Title: Desistance and Development: The psychosocial process of going straight.
Name: Shadd Maruna
Institute of Criminology
University of Cambridge
7 West Road
Cambridge, England CB3 9DT
Year: 1997
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

The Liverpool Desistance Study was an effort to understand the phenomenology of "going straight" or desisting from an entrenched pattern of criminal and addictive behavior. The project involved face-to-face interviews with over 60 ex-convicts in a disadvantaged, urban setting. Approximately half the sample had been "going straight" for some time (avg. = 3 years), and around half the sample were still actively involved in crime and drug use (and willing to admit to this freely). All of the interviewees participated in a life story interview process. Interviews were transcribed and content analyzed by independent raters in order to discern patterns within and across the two groups (active offenders and inactive former offenders).

The findings from the research make up the heart of the book Making Good: How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild Their Lives (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books, 2001), which was awarded the American Society of Criminology's prize for Outstanding Contribution to Criminology in 2001. The phrase "making good" describes the creative process of transforming a past life of shame and defeat into the foundation for a meaningful future. To make good is to find reason and purpose in the bleakest of life histories (cf. Frankl, 1984; Taylor, 1983).

In the Liverpool study, successfully desisting ex-convicts seemed to engage in what Rotenberg (1987) calls "re-biographing" or "rehabilitative story-telling," through which they were able to "correct" their past histories "for the sake of psychological continuity and cognitive congruity" (p. 49). By "selectively and creatively reinterpreting past events to suit future aspirations," the ex-offender is able to justify one's past, while also rationalizing the decision to go straight (p. 50). Rotenberg calls this a "legitimate historical rehabilitation method" through which the "failing parts in a person's history are contracted while the reinterpreted reconstructed parts are expanded to create a more congruent life story dialogue between the future-oriented present new 'I' and the past 'thou'" (p. 65). It is concluded that creating this sense of order out of disorderly lives may be of particular importance to those who are trying to maintain an important life change like going straight.

Bibliography: Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man's search for meaning. New York: Washington Square Press.
Maruna, Shadd (2001). Making Good: How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild Their Lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.
Rotenberg, M. (1987). Re-biographing and deviance: Psychotherapeutic narrativism and the midrash. London: Praeger.
Taylor, S. E. (1989). Positive illusions: Creative self-deception and the healthy mind. New York: Basic Books.