Changing Narrative Accounts

Rajah, Valli, Ronald Kramer and Hung-En Sung (2014). Changing narrative accounts: How young men tell different stories when arrested, enduring jail time and navigating community reentry. Punishment & Society, 16(3), 285-304.

Using fieldwork, interviews, and survey data collected from male adolescent prisoners who completed a cognitive treatment program, this study addresses two questions: how do adolescent prisoners account for past and possible future acts to illegally acquire money? What frames are identifiable across these accounts? We identify three frames in adolescent prisoner narratives: a ‘victim’; ‘rebirth/redemptive’; and ‘critical’ frame. While the first frame is used to rationalize crime, the second promises that, as changed individuals, future crime will be avoided. The third frame questions the moral and structural hierarchies that render certain groups susceptible to being labeled deviant. Drawing on narrative-identity and intersectional theory, we argue that adolescents’ narratives of economic prospects change over time as a function of navigating the different strains associated with initial incarceration, enduring jail programming, and reentering communities. We argue that these changing social conditions provide the context for adolescent males to shift their accounts from ‘hegemonic’ to ‘subversive’ narratives. To conclude, we discuss the implications of study findings for research on desistance.