Study Guide

Touching Spirit Bear Criminality

By Ben Mikaelsen


Part 1, Chapter 1

"If you kill my cat, normally the police fine you and that's it. We still hate each other, I still feel bad about my cat, and you're angry because you have to pay a fine. In Circle Justice, you sign a healing contract. You might agree to help me pick out a new kitten and care for it as part of the sentencing." (1.39)

Garvey tries to explain to Cole why Circle Justice is more focused on healing and change than the normal criminal justice system, but Cole still doesn't understand how it's supposed to work. He doesn't actually believe something like this can change him.

Agreeing to spend a whole year alone in Southeast Alaska had been his only way of avoiding a jail cell in Minneapolis. (1.1)

Cole isn't going through with Circle Justice because he actually believes in its mission. He's just trying to game the system and avoid serious jail time since he knows he won't get off the hook this time around.

He had no intention of ever honoring the contract he agreed to during the Circle Justice meetings. As soon as they left him alone, this silly game would end. Circle Justice was a bunch of bull. They were crazy if they thought he was going to spend a whole year of his life like some animal, trapped on a remote Alaskan island. (1.17)

Despite the fact that Cole's been feigning regret for beating Peter up, he doesn't feel bad at all. Instead, he's planning his next criminal act—escaping the island and leaving behind his tangled life for once and for all.

Chapter 13

"Now you'll end up in a hospital. When you're released, you'll still have your parents to deal with and you'll still be facing a jail term. I doubt the Hearing Circle will consider returning you to the island after what's happened. You realize all that, don't you?"

Cole nodded. "I do, but it's okay. Whatever happens now, I'm done being mad." (13.70-71)

It's only when Cole accepts responsibility and resigns himself to going to prison that Garvey realizes he's ready for a second chance on the island. This time, maybe he'll take it seriously and actually learn a thing or two.

Part 2, Chapter 14

One month after Cole's return from the island, the police had arrested and formally charged his father with child abuse. He denied all the accusations, of course, and paid bail before the ink dried on the warrant. (14.2)

No wonder Cole doesn't seem to accept his mistakes at the beginning of the book. He's learned all of this bad behavior from his father—who doesn't act sorry even after he's arrested for beating his own son.

Chapter 15

During the following weeks, Cole mentally prepared himself for the inevitable. He imagined attending a trial and hearing the verdict: guilty. He imagined being led in handcuffs from the courtroom and for the first time being locked into a real jail cell. The hardest thing was to imagine being locked up, day after day, week after week, month after month. (15.35)

After Cole is rescued from the island, he knows he's probably going back to jail. It's something he doesn't want to happen, but he's aware that this is the reality of his situation. After what he's done, how could he expect anything else?

Chapter 21

Edwin shrugged. "After he was arrested, his lawyer got him released the same day. He never spent a single night in jail." (21.29)

Cole and his mother might both change after his near death experience, but it looks like his dad is still the same old jerk. He won't apologize to his son…or even take the punishment for it.

Chapter 25

"Would you be willing to stay here longer if it meant helping Peter?"

"I'd stay my whole life if that's what it took." (25.15-16)

Now that Cole's been on the island and reflected on how much he hurt Peter, he knows he has to make up for his actions. He's ready to do whatever it takes to help Peter, even if it means accepting a pretty serious punishment.

Mr. and Mrs. Driscal

Mr. Driscal spoke forcefully, looking directly at Cole. "Bringing Peter here might be a huge mistake, but we had no other choice. This has been harder for us than you can ever imagine. We'll be staying until we're positive that he's safe. Nothing is going to hurt him again." (25.37)

Cole has changed, but it's clear that the Driscals still view him with suspicion. To be fair, their experiences with him have been terribly negative—after all, he's the guy who hurt their beloved son.

Chapter 26
Mr. and Mrs. Driscal

Mr. Driscal poked a stiff finger at Cole's chest. "If you do anything to hurt our son now, God help me, you'll go to jail until you rot. Do you understand me?" (26.20)

If Cole messes up this time, there will be no second (or third) chances. He's going to have to go to jail and serve out his time. It's a good thing that Cole has finally changed enough to want to be a better person and isn't interested in hurting other people anymore.