The Criminal Lifestyle: Patterns of Serious Criminal Conduct


Glenn D. Walters

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  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    To Patti, Christopher, and Tara


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    I have been sitting at my typewriter for some time now, wondering how I should proceed with this Preface. To say my feelings are mixed would be a major understatement. On the one hand, I want to develop a theme capable of carrying this book to a meaningful conclusion. On the other hand, I don't want to invest a significant amount of time in a section most readers (the present author included) rarely peruse. In what I hope is not too roundabout a way of dealing with my ambivalence, I would like to point out that a book on crime is not unlike a mystery novel. I offer this analogy cognizant of the fact that both entail a multitude of unknowns and, as any aficionado of the genre knows, the core of any good mystery is the what, why (or who), when, and how of the crime. With this in mind, I invite the reader to join me on a short excursion into an area normally reserved for the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, and Mickey Spillane.

    In considering the “what” of this book, it is important to understand that just about every one of us has committed a crime at one time or another. Most of these crimes are relatively minor in nature—such as traveling five miles over the speed limit or taking a pen home from work—but crimes nonetheless. In this book, however, we will be focusing our attention on persons who engage in serious criminality as part of a wider lifestyle. As such, we not only avoid the problem of triviality but also enhance the future universality of our results. This is because research clearly suggests that while lifestyle criminals are small in number, they account for a decisive majority of the serious crimes committed in this country (see Hamparian, Schuster, Dinitz, & Conrad, 1978; Shannon, 1982; Wolfgang, Figlio, & Sellin, 1972).

    My principal motivation in writing this book was to contribute something of value to what I have come to call the field of criminal science. The “why” or “who” of this book is therefore grounded in my years of clinical experience working with groups of criminal offenders. This is a perspective I find to be invaluable for someone attempting to produce a book on criminals. Too often, authors of criminology and criminal science texts have had limited personal contact with real-life criminals. I mention this, not out of arrogance, but in an effort to point out that it is difficult to draw a consummate picture of something one has rarely seen in operation. Consequently, research results and theoretical speculation might be more meaningful if tempered with clinical observation and direct contact with the subjects of one's investigation.

    The question of “when” may be more appropriately phrased, “why now?” After all, there have been numerous books written on the subject of crime, some of which have been published relatively recently (e.g., Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985). I respond to this query by referencing an old adage: “There's no time like the present.” In addition to my seven years of clinical experience working daily with various groups of criminal offenders, I have been concatenating this information with selected research findings in an effort to devise a model of criminal behavior that is both meaningful and useful. Although I do not offer this model as definitive, I do believe that it has been sufficiently developed to serve as a hypothesis for others to review, examine, contemplate, and criticize.

    In addressing the question of “how,” I believe it is important for the reader to understand that I approach my work with lifestyle criminals as a sort of working hypothesis that is continually in the process of revision (although the foundation of this approach—conditions, choice, and cognition—has remained stable throughout my investigation). In fact, this is exactly how I approached the writing of this book. With only minor exceptions, the chapters appear in the order in which they were written. In this way, the reader can see for him- or herself how research and clinical observation can serve as a basis for a theory of lifestyle criminality and personal change.

    Though this book may not be received with open arms by everyone in the criminology/criminal justice community, it does offer a fresh perspective on issues which, while central to criminal science investigation, have too often been overlooked by a majority of theorists in the field. Predominant among these is the fact that despite the influence of internal and external conditions, the individual makes certain choices. In understanding serious and reoccurring patterns of criminal conduct, it is therefore essential that we appreciate the kinds of choices the criminal makes and the belief system upon which these choices are based. With this in mind, we proceed through a maze of research, theoretical, and clinical findings—a trek, which, it is hoped, by journey's end should shed light on the what, why, when, and how of serious criminality.


    I would like to thank Miriam Boyle and Joan Walters for their assistance in locating several of the newspaper articles referenced in this book.

    The assertions contained in this book are the private views of the author and should not be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the Department of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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    Author Index

    About the Author

    Glenn D. Walters has spent the past six years serving as a staff psychologist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. He received a B.A. in psychology from Lebanon Valley College in 1976, an M.A. from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in clinical psychology in 1978, and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Texas Tech University in 1982. He took his internship training at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Fort Gordon, Georgia, where he had his first exposure to incarcerated offenders. After completing his internship, Dr. Walters served as chief psychologist at the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from whence he transferred to the United States Penitentiary after twenty months. In addition to developing a theory of lifestyle criminality, recent publications have dealt with the use of psychometric data to predict criminal outcomes, the genetic correlates of crime, and inmate classification.

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