restricted access Chapter 5. "Jumping Through Hoops": Identity, Self-Preservation, and Change
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90 Chapter 5 “Jumping through Hoops” Identity, Self-Preservation, and Change Late afternoon on a weekday, a resident named Mark was standing near the office door holding a dictionary. This occurred shortly after staff had heard and rejected his appeal in a violation hearing, unanimously assigning him a consequence for manipulation and saying what people wanted to hear, or what staff and youth called “faking it.” Since we had observed the violation hearing and were invested in knowing what he was thinking, we approached Mark and asked him what he was doing. “I’m looking up the word ‘manipulation,’” he said, “so I can find out what it really means. It’s one of them words that everybody uses different.” We stood together and looked up the word, and then we talked about which parts of its definition were the most important for him to remember. Mark decided that “control” and “for your own gain” were important, and then—curious because it’s another loaded word—suggested that we look up “control.” He said that it made sense that control was about having the power to make other people do what you want them to do, and manipulation is having the control to make people do something in your benefit, but not necessarily theirs. They’re related, but he struggled because, as he put it, “How can I manipulate in here, if I don’t have control?” We then asked what treatment contract he was working on. Mark answered that it was his Family Problems contract, but that he was having trouble with it because he didn’t really want to share those things “with a bunch of people who care, but don’t really care.” We asked if he had to do it. He said that if he didn’t tell “them” something about this family, he wouldn’t be able to finish the program, so he’s going to have to do it. We asked what issues he would talk about. He said that there are some family issues that staff think are “better” than others—they expect people to have moms or dads who have drug or alcohol problems, so they like residents to write about that in their contracts. He said his parents don’t have these problems , but he might have to make something like that up. He said that at some point, you have to decide whether you’re just going to “fly on by and fake it out” or get serious and do some work. That point was a few days ago, when “Jumping through Hoops” 91 Mark said he decided to quit faking it and start getting busy, “but it’s hard, ’cause what am I gonna write?” Can a treatment-based correctional program significantly shift a young man’s identity if he doesn’t want his identity shifted? Does the tendency to fake it trump any meaningful changes that a resident might make? Ms. Breuer once said about the residents that “when they make changes, even small little changes, it is rewarding.” But do these small changes matter? The prior two chapters have argued that a juvenile correctional institution is rich in its potential to be a salient site of identity work, given the essential mission of reforming young people and its influence on gender identity formation. But how does such a facility fulfill that potential for individual youth? What elements of this type of program support or impede this identity work? Building on these ideas, this chapter addresses core questions about the process of individual change in a residential correctional setting. Specifically, we discuss the general tendency of residents to initially want to “fly on by and fake it out.” While some youth carried this response forward throughout their stay, others experienced significant shifts in their identities and future aspirations. Through the residents’ narratives over time, we then discuss three major patterns of change in regard to residents’ negotiations of their previously held versions of self in the context of institutional messages seeking to reshape their identities and their futures. Framing “Change”: Identity and the Negotiation of Self-in-Context Identity is a longstanding concern in the study of both institutionalized populations and youth. To examine identity construction within a correctional setting, we frame this discussion with the constructivist assumption that youth actively engage in processes of unfolding definition, in which they try on “possible selves” (Oyserman and Marcus 1990) according to multiple axes of identity—such as gender, race...


Subject Headings

  • Juvenile corrections -- United States.
  • Juvenile detention homes -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Juvenile delinquents -- Rehabilitiation -- United States.
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