The existential aspects of desistance
Existentialist thought within criminology
Becoming anew: human development and desistance from crime
Struggling to 'become'
Discussion and conclusion
I nodded, sinking into new levels of misery as it began to dawn on me
that I had let down not just my family but also a huge army of friends,
supporters, lawyers, constituents, well-wishers and prayer-givers.
(Jonathan Aitken, 2003: 226)
This chapter will chart and theorize – via the experiences of one woman – the key existential processes and moments in the transition from being an 'offender' to being an 'ex-offender'. Existentialism, as we shall come to illustrate, we feel captures both the 'internal' changes in self-identity and the processes which foster such changes, but yet does not lose sight of the wider social world and the problems which it can create for those wishing to change important aspects of their lives.
In the following section, we outline the key tenets of existentialism, relying as we do most heavily upon its usage in sociology since the late 1970s. We then pause briefly in order to assess the (somewhat limited) use made of this perspective by criminologists. Following this, we draw insights from the desistance literature, skewing our focus heavily towards those studies which (albeit implicitly) contribute to our understanding of the existential processes associated with the termination of the criminal career. We then embark upon a detailed case study of one desister that demonstrates the power of the existential perspective for illuminating the issues surrounding change from a 'criminal' to a 'non-criminal' social identity.