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The Early Years

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology book series (PSIPP)

Abstract

Extending Bury’s (1982) concept of ‘biographical disruption’, this chapter examines the existential dislocation and biographical rupture experienced by our participants during the initial stage of the sentence. Beginning with the remand period, the chapter charts the pains of the early phase of such custodial terms, highlighting their physical, physiological and affective dimensions and outlining the defensive reactions that they generate. The chapter concludes by emphasising the significance of the ‘offence-time nexus’—the relevance of the sentence length and the specific offence of murder—in determining the experience of long-term imprisonment from young adulthood.

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  • DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-56601-0_4
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Notes

  1. 1.

    Such experiences were compounded for a number of women by the fact that they were heavily medicalised during their trials. One recalled having fallen asleep while in the dock because of the strength of the tranquilisers she had been prescribed. Several reported being ‘so smashed’ that they could tell us nothing about their time in court and said that they had been returned to their prison cells without realising they had been found guilty, much less sentenced to life imprisonment.

  2. 2.

    Notably, however, there were few significant differences in the severity scores for those convicted in accordance with the principles of joint enterprise and those who were not, with only ‘feeling that your length of sentence is unfair’ felt by the former to be a more severe problem to a degree that was statistically significant.

  3. 3.

    It is striking in itself that there is such common ground between the findings of studies in different jurisdictions and during different decades, indicating that long-term imprisonment has some more or less essential qualities. In all such studies, the findings point to the primacy of ‘missing somebody’, the pains associated with basic deprivations (social life, luxuries and sexual relations) and the sense of life being lost or wasted. Meanwhile, among the least severe problems in all previous studies are such matters as feeling suicidal, being concerned about mental health issues, being afraid of dying before release and ‘feeling sorry for yourself’. For further details, see Hulley et al. (2016).

  4. 4.

    These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross 1969; Kübler-Ross and Kessler 2014).

  5. 5.

    In this sense, the experiences documented here diverge from findings within classic studies of ‘procedural justice’ (e.g. Tyler 1980, 2003) which suggest that the key factor shaping perceptions of the actions of the legal apparatus relates to the ‘fairness of the processes used when dealing with them’ (Tyler 2003: 283). Such theories indicate that people are ‘not so much concerned with the outcomes they receive in encounters with authorities […] [than with] the fairness of the procedures and the interpersonal treatment they receive in these encounters’ at the system level (Beijersbergen et al. 2015: 198). However, when the stakes are as high as two or three decades of incarceration, the consideration of process seems likely to be trumped by assessments of the law itself and the outcomes it generates.

  6. 6.

    ‘Basic’: the lowest level of the system’s incentives and earned privileges scheme (‘basic’, ‘standard’ and ‘enhanced’).

  7. 7.

    Our analysis helps account for why disciplinary infractions tend to be more common during prisoners’ initial sentence stages (see, e.g., Toch and Adams 1989).

  8. 8.

    Such experiences fall within the DSM-V clinical diagnosis of both acute stress reaction (cf. Bryant et al. 2015) and post-traumatic stress disorder (cf. Pai et al. 2017).

  9. 9.

    Notably too, some participants reported having been forcibly medicated in their early sentence phase, seemingly as a means of managing their behaviour rather than treating a specific diagnosis. Nathan (30s, mid) described being ‘fed drugs’ as a means of securing his compliance (‘They just […] medicate you, until you’re not a problem anymore’), while Carly (30s, post-tariff) identified her experience of being medicated on Largactil—an anti-pscychotic drug—as a standard institutional response at that time to those with long-life sentences (‘back then, if you’ve come in for a big sentence, [the response was] “Just drug ‘em up”, kind of thing. And that was just normal’).

  10. 10.

    A much wider group of participants ‘dabbled’ in such activities in minor ways, but here, our discussion is about more committed involvement in sub rosa activity.

  11. 11.

    ‘On road’ or ‘on the road’: outside prison, often indicating a criminal lifestyle.

  12. 12.

    This was comparatively high compared to those further on in their sentence, with only 24% of those in the second third of their sentence and 14% in the final third of their sentence currently appealing. At the post-tariff stage, only 5% were appealing at the time of the study. At least part of this disparity can be explained by the fact that many of those beyond the mid-point of their tariff had already exhausted the options for appeal at an earlier point in their sentence, or no longer saw the point in appealing once they had served a number of years.

  13. 13.

    As we noted in Chapter 2, however, 191 men and women who met the criteria for our study had been transferred to secure psychiatric hospitals during the course of their sentence.

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Crewe, B., Hulley, S., Wright, S. (2020). The Early Years. In: Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood. Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-56601-0_4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-56601-0_4

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