The Herald reports a doubling of brawling and assaults in our women’s prisons in the past year. Corrections attributed this to those inmates’ gang affiliations. What a surprise!

Reading that brought back memories of my involvement with Arohata Women’s Prison four decades back. My mate, the late Tony Dominick, a former New Zealand junior chess champion and News Editor of Truth, then our largest circulation newspaper, teed up for us to two go out and teach the inmates to play chess.

We had an initial group of about 20 maori girls. Most had never heard of chess but were all ears as we explained the game. We duly left them chess sets to get on with it. Our return a week later revealed most had become gripped by the game and put up reasonable matches when we played them. One in particular stood out. She was massively obese but God she got it. A final trip saw her clean up Tony in fairly quick time. He was genuinely distraught.

As an aside my favourite chess story is from memory in the 1990s, of the Upper Hutt chess champions. In those days, newspapers were at their peak and covered everything. Some poor bugger drew the short straw and was told to report on the Upper Hutt chess championship finals. In the event he drew a winning ticket when they erupted into an all-out bloody brawl. Reporting on that would be a journalist’s dream.

I’ve had lots of amusing chess experiences over the years and wonder why it’s not promoted in our schools. Given my positive experience all those years ago, Corrections should try a repeat with the women’s prison and teach them the game. They should not be deterred by the Upper Hutt incident which chess-wise was aberrational. One positive benefit for prisoners is it engrosses them and thus eats up time.

But more important, it also induces that most useful behavioural trait of thinking before doing something, the absence of which probably lays at the root of the inmate’s incarceration. The best illustration of this was with former world heavyweight champion, Britain’s Lennox Lewis. Lennox was a very private individual and never hid his distaste at the hype surrounding major boxing matches.

His great fault lay with his overly thoughtful strategy. With his wealth he purchased a Caribbean Island where he lived very privately with his wife, young children and a former chess Grand master on the payroll. When not training he played chess all day.

Efforts to persuade him to be more dominant and set the agenda in the ring, fell on deaf ears.

Finally, his camp got tot the bottom of the problem and persuaded him to give up chess for one year. That led to his most devastating period with three quick spectacular wins against top opposition. Probably no heavyweight in history could have lasted with him during that phase.

For what happened was as of necessity with all top sportsmen, he now acted intuitively and not premeditatedly. But the lure of the chess board eventually put an end to that golden era for him.

That story evidence my earlier point re prison inmates, namely impulsive behaviour without thought of consequences which led them into their plight. Teaching them chess would be an excellent way to change such damaging behaviour.


markscreaminggoosearmstrong June 8, 2020 at 9:18 am

Well, I reckon digital games require a significant amount of forward thinking as chess and I understand they are common in prisons.
Maybe get some support from the sentencing Judges;
“Well, you’re a twice convicted rapist now pal, and it’s a long stretch in the Big House for you rapist, but hey, if you agree to play chess while you’re there your recidivist offending will evaporate and we’ll have you out of there before you can say Checkmate.”

Chess mastership should be touted as a precondition of political selection but I wonder if the potential candidates currently being mooted and picked have enough capacity or control of the top two inches to meet this required standard .The current lot certainly havent.

Fascinating idea. Mongrel Mob vs Black Power match would be a cracker.

Like teaching kids philosophy or other sports it gives them another language and framework to understand and manage competition and conflict. Taking it non-physical is another level from physical sports.

I’ve noticed that with the criminally inclined as well, an inability or unwillingness to think, I had put it down to poor English. It’s quite common, most people can’t think alone but writing and speaking help a lot. We think in words, they’re our tools to understanding; you can’t consider advanced or abstract ideas without words.
“The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.”

― Thomas Sowell

Yes agree. Would be nice to think there is something to catch any persons natural interest to help them along the way. Such a shame we run off the rails or sidetrack ourselves. A waste.
I learn’t chess ( well ..continue to learn) at an older age. Just compete with computer at very junior level. Feels a bit like i’m using the other hemisphere, (man there’s some empty space in there ! ). Perhaps good for lateral thinking.
I’d like to point out my lateral thinking does have ninety degree turns from time to time, none of which are left….in direction.

I agree wholeheartedly with you Bob.
Chess teaches a lot of skills that are relative to life in general.
The most important being , that it teaches you to want to win = succeed and that every move has a consequence.
Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a plan come to fruition.
And that is what can turn a life around.
Or at the very least , help to make sure they don’t get caught the next time !

What do you think?

Freudian slip of the year.

On Q & A with Jack Tame.

Geoff Bascand of the Reserve Bank states:

… we’ve seen … economies open up and not be as BAD AS WE WANTED.

Lennox Lewis was a great champion alright, but sadly to the cost of his reputation he played chess, didn’t waste his money on an ever-burgeoning entourage or expensive silliness such as pet tigers, and got out before he was too mentally damaged, thus ensuring he retained his considerable intelligence to keep his fortune. By the fine traditions of professional boxing champions, the man was a thorough disgrace!

Not being a chess player I had never thought of it quite like this. But what a great idea, to introduce chess to the prison system. Of course having an enthusiastic teacher would be a vital part of this strategy.

markscreaminggoosearmstrong June 9, 2020 at 2:16 pm

I’d be surprised if there’s a prison without a chess board. But the kind of upbringing most of our recidivist criminals have received means there were no books in the house, let alone a chess board and if there was a chess board it would unuseably covered in empty beer bottles interspersed with a few sparkling crystals and a fair bit of dried plant matter.

And those of you who think an illiterate person can’t think are clearly too busy associating with your own privileged kind to have any idea of what people in the real world – or prisons – are actually like. Oh, except for the white collar fraudsters (and I’ll include many senior bank managers and lawyers in that group) who contribute more to reduce the wealth of ordinary Kiwis than any politician could do if they tried.

Ok, but nobody would say me, that chess is not a good and developing game! Chess is a game that develops perceptiveness, imagination and the ability to focus on a specific task. The development of the brain’s left hemisphere which is responsible for logical thinking takes place through counting combinations, whereas the development of the right hemisphere, which is responsible for creative thinking, occurs by arranging new plans and finding new non-standard moves in different positions. Chess is not only a complicated game adults enjoy but also great fun. Regardless of the age, chess develops concentration, increases patience and positively affects the intellectual and emotional development. If you want to practice with your whole family and friends, you might need a help provided by this book – net-boss.org/chess-puzzles-for-kids-by-maksim-aksanov.

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