I have now finished interviewing men and women in prison, but am still looking for a few more people in the community.
Most of the interviews have not been transcribed yet, let alone analysed, but I have lots of snippets of what people said in my head. Parts of their stories. The meaning of imprisonment often changes over people’s lifetimes. For many of the men (but by no means all), in their youth imprisonment was part of a lifestyle that involved taking risks, finding ways of getting high and sometimes the high life of dealing drugs and having lots of money. Some were nostalgic for those times, and trying to relive their younger days (by taking Valium, for example) could lead to further offending in the present. As one man said:
I just go wandering aboot when I’m wrecked, it’s something I used tae do when I was younger and it just comes back tae me. Soon as I take something it comes back tae me when I was younger and I just go intae that mode again. Cos when I was younger, I used tae go oot taking everything and anything, taking Tippex out of the big buildings, you know the big buildings, cos they’ve got big cupboards and they’ve got trays of Tippex and I used tae get the thinner ….So aye, we used tae…we still took money and other things when we were in all they big offices, but it was mainly for Tippex and I think I miss that…cos that was my young days, eh?
The nostalgia doesn’t extend to their prison sentences per se, but sentences in their youth were part and parcel of the lifestyle, and not experienced as very difficult. Some men admitted that they had wanted to go to prison, because it would give them standing with their friends. Whether imprisonment when young meant the same for women I can’t quite remember, and I don’t have the transcripts for their interviews yet, so can’t check. I don’t think so, though. For them, first prison sentences more often followed ‘getting habited up’ on drugs, so in that sense were already part of the aftermath of something bad happening.
Later in life imprisonment, for both men and women, imprisonment was often a consequence of a spiral of despair following a personal disaster. This could be the death (sometimes murder) of a family member. Often it was having a child (or children) put into care. Before the disaster, the men and women had often had a positive period in their lives. In the case of having children taken away, this was either because they had come off the drugs before the birth, or because they were trying to meet social workers’ expectations in order to keep their child. But then something happens (a return to drugs or dealing, or social workers just not being satisfied) and their child is taken away (or someone is killed, or has died). To numb the pain of this, they returned to drugs and re-entered the cycle of drugs and offending (or offending through the possession of drugs). This means that imprisonment is part of the aftermath of the disaster, rather than something destructive in its own right. As such, it doesn’t carry much meaning, other than a place to regroup. With children permanently adopted, it can be hard to muster the motivation to try again. To build up a life again.
So prison goes from collateral damage that comes with a lifestyle, to being part of the aftermath of personal disaster . In either case, it doesn’t have much meaning.