Wait... Chess is a Punishment???
Well, it all depends on how you look at the idea of sentencing. Should a sentence always be a punishment or can it be an opportunity to learn and develop new skills and create a better life?
For Dr. Lance Grigg and Judge Derek Redman, the answer is clear.
Dr. Grigg has developed the idea of alternative sentencing into the program Chess For Life, which has been operating since January 2018 in Lethbridge, Alberta and helps local young offenders turn a bad situation into a positive by introducing them to the game of chess.
Judge Redman was one of the primary inspirations for the program.
I recently sat down with Dr. Grigg to discuss how this program came about, how it operates and what it can do to help young offenders.
How did it all start?
Dr. Grigg says the idea first came to him when he heard about Judge Redman's unique approach to dealing with a young offender, sentencing the youth to practice basketball.
He says that this example of alternative sentencing, paired with inspirational stories of how chess can be used to develop life skills, such as the programs developed by Orrin Hudson and Maurice Ashley, caused him to contact Judge Redman and ask “How about chess?”
The judge, who Dr. Grigg had known for years, was very receptive to the idea.
From January 2017 to June 2017, Dr. Grigg and Judge Redman worked with parole officers to do a trial run of the program with young offenders who, while not sentenced to take part in the program, had been made aware of it and had shown an interest.
They met every Friday afternoon and by the end of June, Dr. Grigg began to think seriously about expanding the program.
Knowing that getting Chess For Life up and running would be a monumental undertaking and acknowledging to me that his strengths tended more towards ideas than organization, Dr. Grigg decided that he needed to put together a strong team.
He connected with two like-minded individuals in Josh Markle and Riley Kostek, who had organized a chess cafe at Victoria Park High School, a school which focuses on developing innovative and alternative methods of teaching their students.
Dr. Grigg was already acquainted with the pair, as he had previously observed their chess cafe in action and was quite impressed with it.
Dr. Monique Sedgwick and Dr. Jeffrey MacCormack also joined the team and Dr. Grigg says they were instrumental in doing the necessary research needed to get approval for the project.
Chess For Life team! From left: Josh Markle, Jeffrey MacCormack,
Monique Sedgwick, Riley Kostek and Lance Grigg.
Photo courtesy of University of Lethbridge.
After looking comprehensively at what the youths and parole officers who had contributed their time were saying about how chess was impacting them and developing a system to help chess benefit the youths' critical thinking and decision making skills, they were ready to put together a proposal to move forward.
After getting ethics and administrative approval from the University of Lethbridge and Alberta Justice, the first group of youths entered the Chess For Life program in January 2018.
While it is still in the data analysis phase, Dr. Grigg is happy with how the program has developed and says that discussions with youths who have been sentenced to take part have revealed that many of them feel more self-confident and don't feel as though they are being judged. Some of the youths have even continued attending the program after their 25 hour sentence has elapsed.
And why not? Dr. Grigg's view on the program really coincides with our own philosophy at Jumping Knight Chess: an informal, low pressure atmosphere which stresses the importance of respecting other players and following chess etiquette and fair play rules.
How does it work?
When youths enter Chess For Life, they are greeted with a chess set with their name on it, which is theirs to keep. Most of them have very basic knowledge of chess, so Dr. Grigg says that it's important to impress upon them the importance of the rules. He says that, just as in life, within this simple set of rules, there are almost limitless possibilities in deciding which moves you will make, which moves will set you up for success and which mistakes you can learn from.
After learning the basic rules, they are introduced to fun games, like “caramels,” where only knights and caramel candies are placed on the board, with the players capturing as many of the treats as possible. Another favourite is “pawn wars,” where only the pawns are placed on the board, from their starting position, and the first player to get a pawn to the end of the board wins.
And there are always televisions showing a range of chess events. Dr. Grigg says that when the youths, who come from diverse social, economic and ethnic backgrounds, see hundreds of people (including our own head coach Agnieszka Matras-Clement!) from all continents playing at an event like the 2018 Chess Olympiad and all getting along, it helps them to realize the importance of following some good rules and respecting others.
Where does it go from here?
Dr. Grigg notes that there is still a lot of data to analyze, but says that there has already been considerable interest in Chess For Life.
He says that he would love the program to spread across the province and beyond and is pleased to have been in touch with judges in Edmonton and Calgary as well as a group in Houston, Texas, which has shown interest in developing a similar program.
Beyond the program, Dr. Grigg is also very interested in promoting chess in public schools, which he has already been active in with Lethbridge schools.
Another current project Dr. Grigg is attempting to launch is the week long Lethbridge Scholastic Chess Festival, which he intends to infuse chess into the school curriculum in conjunction with subjects such as math, science and arts.
We at Jumping Knight would love to extend our appreciation and admiration to Dr. Grigg and the whole Chess For Life team for helping introduce young people to chess. We would also like to say... please don't work too hard, Dr. Grigg. It's okay to take a day off every now and then!