Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Imposter? How a Juvenile Criminal Succeeded in Business and Life by Kip Kreiling

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Transformation Help Press, 2009
Price: $17.77
ISBN-10: 0615320554
ISBN-13: 978-0615320557

When the author contacted me about doing a review of his book, I very nearly said no. I get several review requests per week, so I have been forced to get choosier about the review copies I accept. But I took a closer look at the book description and changed my mind. We don’t have nearly enough books that talk honestly about the shortcomings of our juvenile justice system. Perhaps Kip Kreiling had something new and important to add?

I was a little put off by the large print of the book when my copy arrived. It makes the book bulkier than it need be, and implies a readership it probably doesn’t have—the elderly? The very young?

I started to read, and large print was forgotten, as I fell into the story. This was a heck of a story. One with which, unfortunately, I was all too familiar from my own experiences, raising my son as a single mother. Those preteen and teen years can be so very difficult for boys and young men growing up without good, strong male role models, and having a father present doesn’t in and of itself fill that gap. It depends on the type of father. But I could relate to young Kip’s mother painfully well, the heartbreak of watching a son struggle to find his place in a world that makes a molehill of a youthful mistake quickly turn into a mountain of trouble. What should be a “teaching moment” or a wake-up call often gets turned into a downward spiral by a juvenile justice system that is often predatory and punitive rather than caring and rehabilitative.

With Kreiling’s misadventures with drug use; gangs or kids simply gone wild; with the idiocy of the current juvenile justice system—“They were turning me into a harder criminal than I already was.” (page 35)—and an educational system that has been broken for a long time; with a society in general that treats our youth as second or even last priority; a foster system that started as a good idea but is now more infamous for abuse cases than rescue stories; we are all in trouble. This cannot go on.

I read with excitement, because Kreiling was telling a story that needs to be told. I’m glad to see he is an enthused marketer as well, doing everything he can to promote his book. Good. I have visions of this book being passed around juvenile delinquent homes and youth prisons, even adult prisons, with its basic message of hope: everyone can change. Indeed, perhaps that is the thought behind the large print, because those who languish in prison more often than not come from backgrounds of poverty and little to no education, so whatever can be done to make this easier to read is a good idea.

A better idea: another round of editing that goes deep with cuts and brings the writing, which is not bad but not yet up to par, to the level this memoir deserves. Personally, my suggestion would be to lose the eight principles of change and to simply write his story, tell it like it was and how it is now. Write the memoir, skip the rest. Let the story tell its own lessons, rather than inserting an artificial listing of principles, or morals, at the finish of most chapters. After all, none of the lessons are particularly memorable, and certainly nothing we haven’t heard before. Principles of change such as (paraphrased)—change your environment and you will change yourself; don’t plan for failure; choose your friends carefully because you will mimic their behavior; get disciplined in pursuing your dreams, and so on, appear in countless variations in a thousand self-help books and many are already a part of the commonly known 12-step programs that, frankly, do it better.

When Kreiling wrote about his own life, I was mesmerized. This was honest, raw, ugly, real. This was good and inspirational storytelling, with plenty of conflict and obstacles to be overcome, a hero that kept falling but still had something of integrity buried deep in him right from the start, keeping the reader interested and rooting for him to survive. One only had to look closely enough, and through caring eyes, to see the potential and root for it to rise.

While some of Kreiling’s intellectual explorations are mildly interesting, they, too, tended to distract from the meat of a great story. I had to think of one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read: Monster : The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur, who today works to end gang violence. Had Kreiling stuck to his memoir, his good message would surely have more power and less of a didactic tone. Instead, Kreiling veers into side stories about Abraham Lincoln and Ben Franklin and Ayn Rand and young Gisela, a brainwashed Communist who sees the light by spending time with a tour group of boys (including Kreiling) from the free West. These tour group boys understand that they will not change Gisela by preaching to her. They instinctively understand that she will learn in a more meaningful way simply my observing what freedom looks like in her peers from the free world. Kreiling would do well to apply the same wisdom to his book.

Mind you, those side stories are interesting, and I could relate. I, too, traveled behind the Iron Curtain as a young woman. I, too, was drawn to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and I even went through some of the same internal debates as Kreiling, wondering how and if Rand’s objectivism could fit with Christianity. I suspect if I ever met Kreiling, we’d have a heck of a lot to talk about and a great deal of experiences on which to compare notes. Yet crowding all these tangents into one book is just that, overcrowding, and dilutes from the purity of his message.

This message is too important to miss. Kreiling has all the requirements to be the one to tell it. He has been to those darkest of places. He has hit despair, seen the insides of prisons, and he has known what it means to sink into and to beat an addiction and to relapse and have to beat it again. He knows what it means to betray and be betrayed. And there is no more powerful storyteller than he who knows and tells it from the heart.

Kreiling has lots of heart. Or call it conscience. It is his heart and his conscience—and a keen intelligence that makes itself known even when still uneducated—that save him and save this book. Kreiling has led a remarkable life. Today a successful businessman, husband and father, he has proven that change is possible. He has shown that any addiction can be overcome. These are the makings of a great story. Cleaning away the frill and the fuss, this great story could really touch many hungry hearts and minds, those like his, despairing to keep hope alive.

~Zinta Aistars for The Smoking Poet, Spring 2010 Issue

"A product of our broken urban society, Kip Kreiling was arrested 3 times before he was 10 years old and 11 times before he was 14. When Kip was only 13 year old, he was taken out of 2 schools, a shopping mall, and a bank in handcuffs. Because of his criminal activity as a youth, and the resulting chaos he brought into his life, Kip moved 34 times from the young age of 11 to the age of 26. On average, he moved every 5 months for 15 years, in and out of jails, group homes, and street shelters, while his mother and father moved less than 4 times each. Today, Kip is a Fortune 15 executive who has had the opportunity to work with several of the world's most respected companies including Ford Motor, Hewlett Packard, Vodafone, and the UnitedHealth Group. As of 2009, Kip has provided transformation and business leadership services for over 40 companies in more than 20 industries. Between his corporate, consulting, educational, and speaking engagements, Kip has had the opportunity to travel to nearly 200 cities in 21 countries on 4 continents. Kip earned his Bachelor of Science degree at Brigham Young University and his MBA at Indiana University. Kip Kreiling is also the founder of the nonprofit foundation The foundation is focused on improving the human condition through personal and organizational transformation, with a focus on teaching transformation classes in prisons. Most important to him, Kip has been happily married for almost 20 years and has five healthy children. For fun, Kip enjoys multiple activities in the mountains including boating, water and snow skiing, camping, and hiking."

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