This website is the home site of my criminal reformation apostolate; here you can find details about the Lampstand Foundation which I founded as a 501c (3) nonprofit corporation in Sacramento, California in 2003.
I have written ten books and each one of my books is a response to a likely objection to Catholicism that will be encountered when doing ministry to professional criminals; and for links to all of the Lampstand books which are available at Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=david+h+lukenbill
I also maintain a daily blog, The Catholic Eye, https://catholiceye.wordpress.com/
Lampstand also keeps track of rehabilitative programs that fail, and the one or two that appear to work, with the findings available at https://catholiceye.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/evaluation-of-reentry-programs-3/
The work connected to the apostolate is listed under the home page categories (to your left) which I will be expanding as needed.
The Criminal as Philosopher
Invariably, at some point during a long stretch in prison the thought occurs in the criminal’s mind, as it did in mine, what is life about, what am I doing with my life?
Though it may be shunted aside temporarily in the daydreams of eventual release and restoration of the freedom criminal life brings when all is going well, it comes back if the right set of ideas, whether in a book or from other prison philosophers, enter into the criminal’s field of vision.
The ideas have to be strong, presented with potency and clarity to even capture the attention of the criminal, and most often, initially based on a great injustice in the world that animates some of the sense of personal injustice, however unjustifiably felt, clouding the criminal’s thinking.
Just such a book is Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, by Viktor E. Frankl.
The original title of this book was From Death-Camp to Existentialism, and recounted the experiences of Dr. Frankl while imprisoned in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau established by the Nazi’s during the reign of Adolf Hitler.
It is a powerful book, which continues to reach out to those finding themselves in the most horrible of circumstances, with its resonating message of the fierce will to retain one’s humanity, even in the most barbaric and inhuman conditions.
Studying existentialism in prison is congruent with the prison culture and it serves the purpose of beginning to study books to facilitate studying one’s self.
In the concentration camps, and in a maximum security prison, this message resonates with incredible depth and clarity of meaning, and if first encountered within the deepest cell in the dark prison—the great cell of solitude in the supermax facility where I first read it—it will resonate even the more deeply.
But even here, a choice can still be made, to continue with brutality and the entirely predictable response to it which always punishes the brutal, either spiritually or temporally; or to choose human kindness and allow the better angels of our nature to appear in our dealings with others and perhaps find the peace so often accompanying their exhibition.
The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon was printed in its first English edition in 1896, but its insight about the nature and behavior of crowds in different situations, and by supposition, that of individuals, is remarkable still.
Le Bon’s primary reference point was the French Revolution and the barbarity it released among the French people towards the ancient monarchy, still singular in its expression, though replicated somewhat in the Russian Revolution occurring about 20 years after this book was published.
During the period in which Le Bon is writing, the vast majority of the public was illiterate, so he was writing, as much of the writing was before the 20th Century, particularly in Europe, to his fellow well-educated members of the social elite, the ruling class.
As such there was no need to shade what he was saying and his writing is sharp and clear.
The crowd is moved by emotion, which we see still and his description of what is used, should not be unfamiliar to those who have watched the speeches of politicians, exuberant preachers, or self-help gurus.
For the criminal this type of insight is rarely applied to his own actions, but to those of the herds of people populating the mass he feels he has bested, and who he feels are living lives largely constrained by rule and regulation they would willingly thwart had they the courage he has.
Consequently, much of what he reads concerning the motivation of others will be used for understanding motivation and shaping reality to more closely resemble that world he feels he has learned the truth of, the world of the criminal city, the world founded by men, not the world of the City of God.
This is not yet a place he has dared reach, nor even acknowledged exists in a potent enough way to be of concern to him and his life, but that moment is beginning to be felt.
A mention must be made here of another voice writing of crowds, mass movements; Eric Hoffer, whose masterpiece is The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.
What is so remarkable about Hoffer’s book, apart from its brilliance, is that he was a self-taught intellectual who spent his life working as a longshoreman in San Francisco.
A newer book about crowds, amplifying—while differing with—much of the work of the previous two mentioned, is The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter that the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations, by James Surowiecki.
If the value of a life is determined by the proportion of it spent in service to others, as I believe it is, then the value of the lives of most of the avatars of the Sixties—marked by an intense self-preoccupation and virtually across the board endings more reminiscent of Gothic novels than American optimalism—has been found to not be very great, except as object lessons in how not to live a life.
Alan Watts surely flows into this vein and his work to relativize religion—absolute truth—was very popular, and, at the time, I loved it.
This creating your own thing and “doing your own thing” shaped the Sixties—though it ultimately destroyed the lives of its prophets—while validating the criminal world ethos, giving it more cultural resonance than it had ever enjoyed in the 1920’s or 1930’s.
Jean Paul Sartre in his seminal work, Saint Genet, completed the picture of mystifying the boundaries between right and wrong, creating a reality in which a child becoming a criminal—rather than becoming a being centered on divinity—is centered on a theology of criminality.
This work is the most detailed and interesting of the works created studying the criminal. Jean Genet, criminal, poet, writer, and actor, who was also, because of Sartre’s work, a well-known literary figure whose criminality was the mark of otherness that marked him for fame.
For several months in McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, the same group of us also read and discussed this work and the broader implications of existentialism on our lives.
From that group grew a longer discussion around ideas that continued for the almost four years I was there.
Genet had embraced his being defined by the world—when caught as a child stealing—as the thief, and he became the thief, discovering in the process the delicious freedom of death of the self by embracing his defining from others.
There is, within the intensity of the point of that tipping moment during a criminal act when one’s very life is at stake, when all falls on that one razor-edged moment, when one can feel that one is entering the sacred, and this moment often defines, as Sartre captured, the sublimity of the criminal life.