“If I had nae hope… I would either be locked up or deid”: locating hope in desistance

McKean, Sarah Kennedy (2023) “If I had nae hope… I would either be locked up or deid”: locating hope in desistance. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores how hope is experienced and understood by those at various stages of the desistance process. This is an interdisciplinary project combining criminology and theology. Hope can of course be viewed through the social structures which create an environment in which hopeful characteristics can be developed and hopeful actions displayed. This is of great significance in this research given the importance of relational support in generating hope which is revealed in the data collected. However, interpreting this data on merely a socially constructed level limits the extent to which we can know the value of hopefulness. The complex nature of human existence and experience can, and should, be examined on various levels, as McGrath suggests, in order that a more rounded picture can be created. The use of theology allows for not only an additional level of knowing, but also a deeper level of examining that which can be known (McGrath 2015). This research offers an invitation to consider a different perspective, it does not contend that this is the only viewpoint, it is one lens which can contribute to a wider and deeper understanding of the overall lives being examined. I do not argue for the existence of God or the need for religion; this project does not lend itself to such discussion. Rather, theology is used as both a guiding analytical tool, and explanatory lens through which participants’ experiences of both hope and desistance can be viewed and understood.

Some existing literature shows desisters naming hope as a contributing factor to desistance. Weaver’s (2016) research revealed narratives naming hope, to varying degrees, as a contributing factor to desistance. For some, hope was very targeted, and goal based, whilst others used hope to describe a state of being. Conversely, Schinkel and Nugent (2016) show, that for some, hope often led to disappointment therefore becoming a source of pain rather than encouragement. Halsey et al (2017) found that a sense of hopelessness can often result in re-offending and disturbing the desistance process.

The fieldwork for this research began in January 2019 and was completed by the end of October 2019. Participants for this research were male and were recruited on the basis of belonging to one of the groups: (1) those who were serving the last six weeks of a short-term sentence; (2) those who had been out of prison for between three to six months; (3) those who had been out of prison for 2 years or more. The research groups were developed in order to capture a snapshot of how hope is experienced along different stages of the desistance journey. The fieldwork consisted of a creative element: photography; collage; painting and drawing; followed by two interview stages. Photo and image elicitation was used in order to ‘set the scene’ of hope allowing for a natural flow of conversation of what might otherwise be an abstract concept. All participants were interviewed in a semi-structured style alongside their images and those who I was able to maintain contact with were re-interviewed 3 months (Group 1), or 6 months (Groups 2 and 3) after the first interview stage.

Using theology as a guide in both fieldwork and analysis has revealed an additional layer to meaning making and the experience of desisters. The research reveals the main sources of hope, such as community, relationships and small acts of mercy. The thesis highlights the main obstacles in hope and how desisters battle with this in order to sustain their desistance journey. I argue that small acts of mercy can have a dramatic impact on desisters hope journeys leading to significant life turning points.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BV Practical Theology
K Law > K Law (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: McNeill, Professor Fergus and Gay, Rev. Dr. Doug
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83694
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2023 15:26
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2023 15:35
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83694
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/83694

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