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Judge to Eco-Terrorist: Read Malcolm Gladwell in Prison

By Brett Snider, Esq. on January 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One foreign eco-terrorist won't be breaking rocks in prison, she'll be cracking books instead.

Rebecca Rubin, 40, of British Columbia, Canada, was convicted in federal court in Oregon for her part in a "massive eco-sabotage campaign" as part of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. According to The Oregonian, Rubin was sentenced to five years in prison ... and advised to read two books by pop science writer Malcolm Gladwell.

Can a judge actually give a prisoner reading assignments?

'Tipping Point' for Eco-Terrorist

Rubin had committed various acts of eco-terrorism as part of a group called "the Family." She pleaded guilty to participating in these attacks in October. Although she wouldn't reveal the other members of her group, the Los Angeles Times reported that she admitted full responsibility for attacks that included firebombing and setting horses free.

Perhaps it was because of her contrition -- or the fact that she was on the run in Canada for years -- that U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken recommended that Rubin do some reading behind bars. According to the Oregonian, Judge Aiken advised that the former eco-saboteur read "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell.

Although panned by The Wall Street Journal as "working with thin evidentiary soup," Gladwell's "David and Goliath" ostensibly examines the strength of "desirable difficulties" like dyslexia in business leaders. Perhaps Judge Aiken hopes that this prison sentence -- or even the last few decades of Rubin's life -- will be couched as desirable difficulties.

Reading Sentences Are Fun-damental

This isn't the first time that a judge has suggested or even ordered a defendant to bone up on his or her reading. A federal judge in a San Francisco Bay Area robbery case ordered defendant Otis Mobley Jr. to "read for at least one hour every day" and write book reports while on supervised release pending his trial, the Mercury News reported in 2012.

And while some prisoners use books as their favorite method of smuggling drugs, Flavorwire reports that one Utah judge often ordered convicted felons to read Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables." Reading Hugo's story of redemption and prisoner rehabilitation may be slightly more torturous for felons than watching the recent movie adaptation.

These kinds of creative sentences can border on exceeding a judge's authority, but most defendants are more than willing to comply if it's part of a more lenient plea bargain.

We hope prison commissaries sell bookmarks.

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