Exploring the transition from prisoner to university graduate

This guest post comes from David Honeywell of the University of York. You can contact him at  dmh517@York.ac.uk

Education is regarded as a significant contributor to the desistance process with a continual stream of prison education researchers focussing on the impact of prison education. However, one area that is under explored is the transition of the self that education helps to evolve. For some of those making this transition, the exchange to an educational institution will bear some resemblance to the institution they were incarcerated in such as the routine of a structured lifestyle. This is the type of thing my current study is exploring.

A prisoner’s identity is stripped away by the degrading reception process whereby their name and personal self is exchanged for a number and the new prisoner self whereby a procedure of prisonization begins to take place. During this period a prisoner will need to adapt their own routine and place within the prison population in order to deal with their incarceration and for some prisoners, discovering education can provide a much needed sense of worth and focus.

It is this continual and fluctuating transformation process that I am interested in – both positive and negative. My research particularly focuses on the transformation into higher education because higher education (specifically at university rather than by distance learning) incorporates a wide range of unique variables including cultural and structural changes, identity, and re-integration all within the higher education community. The higher education community can provide opportunities for those from a more disadvantage background than wider society offers. For those who are successful in making this transition, they become fully integrated within a culture of acceptance and opportunity.

We know from research Convict Criminologists have done that there is a growing trend of ex-prisoners wanting to and entering higher education and also studying criminology and related subjects. We currently don’t know the demographics of these individuals but my study will at least collate data from a small section of this trend.

It is expected that many will find the initial stages of post prison difficult – in particular finding the most suitable environment to reside and live as a student. Some will encounter obstacles from discriminative policies and some will lack personal support from family and friends as well as facing stigma and rejection from local communities. Some will have the resilience to overcome these obstacles and some will not.

Although I am in the early stages of this study, the general consensus from those I have already interviewed suggests that education alone did not aid their desistance but rather gave a solid platform to underpin an amalgamation of turning points. Education has played a significant role by increasing self confidence; improving career prospects; and opening doors. The themes that seem to be running through the interviews are that many of the participants showed clear signs of above average intelligence early in their lives but life events took them in a direction of self-destruct. Most were victims firstly, perpetrators secondly, and while some feel tormented by their past demeanours, all have exceeded academic expectations any student would be proud of.


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