to the opinions, suggestions, and advice of others. Most conversations they indulge in pertain and turn back to themselves.
Personal relationships are conspicuously problematic for this person. The compulsion to control and dominate others leads to an abusive situation in which the offender has little respect for the rights, property, and privileges of others. Moreover, the offender has little compassion and frequently uses the ownership trait as a tool to help them feel powerful by exploiting others. There is little, if any reciprocity in the relationship. “You belong to me,” is not an uncommon refrain for the possessive thinker.
The criminal’s possessive attitude is revealed in an overriding sense of entitlement, his rights, desires, and objectives preempt those of others. In short, he believes “the world owes it to me.”
Superior Uniqueness Thinking Error--Ron Smith
The uniqueness thinker is the offender who believes he is superior to others in areas where this is clearly not the case. He perceives himself as fundamentally different from others and above their authority and rules. He believes his “one of a kind” status is not something others can comprehend or appreciate. If they don’t accept his justification for special privileges or exemption from the rules it is because they are merely ordinary. At the same time he has excessive expectations of others. If others don’t live up to his unrealistic standards then he feels justified in discounting them.
Self-promoting and defending themselves against losing face are central to their being. It’s not unusual for a uniqueness thinking inmate, with minimal formal education and limited life/world experience, to challenge educators or other skilled professionals by professing, “You may be educated but that doesn’t make you smarter than me.” They may rebel at performing what they perceive as mundane and insignificant tasks which are “below” them. Rejecting constructive assistance and helpful advice is commonplace because they always know better. Any emotions, grandiose plans, thoughts and opinions are valid and true because they flow from them.