Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hope: One Prisoner's Emancipation

Alison Granger-Brown, Fielding's School of Human and Organizational Development

I would like to think that I chose this study to add to the literature on human development in the prison system. However, I would have to say that the study chose me. It became a deep discovery of what is required for human beings to grow within the context of a prison setting and afterwards in the community. The study explored the life history of an Aboriginal woman once considered to be a volatile, violent, and unmanageable female prisoner by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). Changing her life she became a valued volunteer within that prison system.

Human growth and development must be considered with attention to the exogenous influences of all the systems people have to negotiate. I walked with Lora for 14 years: 7 while in custody and 7 afterwards until her death in 2013. During that time she became a mother, a volunteer, peer researcher, cancer patient, and always a teacher.

Since the 1970s there has been a pervasive decline in recognizing rehabilitation potential in people with lives plagued by addictions and the crimes supporting them. I observed the opposite: hundreds of lives changed for the better. There are interventions that kindle the flame and support a fire in people to build a healthy, productive life. Society has a responsibility to fan that fire, rather than feeding the despondency and hopelessness so prevalent in our prisons.

Information was gathered from interviews with Lora, video and audio recordings, her journals and poetry. Interviews were also conducted with family to gain clarity of her childhood and complex trauma history and with people who walked with her after prison to elucidate her change process.

The study encompassed literature from modern, post-modern, and Aboriginal epistemology, integrating theory from multiple disciplines. What emerged was how powerful the deleterious influences of complex childhood trauma are, in all domains, over the life span. Counteracting this damage most significantly are the mechanisms of hope and the inspiration of believing in the possibility for successful and lasting change: This is the key-stone to the archway through which people re-enter the community from prison.

Key Words: hope, Aboriginal, transformational learning, resilience, desistance, complex trauma, prison, reintegration, rehabilitation, restorative justice, attachment

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