Conversations with myself: Understanding Criminal Thinking


This past week I spent two days at a workshop hosted by National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO) on the subject of Criminal Behaviour Foundations: Understanding Criminal Thinking.

I found this workshop very interesting and informative because I learnt that criminal behaviour, just like any other behaviour, does not exist in a vacuum. In order to deal appropriately with crime perpetrators, one has to understand the individual in relation to him/herself, the community and the world in which we live.

Some of the key learning for me was:
• How the values, beliefs and attitudes of perpetrators influence their behaviour negatively because of their negative world view and their negative view of themselves.
• The most commonly cited macro-level factors that contribute towards crime are: population structure, rapid migration from rural to urban areas, high levels of unemployment, inadequate education, insufficient welfare services, weak areas within the criminal justice system, large scale illegal immigration, availability of firearms, porous borders which makes crime syndicates, trafficking and smuggling a viable option and inequality and poverty.
• The development of behavioural problems early in life and critical thinking errors in later life also contribute to a life of crime. The eight most common static and dynamic risk factors for youth and adult crime are: history of anti-social behaviour, anti-social personality pattern, anti-social cognition (thinking patterns), anti-social associates/friends, family and/or marital problems, school and/or work problems, leisure and/or recreation choices and substance abuse.
• Brain development – what really stood out for me is that the brain does not fully mature until between the ages of 18 and 25 years of age which means that classifying a person as an adult at age 18 is actually technically incorrect because research has shown that the brain actually only completes development (matures) by age 25 – this includes impulse control, planning, reasoning, thinking before acting, the regulation of emotion, abstract thinking, resistance to peer influence and the ability to delay gratification. Whether a person is mature enough to be classified as an adult therefore needs to be decided on an individual basis.
• Schemas (the way we view the world) – we learnt that there are 5 schemas and there are 18 early maladaptive schemas grouped within 5 domains i.e. disconnection/rejection, impaired autonomy/performance, other directedness, over-vigilance/inhibition and impaired limits.
• The link between emotion and cognition and criminals do not necessarily lack empathy towards their victims but that there is a selective application of empathy.
• There are 8 criminal thinking styles or patterns which support or reinforce four behavioural styles i.e. problem avoidance, interpersonal hostility, self-assertion deception and denial or harm (to others).
We also watched a DVD of an interview of a child abuse survivor called Beth. The interview was done when she was aged about 6 years and she vividly remembers everything that was done to her by her father when she was only 1 year old. It was really heart-wrenching to watch her and how she could recall everything without showing any emotion whatsoever.

Here is the link to the interview we watched:

Do yourself a favour and get the movie/DVD called Child of Rage and see for yourself the events that led up to this interview.

We also watched an interview of a young man accused of murder and this was also moving because of the total lack of emotion when he recalled the events leading up to the murder.

There was just so much information shared at this workshop over the two days that it will probably take a while for everything to sink into this little pea brain of mine.

I now see perpetrators of crime in a new light. Where it was easy to judge them before and write them off as the scum of the earth, I now look at them and say “why?” and “what went wrong?”

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Conversations with Myself: Finding the time to read

Woman Reading in bed Animation

Towards the end of 2007 while recovering from surgery, I started reading a book – fiction, very well written, one of those that really hold your attention, which you find very difficult to put down. I, however, only managed to get three quarters of the way through the book when sadly I needed to put the book down so I could return to work. I drive myself to work, so I cannot even read while sitting in traffic. I usually work through lunch (which is only half an hour) so no use taking the book with me, is there?

Around the same time, I developed trouble with my eyesight which makes it very difficult to read in artificial light (especially at night), so my reading has to be restricted to daylight hours. My daylight hours over weekends are usually taken up by family responsibilities making it virtually impossible to continue reading my book. Here and there I manage to “steal” a few minutes to read and what fascinates me about this book, is that no matter how long it’s been since I’ve managed to read, I can pick up immediately where I left off the last time.

Is it because of the engaging way in which the book has been written? Is it because it is a topic close to my heart? I really cannot say, but there is something about this book that makes me want to finish it in spite of the difficulty I’m having in doing so.
The book is called: Eyes of Elisha written by Brandilyn Collins (bestselling author of Web of Lies). The story is about an ugly murder. The killer was sure no one saw him/her but someone did. The twists and turns in the story keep one guessing and gasping and wanting to know more. I am so anxious to finish the book, so reluctant to put it down each time, yet I struggle to find the time to finish the book.

Do you also struggle with finding time to read? I read so much – I’m connected to various networks via the internet and have so much reading to do through e-mail updates and newsletters sent to me. This reading I do at night on my laptop while sitting in front of the TV after work multi-tasking while having my supper. After supper, I go to the study to do more reading relating to my part time studies towards my BA Criminology degree through University of South Africa (Unisa).

I’m reading all the time, absorbing information like a sponge, yet I just cannot get to finish reading this book I so desperately want to finish. I have so many books piling up on my bookshelf which I have bought to read either because I am passionate about the topic and want to know more or because they relate to and can help me with my studies, but when will I ever get to them?

Do you struggle to find time to read a book? I’m not talking about work or study related reading, I’m talking about a book/novel? What do you do to make time to read? Do you also struggle like I do?

Conversations with myself: When I grow up, I want to be a Community Paralegal


I’m thinking of becoming a Community Paralegal. Why, I hear you asking?

Paralegals who are less expensive and more accessible than lawyers are able to empower the poor and marginalised in their interactions with Police, Prosecutors and the Courts.

Paralegals are able to deliver a critical service, particularly in the early stages of the criminal justice process. They are able to provide primary legal aid services which no one else is providing, which, in turn, can eliminate unnecessary pre-trial detention, the speedy processing of cases, diversion of young offenders, and reduce case backlogs.

Paralegals can play a valuable role in reducing prison overcrowding by locating the family members of pre-trial detainees and facilitating bail hearings.

Using their knowledge of the law and the circumstances of their client, Paralegals can identify individuals who are eligible and suitable for release from the Police Station, and assist them accordingly. In doing so, they gather and provide information to the Police about whether those arrested fulfil legal criteria for pre-trial release.

Paralegals who work at Police Stations can assist in verifying the identities and location of relatives and others who may assist the one arrested. The regular presence of a Paralegal at a Police Station is also likely to moderate any tendency of Police Officers to mistreat those arrested or to demand a bribe. Police Stations are also the most effective points for identifying and diverting juvenile suspects who might otherwise be classified and processed as adults.

A trained Paralegal who has interviewed an unrepresented detainee before a court hearing is able to advise the person being detained about the right to apply for bail (if applicable) and to gather facts that are relevant to such an application, i.e. the names of relatives who may be able to raise bail or act as sureties. Paralegals may even speak for those arrested at pre-trial hearings or be allowed to speak for an indigent defendant on matters of bail.

Paralegals can improve the quality of self-representation among defendants, especially during the pre-trial phase of the criminal justice process. This can be done through awareness raising and education on self-representation, demystifying the court process through role playing on what to expect in court, and providing guidance on the bail process and the grounds on which judicial officers typically base their pre-trial release/detention decisions.

This could result in accused persons becoming more active players and partners in the administration of justice, resulting in more successful bail applications at court.

Where the accused has not been given or offered bail and are in pre-trial detention awaiting the next court hearing, Paralegals can assist them in preparing and lodging bail applications. Paralegals who work in prisons can either train prisoners individually or offer group workshops in preparing bail applications, court procedures in general, court etiquette and other options for getting representation by a lawyer for themselves.

In addition to this advisory service, Paralegals can also search for relatives of those detained to inform them of where the detained person is and to establish who will be able to assist the detainee in being released on bail.

As part of their prison-based work, Paralegals could also identify pre-trial detainees whose warrants of arrest have expired, who have been in pre-trial detention longer than the statutory maximum allowed, who wish to plead guilty and those who are terminally ill. The Paralegals can bring these detainees to the attention of the relevant Investigating Officers, Prosecutors and Magistrates.

Paralegals can play an increasingly important role in enhancing access to justice for accused persons and criminal suspects.

In Pursuit of my African Dream – I did it my way!



. . .  and now, the end is near

And so I face, the final curtain . . .


As I write this the temperature outside is in the region of 30 degrees and the words of the song My Way sung by Frank Sinatra is going through my mind. Wow! I cannot believe that we are so close to the end of 2012. Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday I was wondering what 2012 had in store for me and here we are, nearly at the end already. What a year this has been.


I’ve managed to juggle work, studying part time and family responsibilities successfully while remaining relatively sane in the process. In one of my previous posts, I’m sure I mentioned my studies through Disabled People of South Africa (DPSA) where we have various assignments to submit as part of our Portfolio of Evidence (PoE) in order to achieve a Certificate of Competence at the end of our study period (which is at the end of 2013). My last PoE consisted of me having to facilitate a workshop for disabled people. I had to research the needs of the community, research the audience, the topics etc, design the workshop programme and actually do the facilitation myself. I then had to submit all the paperwork prepared including photographs taken of me “in action” as part of my PoE. I am pleased to announce that I have achieved the result of “Competent” for this particular assignment so I can consider that to be “done and dusted” for this year.


In about two weeks from now, I will travel to Johannesburg once again for our last training (winding down) workshop for 2012 where we will wrap up our learning for 2012 and chart the way forward for our last stretch in 2013.


I have just finished (this week) writing my Unisa exam for the module Psychology in the Work Context which did not go too well, I’m afraid, so I anxiously await the results. If I did not make it I hope that I will at least qualify to write a supplementary exam in January 2013 – if not, I will be very disappointed. Still to come this forthcoming week is my last exam for 2012 which is Skills Course for Law Students. This is very much a general knowledge course on communication and research skills so I’m fairly confident about this module. I’m not too stressed about this one.


After my Unisa exams I still need to complete two assignments for a work-related course I completed earlier on this year. We have 3 months from date of completion of the course to complete the assignments in order to receive our Certificate of Competence.


Apart from my studies I have been very busy planning a very special celebration. My mom celebrates her 70th birthday in January 2013 and I’ve been working hard at planning to make it as extra special for her as I possibly can. In order to ensure that my salary stretches as far as I wanted it to, I also planned Christmas in January this year already so I had enough money to go around – so I was working on the birthday and Christmas plans side-by-side.


By the end of January this year I had half my Christmas gifts bought and paid for and the rest of Christmas has now been sorted. All gifts have been bought and paid for. Christmas lunch has been booked and paid for. The gift tags – the first draft of the design has been done. I’m not really happy with what I’ve done so I need to do some more work on this before I can print and start wrapping my gifts. It is really only the beginning of November now so waiting another week or two until after my exams won’t be that much of a problem.


Regarding the birthday celebrations – everything is on track and paid for. One final payment needs to be made at the end of November and then all that’s left is to tell mom what the plans are. Can’t wait – she will be soooo excited.


Our celebrations actually start this week already with the birthday of my niece on Sunday 4 November, followed by my nephew on Wednesday 7 November (brother and sister who are 3 days and 3 years apart) which will be followed by a combined birthday party on Saturday 10 November which happens to be my sister’s wedding anniversary. How’s that for a celebration? By the way, my sister was married for 3 years when the eldest was born.


Well, here’s to an exciting and busy few weeks ahead before I can even think of winding down for the year and prepare for my well deserved annual rest in December over the Christmas period.


I cannot wait for my annual leave this year – I’ve been rather busy, physically and mentally.

In pursuit of my African Dream – I strive for significance!


It’s time to move beyond a search for success, it’s time to strive for significance

–                      Mamphela Ramphele


Why do we turn criminals into celebrities? An opinion piece written by Mosibudi Mangena (Cape Times, Wed 10 October 2012, pg 9) – hits the nail right on the head when he points out that in order to be a “star” in South Africa, for the media to follow you everywhere you go and have your pictures in the newspaper and your face and voice to get into every household in the country through television, you should try your hand at corruption, fraud, theft of public money, money laundering and associated pursuits.

We see this happening in our country daily. Streets are blocked off because of protests or demonstrations by various sectors of our communities. Nothing is said about patients in hospitals suffering because there is no money to buy much needed equipment and life-saving medication. Children are without text books, millions of people are unemployed, I could go on. The corruption and fraud at the heart of all these ills just does not matter.

Where has the shame gone, the writer of this article asks? I agree when the writer says “shame makes us human.” Not too long ago it used to be part of our social interaction and behaviour. Like the writer of this article, I remember the time when none of us wanted to shame ourselves, our families and our communities. We always worried about “what would people say?”  Conscience and shame kept most of us in line more than the criminal justice system. We worried more about what our friends, family and society as a whole would say rather than worry about what the police would say.

We feared being arrested and going to jail. We feared the stigma of being branded a criminal or a thief. We did everything possible to stay out of jail or at least not to be caught if we did anything illegal. Our society has changed but unfortunately not for the better. What are we teaching our children? That being a criminal is cool? That being involved in criminal activities will elevate your status in society? Why should our children even bother to go to school when it is more profitable and cool to commit crime? The message in South Africa at the moment is that crime pays.

Coming back to my quote at the beginning of this blog, how do I move beyond a search for success and strive for significance?

I’ve been gainfully employed for just on 30 years now. Besides being unemployed for short periods of time during these 30 years, my average time at any company averaged at around 6 years before moving on to the next job (in my current position for the last 10 years).

Over the last 30 years I’ve completed my Matric through correspondence college, registered at Unisa for a degree and various short courses. I was unable to complete my degree 12 years ago so last year I re-registered with Unisa for another degree to replace the one I could not finish. At work, I’ve taken advantage of completing every short course available that would help me do better at work and advance my career and yet, I have received no recognition, no accolades, no “well done” for my efforts no matter how hard I worked. I’ve been overlooked so many times for higher level positions purely because I don’t have a degree (something I’m working hard to fix). In spite of all this and doing voluntary work, I’ve never been interviewed by the media for my life story, I’ve never been followed by the paparazzi – I’ve never had a rose (or any other flower) named after me. Without a degree, my 30 years working experience means absolutely nothing and is not recognised or acknowledged.

I’ve never been arrested (not even for political unrest), never been to jail, never stolen money (not even from my parents) so going into politics is not going to benefit me either.

The question therefore is: How do I become a celebrity, an international best seller? How do I get people hanging onto my every word watching my every move? How do I move beyond my search for success and strive for significance?

No, I don’t want to be a celebrity; I don’t want to be followed by the media and have my face and voice in every household through radio or TV coverage. What do I want?

I want the corruption, fraud and all related illegal activities to stop. I want “jobs for pals (and family)” to stop. I want recognition for my skills and tenacity, for trying to improve my skills and qualifications. I want to be called on for my “expert opinion” on subject matter learnt over the last 30 years of work. I want to be SEEN. At the moment I’m invisible. I need to move from being invisible to being visible. All my learning and working has not done anything for me.

I’m searching for my significance – how do I find my significance? Where do I find my significance? Will I recognise it when I see it? Will it come to me naked or will it have clothes on?

Significance – I’ve been searching for you and have yet to find you. Can you see me? Can you find me? Please don’t stop looking for me because I will not stop looking for you.

In pursuit of my African Dream – my safety is @ risk!

“Convict freed early, now held for rape” by Zaa Nicholson (Cape Times, July 13, 2012)

According to this article today –

  • 71 of the 40,365 offenders released from prison have been re-arrested on charges of rape, attempted murder, robbery, assault, kidnapping, possession of stolen goods and housebreaking.
  • Correctional Services spokesperson Simphiwe Xako was quoted saying “as much as the Constitution provides for the department to be the custodian of offenders, they have to be released once they have been rehabilitated. We play  our role in the rehabilitation of offenders but there are various dynamics with human beings so some offenders do commit crimes again.”

As I sit and ponder about life and what’s going on in our beautiful country I have to ask: does Correctional Services actually have a long-term rehabilitation plan for offenders? If yes, what exactly is the plan and why is it not working? If there is a plan and it is not working, what is being done about it?

If there is no long-term rehabilitation plan in place for offenders, why not? Isn’t it time a plan is put in place? Surely you cannot remove an offender from society for however long the prison term is and expect him/her to just walk back into society as if he/she never left?

The offender has to learn to socialise and reintegrate with family and society as a whole again just as much as his/her family and society has to learn to accept this person back as part of the family or society. The offender would need help in finding suitable employment which is extremely difficult for those who have a good education and no criminal record – how much more difficult is it not for someone who has a criminal record?

Budget cuts – the latest buzz word these days on everyone’s lips. Yes, those in power always think they know best but do they realise that cutting budgets means that essential services are not provided? Surely skills development for an offender is just as important as it is for those who don’t offend and who don’t have a criminal record? We have people with undergraduate and even post graduate degrees working as waiters in eating establishments, yet we expect those with criminal records to just walk out of prison and straight back into life as if nothing happened since they left.

Aaah, but you say “there is Nicro and FAMSA (and others)”. Yes, they are doing the best they can to help, but with limited funding, there is only so much they can do.

According to our wonderful Constitution, South Africa belongs to all who live in it which might be true, but how can we feel safe and protected when offenders are just “let loose” on society with no thought (or very little thought) for the innocent ones living in the very same country.

I’m just saying . . .


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