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One person female, multi-ethnic, said: I started here as a volunteer, then on a per-diem-basis case manager and worked my way up to director. If I can advance, they believe they can too. As workers move up in positions, we become role models to those who are just arriving. A future is possible if you desire it and are willing to work for it. However, one volunteer found paid employment elsewhere noting low agency salaries. It is like looking into a mirror, my face is familiar.

I am no longer demonized and pushed aside as refuse. I have a better view of myself: my courage, my strength and my worth?. My children see a mother who has dealt with adversity with grace, resilience, calm, and forgiveness. Positions and the meaning of work all play a part in shaping identity; how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Of two people reporting no meaning in life, one spoke of searching beyond meaning in work, and another said he valued helping but felt sad about the work, seeing the number of returning citizens. The present qualitative study sought to understand how 20 formerly incarcerated employees or volunteers were able to reframe their prison experience to create new personal narratives by helping others re-enter society after incarceration.

Most participants reported high levels of meaning and satisfaction in their work, including helping, being useful, giving hope, feeling one had become a different and good person, hope for promotion, and shedding labels. Moreover, though once stigmatized by society, many are now perceived with status within their community. Overcoming post-incarceration challenges, emotional distress, and other barriers, heightened meaning in their work, faith, and hope.

Participants viewed their agency as a humane bridge to society, accepting and humanizing, serving as a non-judgmental community, and allowing time for self-discovery and change. By recognizing their own wounds, they have filled wounded-healer roles, providing them with a sense of meaning and purpose.

Cognitive and spiritual transformation occurred as they learned to delineate past transgressions from their current identity. For some who serve as wounded healers helping others, work is meaningful and the basis for meaningful life. Such meaning suggests psychological well-being, healthy coping strategies, and the ability to reframe negative events as lessons to assist others [33, 38].

Transitioning from prison life to the outside world can present a host of challenges beyond securing necessities.

BROKEN RUNGS Yet I Climbed

Most have had to learn to navigate in a dehumanizing environment where emotions had to be masked and internalized [7, 13]. It is highly likely that many released persons leave prison with some form of trauma that has been undiagnosed and untreated [8, 13, 14]. Prison adversely impacts self-esteem, sense of identity, cognition, emotions, and human spirit [6]. Banishment serves as a strong reinforcement that one is undesirable, worthless to society, and no longer a member of their community.

Moreover, once released returning citizens are viewed as second class [5], forever branded with a criminal history [3], and seen through the lens of a felony stigma [54]. Taken together, all these challenges can be psychologically imposing making it difficult to reframe trauma when one is constantly reminded of it and experiencing it on a regular basis.

Reentry agencies provide the time and space for post-incarceration adjustment, allowing individuals to reacclimate in an environment where their journey is understood and not judged [34, 38]. This culture combined with needed assistance and recruitment to work present an environment conducive to reframe trauma [56].

For participants in this study, the distortion was internalized by seeing themselves as bad people who were flawed, broken and despicable.


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Such self-understanding was reinforced not only during their incarceration, but after their subsequent release when rejected for employment [57], feeling stigmatized [4], and feeling a lack of well-being and low self-esteem, with shame, guilt, and worthlessness [58]. In the instant study, coming to these reentry agencies offered participants acceptance without judgement of their history, provided them a sense of community and belonging juxtaposed against a society that does not, and enabled them to discuss their experience to recognize the trauma.

Heidemann [59] similarly reported that reentry agency peers and staff welcomed, encouraged, and assisted, serving as a significant predictor of life satisfaction for women in her study. When returning citizens witness others like them have found work, were promoted and placed in positions of leadership, a sense for possibility builds [44]. According to Aresti et al. Most participants described their defining moment as healing and coming to terms with the past and moving forward and less as an act of integrating it.

Similarly, Kerley et al. Still others, felt their defining moment arrived when they experienced recognition, respect, and validation for their work with other returning persons. For the wounded who have themselves undergone suffering, participants had become healers recognizing the wounds of others [60].

Reporting they had healed, participants wanted to heal others by fulfilling wounded-healer roles.

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LeBel [41] noted that agency wounded-healers were especially likely to feel contrition about committing past harm and to identify with other prisoners. Those who find rewarding and meaningful work that helps others develop pro-social identities and self-image [44]. By acknowledging their past and subsequent experience, participants were able to separate events from their identity.

Whether viewing the meaning of their experience as providence by a Higher Power or simply accepting it as part of their narrative, participants were able to reframe their experience and move forward. In either scenario, the experience of prison became a source of credibility to help others returning from prison. This meaning-making process enabled them to make sense of the experience, their world, and their place within it as meaningful [33].

How to Heal from Trauma

They believe their work was recognized by others as contributing. Without a sense of belonging to a community, believing ones work has purpose and is valued, and being perceived as good people, meaning in life is lost [30]. Riessmans [42] helper-therapy principle also suggested that helpers might find satisfaction in helping, find meaning, feel prestige in the role, and receive better treatment from others. For those in the present study, meaning in work also encompassed reports of becoming different and good people, shedding labels, and envisioning a future.

Helping and engaging in respectable work [] seemed to let people see themselves as good, valued, and accepted for themselves, instead of bad, worthless, or stigmatized. Other research has also described the redemptive value of deriving lessons from the past self to become a positive self who can help others [27, 39, 62].

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Holding key positions within their organizations, serving as pastors, and speaking publicly about their prison experience enabled participants to transcend the labels associated with incarceration. Few would argue that most people leaving the prison system have experienced some form of trauma. Reentry agencies can help individuals transition from prison and later by offering an accepting community, space to adjust, job training, treatment, support groups, mentors, and resources [45, 66].

Judges could also assign supervisees to these agencies for community-service programs to enhance chances for growth and work. Without time to adjust, adequate support, and experiencing a healthy environment that fosters self-efficacy, the transition from incarceration is fraught with many challenges and recidivism more likely [56]. Agencies that encourage professional development can help formerly incarcerated individuals contribute, improve their self-view, find meaning in work, and plan a path to success.

Also, most participating agencies were Christian, so results may not generalize to other faith traditions or secular agencies. Older individuals or those who have been out of prison longer may have more mature views, which could account for reports of having found meaning in life and the ability to reframe trauma. Views about agencies, helping, or healing could also have been especially positive due to self-report bias or if highly motivated people were asked to participate in the study. Compared to reentry agency clients, formerly incarcerated agency staff also tend to report greater participation in helping roles, less personal stigma, and less expectation of re-arrest [38].

Given that demographic characteristics of volunteers and staff in the present study were similar to those of staff in the [38] study, the present study may generalize to reentry workers. Future research should ask how former inmates are evaluated for trauma pre-release from prison, how more of them can be directed toward reentry agencies, and how time at these organizations might improve the longer-term restoration process; including career development [20], and find new meaning in life [34].

To conclude, this study showed that formerly incarcerated volunteers and staff at reentry agencies found meaningful work, positive shifts in identity, and hope for careers at these agencies. The idea of being needed, making a contribution, and being part of the community are building blocks to reframing the trauma of prison. Every year, nearly three quarters of a million people are released from prison [65], a number that informs us of a large population that may be suffering and underserved.

Our American culture is less forgiving and perpetuates the stigma associated with incarceration by shunning this population.

While reentry agencies offer the opportunity to work and volunteerism, this number may far exceed their capacity. Other charitable and service organizations may increase the opportunity for returning citizens to serve and rebuild. Reframing the traumatic experience of prison requires a welcoming response to returning citizens, validating they can make a difference, and help them script new narratives. Fortune Journals follows a rigorous peer-review together with strict ethical policies and standards to ensure high quality scientific works to the field of scholarly publication.

Fortune Journals uses best softwares for identifying plagiarism and it never accept articles with higher plagiarism. Articles published under Fortune Journals will be Open-Access articles which are distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution License version 4. Fortune Journals follows single blind peer-review process, manuscript submitted by an Author is assigned to a particular Editor. Toggle navigation. Keywords Trauma, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Society, Work. Introduction Incarceration is a traumatic experience that leaves few unscathed from some form of psychological harm [1].

Supporting Theories for Reframing Trauma 2. Method 3. Results 4. Discussion The present qualitative study sought to understand how 20 formerly incarcerated employees or volunteers were able to reframe their prison experience to create new personal narratives by helping others re-enter society after incarceration. Implications for Programs Few would argue that most people leaving the prison system have experienced some form of trauma.

Directions For Future Research Future research should ask how former inmates are evaluated for trauma pre-release from prison, how more of them can be directed toward reentry agencies, and how time at these organizations might improve the longer-term restoration process; including career development [20], and find new meaning in life [34].

References DeVeaux M. The trauma of the incarceration experience. Rhodes LA. Pathological effects of the supermaximum prison. Cover story. Journal of Public Health 95 : Larkin PJ. Public choice theory and overcriminalization. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 36 : Cherney A, Fitzgerald R. Finding and keeping a job: The value and meaning of employment for parolees. Love-Colgate M. When the punishment doesn't fit the crime: Reinventing forgiveness in unforgiving times. Human Rights 38 : Bell R. Shared experiences of African American males with addictions who recidivate Unpublished doctoral dissertation.