Lamar’s quest to promote rehabilitation and change among America’s inmate population
July 5, 2012 1 Comment
Lamar Culpepper resides in Statesville, North Carolina. He has a unique and refreshing perspective on the American justice system as well as the areas that demand reform. This is in part because of his first-hand experiences with it. His first-born son, Dominic, was arrested for the murder of another teenager when he was barely 14 years old. Dominic was tried as an adult and given Florida’s then mandatory penalty of life without any possibility of parole.
Much focus is placed upon the ways the justice system is changed in response to those directly victimized by crime. However, far less emphasis is put on those who work toward reforming a system that not only punishes in extreme ways, but has all but abandoned any attempt to approach those who commit crimes in a rehabilitative manner.
This includes this nation’s youngest citizens: it’s children and teenagers. Though the juvenile justice system provides opportunities for rehabilitation, the adult prison system is punitive. Placing a greater number of youth in these prisons, or even sentencing them to life terms, reflects the fearful and vengeful culture that is all too prevalent in the United States.
Some people accept the justice system for what it is. Others believe, without real knowledge of its inner workings, that the justice system works. For Lamar, his experiences with the system have ignited a passion to seek and achieve change. Instead of simply identifying the problems in the system, Lamar works to solve them. His experiences, and those of his son, have motivated him to devote his life to helping people in America’s prison system by showing them how to transform their way of thinking and use those skills to change their lives.
I discussed Lamar’s work with him, asking him what prompted him to become involved in juvenile justice issues. The court’s sentencing of his son to life without parole was eye-opening. He explained that it was the arrest, trial, and conviction of his son which caused him to “awaken to the travesty of justice in the inequities of the present law and its administration in respect of juveniles.”
He went on to say, “Found guilty of first degree murder when tried as an adult, my son, Dominic, was sentenced without any evidence or testimony presented that may have mitigated the severity of the sentence upon his sentencing. In effect, any justice in judgment, as discerned by the court in review of relevant circumstances, had been stripped from the judicial process. Justice had essentially become a mockery of itself in any sense other than that of retribution, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’”
Lamar is a reminder that the concept of victims as it pertains to the justice system is broader than most acknowledge. Lamar stated, “The horror of what we endured as Dominic’s family and the horror, pain, and suffering of the victim’s family and friends caused me to question the entire system of justice, rehabilitation, available and effective intervention programs, and what was and wasn’t being done that could be done to interrupt the prevalence of violent crime. I had worked for seven years in a juvenile residential treatment facility owned and operated by Psychiatric Institutes of America and knew that intervention was available but not commonly required due to the expense and the need for insurance if not affordable for most when needed most.”
Years after his son’s conviction, in 2007, Lamar was invited to participate on the board of directors for the Rosebud Advocacy (previously known as the Rosebud Foundation). The organization, located in Atlanta, Georgia, specialized in providing intervention training. He has since traveled to Pennsylvania to receive training qualifying him to deliver a workshop in the prisons called the End Violence Project. This program focuses on leadership and transformational thinking.
The End Violence Project is a program that was originally established in Philadelphia. It has been ongoing for over twenty years. The program is designed for correctional institutions in which inmates are serving long-term sentences. It was during his work related to this program that Lamar met his current fiance, Wendy Lippard. She shares his vision of empowering inmates, and others, to make positive and critical changes in their lives.
Lamar eventually began serving directly under the oversight of the board of directors as the Southeast Regional Director. This role made him accountable for expanding the program into prisons located in the Southeast region of the United States.
He explained, “I was accountable for the delivery of the first program in a prison outside of the Philadelphia area.” The first program outside of Philadelphia was delivered at the Lawtey Correctional Institution in Lawtey, Florida.
“Soon after, Wendy Lippard was willing to assume accountability for delivering the program at Hancock State Prison, a maximum security men’s prison in Sparta, Georgia. The next prison that opened to us was Metro State Women’s Prison in Atlanta. Wendy has continued her work now as a member of the End Violence Project board of directors and has initiated programs in Nashville, Tennessee. I am beginning to explore opportunities for delivery of the End Violence Project in a North Carolina prison.”
In addition to the above-described efforts, Lamar has been working on developing a program called the Freedom at the Wall series. This is a flexible training model that may be delivered in the short-term, consisting of one or two days, or in a more in-depth form that lasts longer.
Lamar describes his program as follows: “This educational program causes a shift in the way participants view their world and challenges the habitual thinking that seems to justify behavior and has life not working, Inmates inquire into what matters most to them for the inspiration that can powerfully alter the way they have been living their lives. Essential training provides them access to becoming confident leaders in their own lives and knowing themselves as people who can be respected, contributing members in their communities both behind the wall and upon release.”
Wendy acts as co-facilitator of the program. In November of 2011, the two delivered it to the entire prison population in the form of a three day intensive program, lasting for eight hours each day, to one-third of the prison population at the Emanuel Women’s Facility in Georgia. The prison houses over 550 female inmates.
I asked Lamar to share his thoughts on the American practice of trying children as adults and sentencing youth to life in prison without parole. He stated, “The ‘tough on crime’ policy of trying and sentencing juveniles as adults is delusional. Acting as if one thing is another when it is not is creating something to be as if it were true when it is known to be false – treating children as adults when, in fact, they are children. The insanity is spawned from fear and the apparent intention to drive up and take advantage of fear in advancing political interests and profiteering from the incarceration of more and more people when proven effective, evidence-based intervention programs are available and are actually less costly than incarceration.”
However, as Lamar well knows there is more to be achieved from emphasizing rehabilitation in the prison system than mere financial savings. The greater cost is harder to articulate. He expounded on this by explaining the mindset and resulting consequences of the tough on crime mentality with regard to juveniles by stating the following:
“What perpetuates the persistence of an approach that is proven ineffective is two-fold: first, people persist in their belief that retributive justice–justified revenge–is the only valid approach even in the face of evidence to the contrary, and, second, an agenda exists that is advanced to benefit a political and social predisposition on the issue. The waste of so much human potential in youth that can be redeemed and be developed results, and the contribution that could be made to the benefit of us all is forever lost. The greater cost is to us as a society–the damage to our moral character suffered for how we intend to treat our fellow human beings.”
Lamar has gone on to become the creator and co-owner of United Seminars LLC, with Wendy Lippard, providing a wide range of seminars and workshops inside and outside of the prison environment. His programs and seminars focus on topics ranging from communication to self-discipline.
Dominic Culpepper, Lamar’s son, is among those who are affected by the recent Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life without parole sentences are a violation of the Eighth Constitutional Amendment relating to cruel and unusual punishments. While much more change and reform is needed regarding the treatment of America’s juveniles in the adult prison system, the ruling recognized the fundamental differences between children and adults.
Lamar discussed the ruling and its implications, stating: “Roberts was absolutely correct in acknowledging the attitude of our society toward the philosophy of punishing juveniles for their crimes. The majority of the court, especially as voiced by Justice Breyer, emphasized the indisputable psychological and neuroscientific facts that juvenile brains differ from those of adults.”
Many Americans recognize that juveniles are different than adults, but science confirms it. “These facts,” Lamar added, “were never disputed; however, Roberts and like-minded justices noted that it is the decision of the legislatures to determine whether the differences between children and adults even matter. Given who we are as a civilization, apparently, we are as a majority indifferent to the possibility of reform or the potential for change; therefore, the court responds to the argument by essentially sticking its finger in the air to determine which way the wind is blowing and relegating judgment to the legislature. The Supreme Court majority members had an opportunity to address that argument, and it did not.”
One of the things that Lamar would like to see in the future is a shift in the culture of the current justice system from one that is retributive to one with a much greater emphasis on intervention and rehabilitation. He pointed out that the current system is not only outdated, but has been proven ineffective through analysis of recidivism rates, entrenched criminal thinking, and other related matters.
Lamar believes that much of the solution may be found in taking an alternate approach to those in the criminal justice system. “The principles of restorative justice applied demonstrates that the repeating of offenses ceases, personal responsibility increases, and the opportunity for healing from the offenses committed becomes possible for both victims and perpetrators, who then can go and offend no more,” he explained.
He maintains that the training of corrections staff is an important component when it comes to promoting this kind of change. These individuals, once trained in intervention techniques, may help inmates “assume personal responsibility for managing themselves and their lives, rather than persisting in criminal patterns of behavior.”
Addressing people outside of the prison system, he recommended the following:
“For those who are willing to be responsible for the country in which we live, for our states, counties, and municipalities in which we have a more influential voice, be responsible for what difference you are not making for your silence. Educate yourself about what is happening about which you would disagree or even be appalled for being contrary to your professed beliefs and standards. Be attentive to reports of atrocities committed against juveniles–or against anyone in prison–who are dependent upon the custodial care of their keepers, who are often guilty of being their tormentors. Juveniles are often placed within adult populations, are beaten and abused, sexually molested, and are not provided adequate protection as mandated for the departments of correction.”
He wants people to understand that many children are good candidates for rehabilitation when they are willing to accept accountability for their behavior and assume responsibility for their learning.
“The travesty of justice,” he noted, “is the failing of our weaker, troubled, younger members by those members of society who have the opportunity and the ability to intervene but turn their backs. By our judgment–or lack of judgment–of what is right, we will be judged.”
Lamar is a living reminder of our human and social responsibility to promote positive change in the lives of others. People have the choice to accept life as it is or to take ownership of their responsibility when it comes to identifying problems and implementing solutions. He is also a reminder of the profound impact one or two people can have on countless other lives.
A video detailing some of Lamar’s work and advocacy may be viewed here.
You may contact Lamar or learn more about his seminars here.