The language of desistance for those that live it, is not in words but rather behaviour – the destiny of accumulative changes in a rehabilitative context. The language of “desistance” is solely the preserve of the academic, researcher or practitioner. It’s another academically constructed word for the observation of behavioural changes, or at least that’s the science of it. What occurred to me recently is the criminal justice market capitalisation of the word “desistance”. I can barely stand to hear the word expressed due to it’s commercial value. I talk to lay persons and watch their eyes roll as I begin to explain ‘another’ word to explain human behaviour, and like I said in a previous article, ‘desistance explained my behaviour much clearer than rehabilitation’ so I thought!. So why have I lost the love for the word?! Who owns the language of desistance?
The question bothered me for some time, again in earlier articles I try to draw out concerns and doubts hoping for a dialogue of some sort with those who eagerly asked questions about my own narrative of desistance and used it. My scepticism grew at the lack of engagement with questions I posed and the lack of reply with the very few people who occupy that particular dialogue. Thankfully the scepticism lead me to engage with critical thought like never before. It’s so easy to get turned on by radical ideas and explanations at University, but actually putting those thoughts, ideas and more importantly cautions into practice takes time. Before engaging with text from radical thinkers – my beliefs were simpler, and naïve about the “system”, the academy and those that occupy the space of intellectual authority. The naivety and simple beliefs have been smashed to smithereens in recent months.
However, the radical thinkers, theorist and commentators whom I now consider myself an ‘apostle’ of, have freed me from a pain I couldn’t fathom before – I shall call those painful years ‘the desistance years’. I realise I created a quixotic trap for myself in the hope of ‘challenging perceptions, policy and practice’ through ex-offender.co.uk. It confirmed my “victimhood” for others to smell the blood and take a piece of. They could also smell the “making good” pheromones – the vain smell of wanting to be heard. The narrative becomes the blood of an injured victim in a shark invested sea for researchers to encircle and take a chunk out of. I’d open my heart and tell my secrets to people I didn’t know and still don’t. I cringe every time at the thought of my naivety in giving away my thoughts and part of my narrative. I feel robbed, if not abused. Upon reflection I would love for some of the questions asked of me to be asked again, in the knowing they’re making mental notes of my beliefs and views, like ‘art and rehabilitation’, and ‘the world of criminology being a small one, insinuating they all talk in private hush cliques!
The language of “desistance” used by academics, researchers and criminal justice practitioners have become a sales pitch, a product – how’s that so, as it’s a narrative, and more often than not, a private narrative, points to what it’s become – just another word that the ‘appointed’ can market and make capital of. It’s a word rarely used by “ex-offenders” only by those of a quixotic nature or those attempting (or attempted) to be part of the criminal justice hustle! Personally, desistance apart from it’s wonderful introduction of being an observed part of the ‘life course’ of those who offend and stop offending – to market the narrative the way it’s being done is to cheapen it’s value academically, theoretically and practically. To conclude, put it simply – the linguistics of desistance have been stolen from those that change, used by those in a privileged position to market and capitalise upon. Lets keep our narratives to ourselves in future.