How to Rehabilitate a Bully

Earlier this morning, I watched a commercial on Discovery for Kids.  Yes, it was on Discovery for Kids!  The commercial was about how to deal with school bully.  It was the typical big, stocky guy picking on a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” clone.  He gripped him up by his shirt.  Two others witnessing the confrontation ran and got the principal.  He came out and chased the aggressor away.  The wimpy freshman was saved and peace was restored on the school grounds.

I had always thought, “Did the bully ever change?”

I was picked on in elementary, junior high and high school.  The person unnamed never said “I’m sorry for what I did to you.” For two years, we cursed at each other.  We fought.  We had physical altercations on stairwells.  He never apologized for his actions.  I remembered the last words he said to me. 

“You’re a nigger.”

I had always thought, “My bully never changed.” 

My bully was never rehabilitated.  He was raised with prejudice.  He had hung around like-minded people.  He was aggressive and participated in an aggressive sport; wrestling.  My high school was 99% white.  The racism was tolerated.  He had no reason or incentive to think differently about blacks.  I was nothing but kind to him.  He responded by making fun of me and calling racist remarks.

A couple of months ago, I watched an episode of the Steve Wilkos show.  There was a former skinhead who earned a conviction of harassment and assault with a hate crime amendment.  He served two years in prison.  He lost his family.  He was on the road to extended prison stints and maybe an early grave.  It took a hug from an African American woman to destroy his hate.  A black man then hugged him.  And then another woman hugged.  The entire audience was filled with racial and ethnic diversity.  Each one came onstage and embraced his 25 year old racist.  He cried.  Those tears were the hate that left his body.

This man spent his life hating blacks and Hispanics.  He confessed to calling his sister’s child a “nigger baby”.  After that incident, she disowned him.  But, that same sister welcomed him back into her family. 

In a follow-up episode, he was asked to talk to a young teen.  This teen was biracial who hated his black side of the family.  He beat up and terrorized his little sister and his mother.  The teen was also a regular in his town’s juvenile lockup.  This former racist told this little boy stories of men getting raped in prison.  He told him not to hate himself.  He told him not to bully and terrorize his family.  The stories scared this teen.  I was sure they changed him.  But, I knew they changed the ex-skinhead.

He and other bullies like him reformed because they had help.


Bullies are violent offenders.  They use violence and intimidation to create fear on their victims.  Their actions aren’t just limited to their victims.  They affect the victims’ friends and other bystanders.  Violence and intimidation makes potential “heroes” cower.  A bully’s actions must be treated as criminal.  They deserve to be suspended on their first offense.  They deserve to be expelled and institutionized on the second offense.  And they deserve incarceration on the third or multiple offenses.  Take away a bully’s freedom.  Show the bully that there are consequences for their behavior.  A bully’s support system is there family.  The family is there mostly for moral support and financial reasons.  You take the bully away from the moral support.  The legal course puts the bully’s family on constant financial strain.  Incarceration works.  It takes the aggressor away from his victim and other potential victims.


Incarceration without treatment serves no purpose.  Over 70% of felons released find they way back into prison.  While in prison, they just learn to be more ruthless and more efficient criminals.  To combat repeat offenders, you must have intensive counseling for them. 

Bullies need more than sensitivity training.  They need to be taught to get along with others.  They need to worst results of their criminal behavior.  They also must complete programs to earn gameful employment, GED or a college degree.  Self-hate starts the process of hating others.  Bullies think they’re worthless as human beings.  A bully’s intention is to make their victim or victims feel worse than they do.  Very few people with emotional stability and self-worth bully others.  People happy with themselves have no time to spread hate.


A former bully has to “Pay it forward.”  Sacrifice is the perfect way for a bully to embrace inclusion.  A Big Brother’s, a Big Sister’s or some other mentor group is what all former bullies need.  Helping others and thinking of others are great ways to battle hate.  Steve Wilkos invites former felons to counsel at-risk teens on his show.  Peer counseling works.  It helps the person who’s at-risk and the person who’s mentoring.


A final way for a bully to rehabilitate is by apologizing. 

“I’m sorry.” Those two words create a powerful message.  A bully doesn’t want to bully.  Most only do it because they’re not happy with themselves or their lives.  When a bully apologizes and means it, those words can begin the process of change. 

With time, even the worst of the worst can change.  Bullies are like us.  They just want to do better.