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Brain Structure and the Developing Mind: Part II

Last time I talked about how emotion and reasoning skills differ on a developmental level between adolescents and adults. I’d like to revisit that because something recently changed in the legal landscape that takes those concepts into account. I’m talking about this Supreme Court decision:

If you don’t want to read it in its entirety, here’s the quick version: Those who were convicted of murder when they were juveniles and have life sentences without parole may be reconsidered for parole or re-sentenced. Teenagers/juveniles are more prone to impulsive decision making, and a life sentence as a form of societal protection is unjust. Simply put: people grow up and change. While some might balk at the idea of reconsidering prison sentences in general, especially for murders, based on the concepts we talked about in my last blog I agree with the court’s decision here.


The court decision emphasizes that by applying a life sentence without parole to a teenager, we would be denying them the opportunity to show some kind of redemption. If we’re going to argue that the prison system is intended for rehabilitation, then what our prison sentence was saying to a prisoner is, “Sit there and think about what you did, for life, and while you do that as an adult, try to remember how you thought as a teen, and then don’t think like a teen anymore.” THAT simply doesn’t make sense and is unjust, so it’s changing.

The plaintiff of the case, Henry Montgomery, committed a murder when he was 17 years old and as of this writing is 69. During his time in the prison system he experienced an “evolution from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community” and “[notably] that he was a coach on the prison boxing team, had worked in the prison’s silk-screen program, and had offered advice to younger inmates.”

imgres3I would be curious to hear Henry’s story of how he experienced himself in prison. Part of the rulings in 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama that preceded this current case included language on deciding whether juveniles reflected “transient immaturity” and were able to mature. I’m also curious how we could create an operational definition to decide when juveniles have moved past “transient immaturity”. And I’m curious how we can decide that sooner than a 52-year prison sentence.

If we are going to argue that myelination is the last step from an “adolescent” brain into an “adult” brain, one possible method is to just check people’s prefrontal cortexes with an MRI. Or just interview these inmates and get to know what it was like for them. Either one of these are cheaper than incarcerating people for decades.


Eating Disorders: Thieves of Life & Happiness

What comes to mind when you think of an eating disorder? Do you think of Hollywood stars, models, success, and popularity? Or do you think of sadness, isolation, disgust, and guilt? If you or someone you love has suffered from an eating disorder, you likely know that the reality of these disorders falls into the latter category. mackie blog pic

Eating disorders are not phases, fads, diets, or quick fixes. Rather, they are serious lethal mental illnesses. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all psychiatric illnesses to date. To allow somebody to struggle through an eating disorder untreated is essentially to allow somebody to play with death.

Eating disorders are manipulative thieves that steal away life. They steal away the little moments of happiness that we are all capable and deserving of experiencing in life. Happiness is not in the number on the scale. Happiness is in your child’s smile, in the warmth of a pet cuddled up in your arms, in the sunshine, in a song, or in a movie night with close friends. Say ‘yes’ to food. Say ‘yes’ to health. Say ‘yes’ to life.

This poem means a lot to me, and I want to share it with you:


“You say

‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’

I say

nothing feels as good as eating dinner with your family

on a Saturday night

laughing and talking and chewing

feeling free.

Nothing feels as good as baking cookies with little siblings

stealing bits of dough and chocolate chips

and eating one fresh out of the oven.

Nothing feels as good as curling up on the couch with a good book

and a steaming mug of creamy hot chocolate

with extra marshmallow

on a cold winter’s night

because you chose to be healthy

to get better

to see colour again

because the little things make it worth the struggle.

You take your skinny, your bones, your hunger

I’ll take




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