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Title: Life stories: an examination of some narratives of four men serving a life sentence
Authors: Langer, Jeffrey Neil
Keywords: Life sentence;Parole;Prison;Ricoeur
Issue Date: 20-Jan-2016
Abstract: In 1976, the death sentence was abolished and replaced with mandatory life sentences with specified minimum periods for parole eligibility for those charged with murder. Although many lifers (those serving a life sentence) are released upon reaching their parole eligibility date they spend the rest of their lives under supervision and they face the prospect of being returned to prison for a violation of parole conditions. The notion of ‘serving time’ takes on a different dimension for lifers than it does for other offenders. In this study I interviewed four lifers and applied a grounded-theory research approach to the analysis of their transcripts. The systemic violence they endured contributed to a sense of hyper-vigilance which became inscribed in their persons and persisted in their post-prison demeanour. Their prison experience was tantamount to a limit-experience (a type of action or experience with approaches the edge of living in terms of its intensity and its seeming impossibility) and it is the difference derived from this experience that is one thing that sets lifers apart from others in the community. Inside, the prisoner learns to self-regulate his conduct in order to avoid punishment or have his behaviour read as normal but he also engages in overt and covert forms of resistance. Outside, the panoptic gaze has a powerful effect and self-regulation has become ingrained into the lifer’s being. Nonetheless all four of the iv participants talked with pride about their acts of resistance, even if the act was relatively insignificant. All the participants talked insightfully about the meaning of time. Penal time becomes ‘time served’ and an instrument of disempowerment. The mind numbing, repetitious routines of institutional life eventually become ingrained into their being to the extent that they can hardly conceive of any other manner of existence. Consequently reintegration for lifers is fraught with effects of time served and even the most successful of the participants reported he could never shake the ravages of ‘time in’. Ricoeurian theory and the use of narratives firmly anchors this thesis in the disciplines of the humanities. Narrative is a way of understanding life as it is lived. The use of narratives provides a means of gaining an in depth understanding of the lives of these participants and how the various dimensions of the life sentence have shaped their identities over time, while serving time.
Appears in Collections:Interdisciplinary Humanities- Master's Theses
Master's Theses

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