Orange County Register
Book Review

Leader of Buena Park Ministry Recalls Time in Prison


"The Happy Prisoner” is written for people who are in prison by a former federal prisoner; but it is of interest to the general reader curious about why certain people seem to get caught in an unbreakable cycle of crime, prison and recidivism. William Sultzer believes the main reason he was able to break that cycle is that he accepted Jesus Christ, and his book in part is a plea to other prisoners to do likewise. But there's a good deal more information here that is fascinating and useful as well.

The major insight Sultzer offers is that 70 percent of the people in prison are afflicted with what psychologists now call attention-deficit disorder, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and many also have dyslexia and Tourette's syndrome. When these maladies are unnoticed, left untreated, or handled in the way most parents and teachers try to handle them, they make a life of crime virtually inevitable, he contends.

Sultzer didn't figure out that he had ADD until he was in his forties, but it brought a good deal of his life into focus. Although he was intelligent and creative, he did poorly in school because he had trouble concentrating, couldn't follow directions and more. He was the class clown and also the class bully, and his teachers could think of little to do but tell him to focus and belittle him. Yet he became a successful restaurateur and night club operator, catering to top people in the entertainment business and envied for his mansion and Rolls-Royce.

But he was still dissatisfied. He went from using cocaine to smuggling it, and although he was very successful at that for a while, he was eventually caught and went to federal prison. He became a Christian just before landing in prison, so he spent his time there trying to understand how he got there, how to handle his "differentness" in a better way and planning for a ministry to prisoners when he got out. Twenty years later his Buena Park-based ministry is helping many prisoners and former prisoners, but as you can tell from the size of California's prison population, the job is far from complete. So. what is ADD, and how can it lead to criminal behavior?

Mr. Sultzer and his co-author argue that ADD. apparently a genetic condition, leads the prefrontal cortex of the brain to shut down to a flicker in brain scan images - especially during times of stress, like a kid being asked questions in front of a classroom, when it is most needed. They analogize ADD to having the brain's brakes (behavioral inhibition system) and boss (executive or prioritizing functions) being shut off at key times.

The result is that people with ADD are easily distracted, impulsive, restless, disorganized, easily overwhelmed, easily bored and impatient. They tend to procrastinate, talk before they think, have difficulty with relationships and have a proclivity for addictive behavior.

You can see how this can lead to troubles in school, especially highly regimented schools, and in many workplaces, especially when those with ADD have no clue what is "wrong" with them, as many don't. And you can see how people with such behavior patterns would get into confrontations and fights frequently and eventually become involved in crime.

Mr. Sultzer also argues that people with ADD are by nature hunter-pioneer types rather than farmer types. In olden times when people lived in tribal units on the plains, such qualities were more valuable than they are 'in a modern, crowded, generally regimented society. In fact, people with such qualities can easily be labeled anti-social and come to believe it themselves.

People with ADD, however, often are more creative, musically inclined, intuitive and able to grasp the big picture (at least until they get distracted again) than the general run of people. So if their qualities can be channeled into productive activities they can be not only contributors to society but pioneers. This book aims to help people in prison channel their energies and special qualities into law-abiding activities. Mr. Sultzer's ministry (P.O. Box 7175, Buena Park, CA 90622) is raising money to distribute more copies of the book inside prisons. It's a worthwhile endeavor.

Title: The Happy Prisoner: How Misfits Become Miracles!
Author: William Sultzer, with Jerry Seiden
190 pages; $14.95 Donation
Published by Psalm 146:7 Ministries, Inc