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Comparative Penology

Institute of Criminology

Life after Death?

By Steve

What thoughts do these words invoke within our minds? Many may perceive them in a spiritual sense - a hope that there is something more to come; a hope maybe, of a resurrection or reincarnation, after our corporeal journey has ended. For me, as an ex-offender of maybe the most feared and stigmatised kind, they mean something different in many ways. I believe there are ways to die that are not physical in nature, although I sincerely hope and pray that both victims and offenders can find ways to carry on living.

I was sent to prison for perpetrating sexual offences against a minor, and I remember the utter confusion within my mind during those first days, weeks, and months of prison, and the seemingly unfathomable questions I posed of myself. That time is hazy, but the spirit of those questions would be, “What led me to commit such damaging acts? When did I pass away, and become a wraith that drifted between light and darkness?” Beyond these, but invoked by them, were more immediately pressing questions, such as, “Do I want to live? Should I be allowed to live?”, and most prominent in my mind, “Do I deserve to live?”  

I felt I couldn’t begin to pursue the answers to these questions, nor to affirm who I really was, until I really understood the situation. My embarkation point towards a safer future for all, had to be with victim empathy at the forefront of my psyche. On one specific occasion I can recall, during pre-programme assessment, this flexibility of thinking was stirred within me, connected to my alternative view of death. I was confronted by a psychometric question, that being, “Have you killed a child?” This invoked two conflicting responses within my mind, driven by two trains of thought. No, I hadn’t in the mortal sense, but yes, I had seriously hurt someone, and taken critical emotional and physiological lifeblood from them. Understanding how much I had hurt someone helped me when I was undergoing interventions and treatment, as I felt there can be no stronger incentive to learn, understand, and prevent further offending than through having the deepest connection to my victim’s state I could achieve.

Over time though, especially upon release, I have realised it can be dangerous to become obsessed with this intense analysis of actions and consequences. A balance must be reached: not disrespecting the past, or ignoring the invaluable learning that must be embraced, but not continual, obsessive, introspective research either, that can induce instability within me. In a nutshell, I have had to move on. I have within this process though, found that many of those initial questions from my darkest days have been answered, although others I believe will remain in my subconscious indefinitely.  The critical thing is, my pulse remains.

Death in all its guises stalks the wings of our prisons. Suicide is known to be a consequence of our penal thinking, and I lost two friends to “lost hope” within those walls and fences. Thankfully, assisted in the main by my “Samaritan” led “Listener” training, a role prisoners take on to emotionally support others inside, my split-second temptations towards such a fate were rare. I deduced that I didn’t want to be dead permanently, but just for a little while, until the pain of my existence had passed. As I have described, these brief assignations with the abyss were especially frequent in the early days, as guilt, shame, and loss haunted my waking hours and trespassed into my sleep. As part of the therapeutic support I received, it was explained to me that I was suffering from bereavement in a way. The death of my marriage, the death of the family unit, the loss of my wife, my children, and my friends, with no hope it seemed of seeing them again. It was gently suggested to me, that a living bereavement can be as debilitating as coping with physical demise, as there is little chance of closure over time, knowing they are out there physically living, but forever out of reach, forever dead to me.

These preceding words are all tainted with darkness, so you may be asking yourself, when does life begin again? I have tried to avoid spiritual concepts, beyond the few within the first paragraph, but it is a truth that you need to die to be reborn. I can pinpoint the precise moment my previous life ended, along with the passing of so much more. It was upon receiving the call that accused me of doing the things I had done. Over time though, with thought, support, and that most critical of tools, perspective, I realised that my negative, troubled persona had passed away too, at that same precise moment in time. I know many people would be sceptical of that statement, believing “Once a sex offender, always a sex offender.” Having experienced the system though, I cannot concur. Among the many imprisoned, released, and community order offenders, there is a wide-ranging spectrum of risk. There is the offender that should sadly never be released from a secure environment, whose issues are just too extreme to treat, and at the other end, there is the offender that will never contemplate illegal actions again. I would never be so bold as to put myself at the positive end of this spectrum, but firmly believe, that the trauma at the point of that old life passing, can immediately change people, maybe much more than is recognised or accepted at present. Whatever the time frame, I know the man I was has passed away, and in his place is a man more attentive, more empathetic, more caring and kind; less selfish, less unstable, less sexually motivated, less inattentive to inner demons and negative emotions. My goal has always been to regress towards the child I was, purely from a moral and virtuous point of view. Recapturing the innocence, whilst retaining the maturity, patience, knowledge, and wisdom of the adult I am now.

To conclude this piece, and please forgive me for one more spiritual analogy, but what keeps me going each day, what drives me on, is the resurrection of the seemingly dead. Around two years ago, my eldest daughter sent me a message. Simply worded it read, “It has taken me a long time to process all this, but you are my Dad, and I love you and forgive you.” For me, this is the pure essence of hope, and “Life after Death”.



Steve served a prison sentence for sex offences, and is now building a future in the community.

logo The Comparative Penology Group is led by Dr Ben Crewe and his research team who, since 2016, have been working on a five-year project titled: 'Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis'.

The research is based in England & Wales, and Norway, and involves four inter-related studies of (a) penal policymaking and the penal field (b) the experience of entry into and release from custody (c) the daily experiences of female prisoners and imprisoned sex offenders, and (d) prisoners in the most secure parts of each jurisdiction's prison system.

This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC).









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