uLethbridge – Chess for Life

uLethbridge – Chess for Life


Chess is one of those amazing activities that some people have called an art form, a sport and a game. In chess there are 64 squares, 32 pieces, clearly set rules on what you can do, principles you should follow and, on occasion, break. You have such creativity. I was reading the newspaper about a year and a half ago and I saw a local judge, Judge Derek Redman, sentenced a youth to practicing basketball. Well I saw this and thought it was excellent. I saw Derek, and I said, “Have you thought about chess as an alternative sentencing measure?” It has all the requirements of helping people make better decisions think more carefully about what they can do, think about consequences of actions before taking them. And he said, “Sure! Send me some stuff and we’ll talk about it.” And the Chess for Life program began. One of the most effective ways to deal with young people is to deal with the root causes of what it is they’ve done. Once they come before me or another judge of the provincial court, if we find them guilty or they plead guilty, we have to consider what has the most meaningful consequences for them, what type of sentence could give them the best opportunity to become rehabilitated and brought back into society. You have to make decisions. Every time you move a piece on the board, that move has consequences. So it teaches people, including youth, that every decision they make can have consequences that benefit them or have consequences that don’t benefit them. But, at the end of the day, the chess board can be wiped clean and they can start afresh. Every day of your life is like playing a game of chess. What a natural and humane way of approaching this social challenge. I think there is a lot more for us to learn about the value of play in non-punitive approaches to justice. The youth seem to be more confident in themselves, in the decisions they are making. What they’re telling us is they’re really enjoying the social environment, they’ve really enjoyed the interaction with adults, they really enjoy and feel safe in that they’re not going to be judged. One of the things they like about coming to chess is they leave all the personal difficulties they may have experienced in the week at the door. When they come to the classroom at the University of Lethbridge, it’s just about chess for a couple of hours. If we can make positive impact on youth, regardless of whether they’re involved in the criminal justice system, I think it can only be a good thing for society and certainly for them as individuals.

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