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Keeping Sane

This superordinate theme relates to avoiding the negativity traditionally associated with imprisonment (Dye, 2010). The subordinate themes here can be viewed as strategies that participants use to distance themselves from the stresses and strains of imprisonment. As noted previously, involvement in constructive and positive activities provided the impetus and tangible opportunities for participants to construct desirable new selves (Perrin & Blagden, 2014). Furthermore, the mechanisms underlying these subthemes also appeared to help the participants address personal issues that may have been previously unaddressed. Via peer-support roles, volunteers seemed able to create space in which to experience personal growth and a sense of inner peace and calm through times of adversity.

Acquiring a Stake in Conformity

This subtheme categorises extracts relating to how participants perceived their peer-support roles as valuable and as something they did not want “to lose.” Laub and Sampson (2001) have neatly tagged these types of processes as striving to “acquire a stake in conformity”—a legitimate social bond via which individuals can satisfy basic human needs. In these narratives, participants were clearly investing in legitimate and normative behaviours via their roles and indirectly making sure they didn’t “slip up.” Having this focal point appeared important for participants, who were able to carve out some satisfaction from their roles and thus maintain a level of well-being in prison. Stewart, an Insider, explained: [1]

some ways beneficial ... not something to be abused ... but to kind of be proud that I’m in that kind of position.

In this extract, Stewart discusses how his volunteer role has enabled him to forge positive relationships with staff. He takes pride in the fact that he knows everyone, and they know him, even the higher-ranking staff (governors). Stewart enjoys his status as an Insider, which appears to give him a feeling of being appreciated. He values his role so much that he would never do anything to compromise his position, which he respects as “not to be abused.” Stewart’s narrative, in which he describes how he has something good to potentially lose, perfectly exemplifies this theme. Many participants viewed their roles in the same way—they respected their privileged position as peer-support role holders, and this appeared to be influential in keeping them moving forward.

  • [1] wouldn’t have met the people I have ... so ... the other Insiders ... Iwouldn’t have known them like I do ... the safer custody department. Iwouldn’t have known them ... as well as kind of higher ranking, if you like,governors and that when I go to the meetings . I know all the governorsand they kind of know me . and, whenever I see them in the corridorthey’ll ask me how I am ... so to have that kind of rapport in the place is in
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