“This is Me”
One of the greatest moments in the film, The Greatest Showman, is when the bearded lady sings the anthemic ‘This is Me’, unashamed and unapologetic of who she is regardless of how different she is to what is considered ‘normal’ in the community beyond the circus to which she belongs. Within the circus, she has freedom to be restored and grow.
Within prison research, however, it has become accepted that successful desisters ‘knife off’ their past to create a ‘new’ identity, often stating ‘I’m a different person now’. In addition, prison education research often describes the ‘transformative’ power of education which learners use to carve out a ‘new’ identity. It appears that in order to successfully desist from crime, we need to help learners find their ‘new me’, but is this always the case?
This presentation interrogates notions of transformation and identity, based on findings of a recently-completed qualitative PhD. Outlining more varied notions of identity experienced by prisoner learners, a distinction is made between those who feel they have been transformed into someone ‘new’ and those who feel they are being ‘restored’, becoming more ‘who I really am’, exploring the crucial role of agency within these notions and resisting notions of ‘normality’.
Unfolding of identity, together with the development of social and emotional skills, can be linked to the process of desistance, even among reluctant learners. Curriculum, culture and connection are identified as crucial to the process of identity restoration, affording dignity and supporting desistance journeys.
Fiona has over 20 years’ experience as a secondary school English teacher, prison educator, manager, government adviser and consultant inspector specialising in juvenile and young adult male offender education in UK and Australian prisons.
Fiona is interested in the value of prison education, recently successfully submitting her doctoral thesis which explored the relationship between engaging in adult basic skills learning in prison and desistance from crime. She is passionate about developing respectful research in prison education, ‘pedagogies of desistance’ based on a human dignity approach and high quality carceral learning spaces that may support both the learning and desistance processes.
Currently, Fiona is working as a freelance consultant on education and training in a WA prison and also with NDRI, Curtin University and University of Queensland in various capacities, including supporting the Beyond Violence project investigating female violent offenders and developing a program specifically for women in prison. She is passionate about social justice and reframing the offender as human being who deserves to flourish.