Stories from The Inside: An Exploration into Prisoner Identity, Narrative, and the Violence of Silence



Brown, Brandon S

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This thesis utilizes narrative and social identity theories, as well as research around the social impact of stereotyping, shame, and humiliation to evaluate the narratives of twenty-seven currently incarcerated men within a maximum-security facility in the Northeastern United States. According to Nelson (2001), how individuals view themselves within the frame of master narratives may restrict moral agency and the freedom to act, as well as one’s view of what they can do. Identity becomes damaged through oppression and the deprivation of opportunity, and becomes twice damaged through internalizing the negative views that other people hold, resulting in an infiltrated consciousness. The author, also currently incarcerated, designed and conducted the interviews with three questions in mind: 1.) How does an individual’s self-narrative develop and change through their experiences within the system? 2.) Do prisoners begin to adopt the negative stigmas and stereotypes impressed upon them by society at large? 3.) Is it possible, based on the findings, to create counterstories that might allow prisoners to deinfiltrate their consciousness, and reposition themselves in their own narratives despite a significant lack of moral agency and self-efficacy? The aim of the counterstory, according to Nelson (2001), is two-fold; changing the oppressors’ perception of a group, along with the oppressed individuals’ perceptions of self. By discovering themes in the ways that inmate identities have been damaged, the author explores possibilities for the creation of counterstories which resist the master narratives ascribed to prisoners, build narrative bridges to their communities, and include the potential for narrative repair to occur. Through exploring authentic, and less simplistic narratives of prisoners, it may be possible to spark a new conversation about who resides behind the walls of America’s prisons, and how the process of incarceration can be made less damaging, from arrest to reentry, ultimately reducing conflict by reducing recidivism in the age of mass incarceration.



Prisoner, Identity, Prison, Silence, Stereotype