Following transcript coding and analysis, we identified two superordinate themes, each comprised of three subordinate themes. These themes are presented in Table 5.3.
Change and Transition
The analysis illuminated various ways in which the participants had changed during imprisonment. These changes appeared to be directly related to the peer-support roles in that carrying out such a role acted as a form of validation that change had occurred. As such, “change and transition” seemed most appropriate as a label encompassing the subordinate themes in this section.
The first of these subordinate themes is “new me.” In outlining some of the internal changes that participants experienced, they often made
Table 5.3 Superordinate and subordinate themes
Change and transition
New me Earning trust
Giving back and making meaning
Acquiring a stake in conformity Addressing personal trauma through helping Channelling
comparisons between their past and new lives. Participants’ recognition of past lives and a subsequent process of change allowed them to reflect on their “old me” and differentiate the “new me.” Research has emphasised the importance of these types of narratives (Abrams & Aguilar, 2005) and has argued that offenders who experience qualitative shifts in their attitudes towards themselves are more likely to commit to pro-social “possible selves” (Stein, Roeser, & Markus, 1998, p. 102). Participants consistently described their old offending selves as “bad,” “destructive,” or “hindering” and their new selves in terms such as “good,” “calm,” and “positive.” In this sense, peer-support roles appeared to have a transformative effect on enhancing positive views of the self. The following interview with a Listener illustrates this theme:
Interviewer: What does it mean to you to be a Samaritan Listener?
Steve: If you’re out through life causing destruction and distress to people and yourself, you can quite quickly fill your bank up with negative ways of thinking and negative thoughts.... It’s like having a big tub of dirty water, that’s negative. And then someone gives you a positive drip, and eventually, with more drips, the water gets less murky, overflows, and then it’s just nice and clean. That’s what happens basically. It’s learning to accept that positive.
Interviewer: So Samaritans was a big drip?
Steve: I believe so yeah.
In this extract, Steve conceptualises his old self as a tub of dirty water, full of negativity. Over time, he has learned to accept help and support and has undertaken a range of courses within the prison, which he tags as “drips” of positivity. Everything he has learned as he has completed his sentence has diluted the negativity in his life. He talks about his experience as a Listener as being very influential, and it appeared throughout his interview that listening may have assisted the beginning of his movement towards his “new me.” Crucially, the positive drips in Steve’s life have also allowed him to reflect on the negative behaviours associated with his old ways. In this sense, “being” a listener has allowed for a momentum of change (Gobbels, Ward, & Willis, 2012) in that he is learning to accept a positive view of himself through purposeful activity. For Steve, listening appears to catalyse self-evaluation and promote profound personal realisations.
Steve’s role may also represent a turning point, or at the very least an influential factor in his experience of transformation. In this respect, although offenders may be motivated to change before becoming peer- support volunteers, such roles seem to provide the perfect environment for change to actually happen. Steve’s analogy of the tub of dirty water gathering drips illuminates this point well; he is allowing many positive influences into his world, and this is enabling him to re-story that world. Other participants echoed a similar viewpoint. Kyle, a listener, stated thus:
I was more ignorant before. I mean, judgemental. “Don’t wanna talk to him, don’t need to know him” ... that kinda attitude. That’s all I knew for so many years so there was nothing I could really do about it. When I did eventually learn something else being a Listener, it had a big impact. Just on general day-to-day life, like, how I deal with people from how I would before. Even some of my mates, “pftt, that’s not the same guy.” I’m a good boy now.. I don’t do the things I used to do. Listening calms you down as a person, ‘cos you realise, that person here’s going through this and he’s
going through that____When you listen to people it’s different. You really
help without actually doing anything. Just listening, it’s empowering.
Kyle here distinguishes between his old and new attitudes. Ignorance and resistance were all he knew, and sensing limited opportunity to change, he was unable to break loose. Being a Listener prompted Kyle to reflect on his “self,” and he has found reward in the new way in which he’s able to deal with people. Interestingly, Kyle comments on how he’s “a good boy now.” This self-construal of being “a good boy” represents a narrative shift from “bad boy, who does bad things,” to a “good boy capable of doing good things and making amends.” Such narratives are important as they allow offenders to portray “good selves” and assert that the person who offended is not really who they are, such shifts in narratives have been associated with redemptive episodes and personal change (Maruna, 2001; Presser, Veysey, Christian, & Martinez, 2009).
Participants also appeared to be very connected to their peer-support roles. Crucially, the requirements associated with these roles encourage the individual to form a new, law-abiding life in prison. Whilst behaviours and realisations that emerge in prison are not forced to travel through the gate with offenders, the analysis revealed a strong suggestion that the participants were able to practice pro-social behaviours via their peer- support roles in prison. Hence, Kyle doesn’t “do the things he used to do.” These movements towards a changed self-identity offer some hope for reintegrating offenders, who may be galvanised by their peer-support roles to implement the necessary controls to lead law-abiding lives on the outside.