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thoughts about "How Offenders Transform Their Lives"

sara.gladwin's picture

The reading “How Offenders Transform Their Lives” kept reminding me of our discussion in Voice class today about GirlTime. Someone in class brought up how self-congratulatory many of the people in charge seemed about the program, and how that was a negative aspect because it seems to eliminate possibilities for the program to effectively critique itself and become better for the girls it was attempting to change. In addition, it was brought up that the program was supposed to be for those girls, not necessarily for the volunteers involved. However, I also thought that the reverse would have been equally negative, if not worse. If the women (teacher-artists) had maintained the position that they were the authority and the program had no effect on them, they would have reinforced a sense of hierarchy, a separation between the girls and their more “enlightened” positions. Positioning themselves as authority figures, they would have continued to perpetuate the sense that there was a fundamental difference between themselves and these girls. Doing this places even more importance in their authority, the necessity of having someone “in charge” who by the nature of their position, knows more than those they are intending to change. It sets up a dynamic of us/them, perpetuates the “normal” vs. “other” attitude that can be so damaging to how people chose to live their lives. While I was doing this reading, I couldn’t help but think of how researchers that approaches “prisoner transformation” and rehabilitation with the attitude that they are removed from the analysis could be similarly damaging. The assumption becomes that prisoners are the only ones in need of transformation; and that the only access they have to that transformation is through an authority how obviously knows more than they do. It reminded me of our readings about Quakerism, and Caroline Stephen writing about how Quakers do not believe that people should have to communicate with God through another person. In breaking free from this, Quakers ensure that each person has the equally opportunity for communion with God, instead of needed a higher authority to insist on the “right” way for each person to communicate with God. Psychological efforts also seem similarly construed; that a prisoner must have this “higher authority” to tell them how to transform. While I don’t necessarily disagree with that someone may need the help of other people to change, I’m not comfortable with the power dynamics that the psychological position fosters. In Anne’s class today, one of the quotes that we mediated on was about the “state of simultaneity,” which means that we are “always at the same time separate and united, this and that…the self is always at the same time itself and the other” (Kalamaras 6). This suggests that we are always in the state of being both normal and the other. Thinking this way seems to disrupt notions of normalcy, upset the hierarchy created in therapy.

I apologize this was kind of rambly and incoherent but it was just some stream-line thinking about what the reading reminded me of!