Ep 18 From Imprisonment to Empowerment: How past trauma and a hunger for learning redefined one woman’s lived experience from victim to victor and empowered her to encourage voice for others.
4:24PM Jul 30, 2021
Shelli Ann Garland
Hello, and welcome to a dash of salt. I'm Dr. Shelli Ann and I'm so glad you're here. Whether you stumbled upon this podcast by accident, or you're here because the subject drew you in welcome. Salt is an acronym for society and learning today. This podcast was created as an outlet for inviting fresh discussions on sociology and learning theories that impact your world. Each episode includes a wide range of themes that focus on society in everyday learning, whether formal or informal, so let's get stuck in shall we?
Welcome to a dash of salt. Today I'm joined by Michaela Booth. Michaela works for prison healthcare services engaging patients in prison in the design, delivery and evaluation of Healthcare Services. Her current project is leading the implementation plan for peer mentoring, training and delivery within 47 prisons in England. Michaela has a first class degree with honours in applied criminology and is a postgraduate student halfway through her master's degree in crime and justice. In 2020, she won a national runner up award from the Criminal Justice Alliance in the category of Outstanding Individual for her work leading peer support provision with prisons. This project also won a high commendation from the health service Journal and The 2020 patient safety awards. My Kayla's passions include advocacy for equity and inclusion, social justice in the synthesis of lived experiences into broader social dialogue. She's an avid blogger and public speaker on criminal justice issues, and women's experiences of criminalization. And Her research interests include lived experience, research, ethics, power and the use and misuse of trauma narratives. I'm delighted to have you on the podcast today to talk to you about what pushed you to overcome the societal stereotypes and stigmas stemming from your life and your educational experience. So welcome, Michaela.
Thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm excited.
I'm very excited to have you on as well. Michaela, if you could just start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, your life and some of your experiences growing up.
Sure. So, apart from the obvious information that you've just shared in my introduction, I was born into a family of drug addicts. My parents were in active addiction to hard drugs. And both of them throughout my childhood were involved in criminal activity, suffering from serious mental illness, drug addiction, compounded by the experiences of being parents to three children, three young children. So my childhood was very traumatic. My childhood was mostly based around survival on a day to day basis. That continued up until I was 17. And I had my daughter, my dad then went to rehab in Spain. He tried various different rehabs throughout the course of my life. All really based in in England, where we live, and none of them were really ever successful long term due to coming home to his friends, the same environment, my mom who was still a drug user. And when I got pregnant, I think that was a big milestone in his life. I was very young, it was going to be his first grandchild. And I think that was a big turning point for him. So ever since then, he's been in abstinence based recovery. And he's still in Spain. He comes back sporadically. And he's been around 17 years, absolutely free from any drugs. Following on from that active addiction. I've also then been a big part of a recovery journey, which was really triggered by my my pregnancy as a 17 year old. My mom still suffers with mental illness drug misuse. To this day, so I know part of the introduction was talking, my introduction was talking about a kind of synthesis of lived experience, a point that I always try to make when I when I talk about my life, in, in a broader kind of social narrative is that many people who face social inequalities as a result of mental illness, drug misuse, these experiences never really go away if you've been impacted by poverty by by mental house and drug misuse. Though those social stigmas that discrimination and also living with it, they're not things that ever go away. So so when I talk about lived experience, it's very much a living experience. So I still experience recovery from addiction because my dad's in a 12 step recovery programme, which means he will for the rest of his life, be a recovering drug addict. My mom still suffers with mental illness, so much of my life, now as an adult, is still caring for someone with a mental illness, who still has problems with with drug use. And I think those are, that's not just personal to me. So most of the people that I know, in my social circles that have similar experience, to me as a child, they're very much still in lives that are impounded by social inequality that are impacted daily by stigma and discrimination. And I think that it's really important for us to be mindful, and understand that lived experience is very rarely something in the past. So it's, I can talk about my childhood trauma now from a perspective of, of not being in that trauma anymore as a child. But I am still facing daily trauma and trauma triggers. When I'm supporting my mom, who I know has been using drugs, and is in a state of psychosis, and I'm a 32 year old, 31 year old mother and woman myself. And that's very difficult. When I then think back to all of the times that I was an eight year old, or a nine year old, or a 10 year old child being massively neglected, not having my needs met. And I would always like to think, well, I did like to think ahead of time when I was younger, and think that maybe at one point in my life, I may move away from having to survive life with a parent that wasn't parenting, like I parent, my child. And I still haven't got there. So it's, it's not an easy situation for me to live in. And so you, you mentioned in my introduction, I recently graduated with a with a first class degree. So that was my graduation actually happened this year in June, it was stopped last year because of COVID. And I was, I went to university as a mature student, and was one of the oldest in my class. So I went to my graduation with my daughter and my sister, and everybody else was there with their mum and dad. And if you think about all of the kind of symbolic pictures of of graduations, it generally that the picture that you have in your head is you with your parents who are massively proud that you've gone to university and you've got a degree and they want to be there to celebrate it. And then, and I'm not saying this, that my parents aren't proud of me and that they didn't want to be there to celebrate it, but my dad's in Spain, and he can't get back to England because of the pandemic. And my mum was was busy with DJing on her decks that she plays in the kitchen. So um
just to kind of really pin down how some of those experiences affected me as as a child, so it was very, very traumatic, but I really try and avoid using a narrative that places me in in a victimhood identity. So I actually never knew that my experiences were different from from anyone else's, because that was the only life and only family that I'd ever lived with as, as a young child, that that really began to change even in primary school. So my first vivid memory of exclusion was at primary school. And my parents were often late picking me up from school, probably every day they were late. And no one else's parents were late. Really, if they were they had a valid reason that there was traffic or they had to work late or there was an emergency, not just that their parents were off their heads on heroin, and forgot to go and pick their kids up from school, which was the case for me most of the time. And I vividly remember being in the outside playground at school and the teachers taking a group of children who were also there past the deadline past the school bell ringing, taking them to the dining room hall where the children sat to wait for their parents if they were late. And one of the teachers said to the other teacher that was leading the children to the hall. Oh, don't worry about those three, their mum's always late. So we waited in the corridor, while all of the other kids went to a dining hall to do their arts and crafts, or to have a carton of milk in an apple where they waited. And I mean, at primary school age did I know that that was discrimination? Did I know that I was being actively excluded from education provision, because my parents were drug addicts, and I was facing that secondary discrimination I, I knew that we were being left out. And I didn't have the knowledge or the language or actually the behaviours to express what that really meant. And actually, that that was no fault of my own. That was that was an education provision that was failing in its duty to look after children. And I didn't know that. And that's, that was one of many experiences. And all of those experiences really just imprinted on the person that I am and the person that I grew up to be. So much of that now has probably stemmed into me being absolutely dedicated to equity, and understanding all about the impact of discrimination and stigma, and and how labelling is, is really used to mark the bodies of what society deems bad people. And that's exactly what happened to me. But I really try to view this through a systemic issue, rather than individual people who were less than what they should have been, at my time in need. And I often think, no, I don't often think I often want to think that many of these individual people didn't know what was happening, but they absolutely knew what was happening. We had police chasing mums boyfriends over the school in drug chases at primary school. Mom went to prison when I was at primary school, they absolutely knew that we were three kids living with massive trauma. And we continue to get detentions for not doing our homework. We continue to be embarrassed in front of people for not doing our homework for not having the right uniform for being hungry and asking for food.
There was blatant disregard for doing anything to to improve the lives of these three young children.
Absolutely. And and it's really sad to look back and say that and and I often look back and try and think about what was good during those times what was helpful. And, and I just really don't actually want to believe that all of those people knew, we never did anything. But but it really is the case. And when I first applied to go to university, I had through secondary school I had got permanently excluded from school at the age of 15, just before I was due to sit my GCSEs so I left school with no no formal qualifications. And then I had a baby and I went to prison. And when I came out of prison and applied to go to university at the age of 26, the the course leader that I had spoken to on the phone, invited me in for a meeting, and she'd given me a question to write a very small essay about to kind of check my my academic ability. And I took that into her on our meeting, and she, she briefly skim read it, and then we had a really great conversation. And the meeting finished with her taking me to the admissions office and being admitted onto the course. And I look back now, and I think that that woman, and her her engagement with me was the first time in my life at the age of 26, where I'd ever met anyone that that believed in my potential to be successful. And, and that to me, tells me that, thinking back to my childhood experiences of school, it's not just bitterness and resentment, there actually isn't anything there that I can hold on to and recognise as good, because as soon as it happened in my life at the age of 26, I absolutely know that that woman was the woman that changed my life. And she did that because she spoke to me, she got to understand who I was, as a person, what had happened to me as a child, and how I wanted to use those experiences for the greater good. And her background in social work. She used to be a social worker, before she came in, became an academic. And she also used to be a probation officer. So it was almost like all of the people that had failed me in the past. And all of the services that had failed me in the past was embodied in this woman that really understood the systemic failings of the services. And she just absolutely 100% supported me and still does To this day, she she left the university actually, while I was halfway through my degree, but we've we've remained in contact, I messaged her on my day of my graduation in my gown, and she texts me back and she was just so elated and sad that she couldn't be there because of COVID. I recently I bought a house and something that I've visualised for ages was my daughter, putting the key into a house that I bought for us. And, and that really stems from lots of experiences as a child living in really insecure accommodation. And as soon as I took the picture, I sent it to her, and I was like, Look what's just happened, this would never have happened without you. And it really was that woman that that changed the trajectory of my life and all of the support that she's given me. And she very much reminds me of the fact constantly, that she never did anything, that that's her job. That's her responsibility. And that's the responsibility of universities is to let people go there. So whilst I have this huge sense of gratitude towards her, she doesn't even accept it. So she's very much like, I haven't done anything for you, Michaela, you've done all of this yourself. And it's amazing that you've done all of this yourself. And I think that's so important. So whilst I have this, this amazing feeling towards this lady, because I know what she's done for me. And I know that those opportunities don't come my way, or the way to people who've had my experiences very often. She really just sees that as part and parcel of of normal life. And, and what that's taught me, which, which I very often talk about in conversation is how policy and practice is structured systemically to be oppressive. It's, it's, it's not by accident that people are excluded and discriminated against. And it's not by accident that people face all of these stigmas. And actually, if we're all sat here waiting for policy to change, for legislation to change, nothing will ever change. And for all of my experiences that have led me to some degree of success, it's been individuals that have taken that personal responsibility to be in inclusive. And that has, that has been what has led to my success in terms of my career. And in terms of my academic practice, it's not policies or procedures or legislation that has helped me. It's people that have met me and saw my potential and thought, this person needs a chance, and they've given me a chance.
She listened to you, and she valued you. What's important in the end is, is investing in people and knowing that there is some good and everyone and you know, what can we do? You know, to make that, you know, to make that happen. You have said that your parents were addicts, and um, when siblings come from families of that nature and have those types of backgrounds, often they go down the same path. So my question for you is, it sounds like you that drugs maybe wasn't something that that was for you? And and, you know, what? How did that happen with you know, your, your siblings? Did they go down that same path? Or did you all recognise this is a problem and stay away from it?
so drugs does not impact my life form or my sister's lives, both of my sisters are really successful women. They have high flying careers, they they own their houses. I think what trauma did to us was was build up a survival mechanism in us, which means that we can adapt and work in any situation. So I was recently doing doing a talk within my working role. And I was talking, someone had asked me a question about how how did I react when I arrived in prison for the first time, I wasn't expecting to go to prison. Certainly not on the day that I went to prison. Never been to prison before. And I I remember being picked up from the Corps in in prison van to check to take me off to the prison. It was it was a November night, it was cold, it was raining, it was dark. I've never felt a feeling of being so scared in my whole entire life. I can feel it now. And it just sinks my stomach, that feeling of absolute terror. It was absolute terror. And I remember vividly thinking, how am I going to prison like this? There's got to be some kind of experience that isn't really happening to me. And I was thinking like, my mum's the kind of woman that goes to prison, like how am I going to prison. And within a week, I was in the prison regime. I it was still absolutely horrific that I'd left behind a daughter. But But my ability to adapt in traumatic environments, it just turns on. And this there's a really interesting book called The body keeps the score, which is about the impact of trauma in your actual kind of body in your nervous system. How how this kind of it kind of plays out when when you experienced trauma and how your body has developed. And because I experienced so much trauma from the day I was born. My body, my my actual being is just in a state of trauma reaction. So it's about survival. And I think that if you look at the trajectory of my life so far, I have I had massive childhood trauma for all of my childhood I was expelled from school. Even when I was at school, I wasn't learning I was being naughty. I was often being bullied because my parents were on drugs. We lived in a council estate, our houses always being raided by the police. So it wasn't just at school, everyone on our estate knew we didn't have those those secure attachments with our parents. We didn't have secure attachments with teachers. We had nobody in our lives apart from our grandparents that we didn't see that much apart from when our parents were in rehab and we'd go and stay with them. We had nobody. So I think now that that kind of how my body has developed in a survival mode has really been a benefit. to my future life. So I went into academia with no qualifications. absolutely hated school. I absolutely hated it. Never did I ever aspire to go to university, I thought they will posh Twats, like, I'm not going to fit in there What? Like I wouldn't even want to. And I got there, and I absolutely loved it. I absolutely, it was the best time of my life. I came out with a first class degree, I literally sat in the library for three years, with books with my laptop, like studying constantly. And I never got bored of it. Writing Assignments, I found stressful. And loads of times, I was like, I'm never doing this again, I can't pay blah, blah, blah. But as soon as I thought, oh my god, like, what am I going to do after I finished my degree, I'm going to do another degree like, that I just absolutely thrived in in that environment. And I think that, how could I possibly thrive in that environment, with with no prior kind of experience of that environment apart from absolutely hating education. And it's simply because I have got this ability to survive in any environment and do it to some degree of success. And that's the same for my job. So I was my, my manager at the time of coming into the role, had found one of my blogs on the internet. And I was writing about reintegration after a prison sentence and the impact of social stigma and discrimination on the lives of people that the system says should be rehabilitated. So the lives of the people that are released from prison to come and reintegrate into society. And all of the barriers that I'd faced in terms of employment, I can't use Airbnb, there's just so many different things that that still impact my life on a daily basis. And I began began to write about that. And my old boss at the time, read one of my blogs, he sent me a message on Twitter actually, and asked, If I would like to do some work with them in prison healthcare and service user involvement. We didn't really know what it looked like, at the time, there wasn't an actual job, no one had done it before. We had a very informal interview at a train station, we met at a train station. And he gave me a job then then and there, and it was a national role. It was in the senior leadership team in a massive, private, independent health care organisation. I mean, I worked in Woolworths before and I'd worked in in a in another retail shop before. And I was only two or three months into my degree at that time. And three and a half years later, where I'm leading that service into winning national awards for patient safety, and winning awards for leading on peer support projects, at creating new roles in the business for people that have been to prison, who we know struggling society to get jobs, and absolutely thrive in a busy organisation that is fast paced, moving quickly, because that is how I've always lived in. It's different, it's obviously very different. But that trauma is always about survival. So it's just ingrained into me that whether I'm in academia, and I've never been here before, I came out of it with a first class degree. Last year was the first year of my master's degree I moved house, it was the start of the pandemic. I had to have time off work because I was suffering with my mental house. And only two weeks ago, I got my first year grade for my master's degree. And I got a distinction. I've got absolutely no idea. No idea how that happened. But I was just piecing all of these things and kind of looking back at it and thinking, how have I actually done that, and it and it is a result of trauma, and it's a result of being built to survive. And and that's, that's what I mean when I talk about survival being a transferable skill, because it's so ingrained into me as a person. I've always been a risk taker, like even even little things like passing my driving tests are very Next day, I was driving on the motorway. A week later, I got a new job, which meant I will be driving down the motorway every day. And I've always been like, able to take risks, and I don't really get scared about making big decisions. And I really do think that that is that is the impact of trauma and survival in in my early childhood years. So if I've got anything to be fact thankful for, it's definitely that I have an ability to survive in what are genuinely stressful and challenging environments. And I try and do it with a smile on my face.
And a positive attitude. Yeah. Michaela, do you think that, um, that you say, you know, trauma is a transferable skill? Do you think that that's something that that can be positively cultivated into somebody who's going through traumatic experiences? Or do you think it's, it's a personality trait or an individual trait? And you either have it, that that, you know, that trauma as a transferable skill? Or you don't, because I know, earlier, you had talked about that victim or, you know, mentality? And, you know, do you think that that, that, that trauma is something that could could be positively cultivated with the right relationships and the right, you know, people investing? Or do you think that it's just something that you either have it or you don't?
It's a very interesting question. And it's, it's definitely a question that I'd never really thought of before. However, I don't think it's just a personality trait. I think there are parts of my personality which which are very stubborn, I've always been very stubborn, I've always been very assertive my whole life, aside from from the experiences of trauma, that's, I'm a Leo, I'm, I'm very fiery, I always have been in every single part of of my life. What I would say is, if if we try and think about cultivating these survival skills as positive skills in people that face trauma and, and we begin to wonder whether you, you can navigate those experiences to some great degree of success, or you can't, and then we begin to put that down to personality. So it depends on your personality. So so what we do in effect in that instance, is possibly write off a whole group of people because we say, Well, you can't do it, because it's not in your personality, but they can because it's in their personality. And actually, my stubbornness, and my assertiveness has made me very resistant to social stigma, and inequality and discrimination. That part of my life has made me invested in studying it, understanding it to the best of my ability, finding the language to articulate it, and really looking at systems and structures of oppression, and the consequences of that oppression on groups of people. So I think if we, if we went down the road of thinking, some people have got that natural ability to survive, and some people don't, those people that don't, which, which there are people that experienced severe trauma, and they don't survive, well. And I would say in those instances, that's the internalisation of systemic and structural oppression. So it's nothing to do with the individual as a person and their skills. their skills just aren't there because they haven't learned to view their situation as a systemic and social failure, which most people who are in oppressed groups are in those groups because us as a society, have not got the structures or systems in place to get them out of oppression. We think about the free school meals, whose job is at should whose job should it be to feed feed kids that can't afford to eat? It's state responsibility. And we've got a footballer who's got that lived experience of living in starvation and living in poverty, who is driving the change to make sure kids eat? Well, what does that say about a society? So I think for me, it it's definitely not a personal trait of mine. What happens in the instances where people can't navigate it, is because of the impact of stigma and that self fulfilling prophecy. So if you've been told that you're worthless for so long and you're never going to achieve anything, or you've been to prison and you can't get a job and you apply for 50. And you don't get one, you're going to give up, I am just stubborn. And part of part of what I think my success has been, is really resisting that stigma and actually, being able to talk about this as a systemic issue that is failing people, rather than me being a failed person. I'm not a failed person, I go and apply for a job. And someone doesn't give me a job because they see I've ticked a box that I've got a criminal conviction. That's, that's not me, failing as a person, I'm trying to do something. And the system and the structure that's in place to exclude me is working. That's why we have a tick box on job applications. So we can exclude people that tell us that they've been to prison is not by accident.
And most of the time, it's not even to do with a risk assessment, because you have jobs that don't even require a risk assessment that asked you if you've got a criminal conviction. So, I mean, there's there's loads of conversations that people can have in terms of justification for this. It's not justification, it's excuses to legitimise your exclusion of people that society mark and label as bad people. That that's the that's the nitty gritty of it. And I will, I'll never be told any different. And that is why I just keep going. Because I can see that. So many of my experiences are shared with hundreds and 1000s of people. And all of them are really not down to me or them making poor decisions. We've lived in environments with systems and services that have failed us massively. And it's it's someone else's responsibility to put that right. And they're not going to put it right, because it's not by accident. And I think I think it's really important that people understand that these structures of oppression aren't done by accident. So I talk, I talk very much about the labelling of people with convictions about calling people offenders, ex offenders when they've left prison. People. I mean, there was there was a book that a prison officer had wrote. He left the he left the prison service, and he self published a book. It was absolutely disgusting. Giving away former prisoners personal information, talking about his own risk assessment of self harm before we consider calling someone from health care. Absolutely. Just confessing to neglect of people in prison to really hit that kind of political debate of people in prison being disgusting and drug addicts and not worthy to be shaming people isn't by accident. And actually, that book that I was talking about, was a well read book, because it's absolutely shaming people. And we as a society, we like to shame people. So if you think about Jeremy, Kyle, if you think about the programmes on the on the TV, like, which kids go skin or benefit Street, we have a culture where shaming people that are living in poverty or food deprivation is wanted. We want to see it. We want I mean, how many times have you heard people say what watching Jeremy Kyle, it makes me feel better about my life. We like to hear about that misery and that pain. And for women that have been to prison, Will people like to keep us in those stories of misery and pain? Because we can we can help support that academic research on vulnerable women in prison. They don't that no one's researching how. How do successful women that have been to prison navigate those those spaces in in big organisations and, and leads lead change in a systemic way? No one's doing that research. Why aren't they doing that research? Because we're not giving that painful, vulnerable narrative. And we're actually saying actually, all of those life experiences have made us really strong. They've made us really dedicated and determined for social justice and inclusion. And no one wants to hear that be because we're not giving away that pain in that trauma that makes people feel one better about the circumstances they live in or two make them feel like they're doing something to help us by writing an academic paper which sits behind a paywall, and helps them get a promotion, but doesn't actually have any of the vulnerabilities that women facing prison it's ridiculous.
Yeah. And there's never that narrative you rarely ever hear the narrative of, you know, a good people, like prison, you know, from in prison situations, say specifically women in prison, you don't, you don't often hear that narrative of, you know, them being good people caught in bad situations, or, like you said, previous, you know, history and traumas putting you into that situation, and being a good person, and then, you know, then there's all those barriers, that you face an access to positive employment opportunities. Sometimes even buying a house, I know that that becomes a situation in the US specifically that if you have a prison record, often you can't get any types of loans to purchase a home. So you know, even though you are a good person that was caught up in a bad situation, and you did your prison time and and all of that, you come out and then you have all of these barriers that continue to push you down and push you down and push you down, instead of where is the narrative of those who are bringing you up, you know, or, you know, are giving you the opportunity to share the positive story, you know, the good experiences, the fabulous things that are happening, and and how you are, your your whole contribution to society is completely different, based on you your experiences, Michaela and what you've gone through, and now what you're doing to contribute to society, you're more of a contributing citizen, then many academics and people that I've come in contact and you know, in my life that didn't have those traumatic experiences. So where is that narrative? And we definitely need to hear more of that. The positive narrative.
Yeah, we do. And actually, I had written my undergraduate dissertation on the value of lived experience in the criminal justice system, which really, which focuses specifically on women that had been to prison that now work in the criminal justice sector in a leadership role. And part of my my main argument was we are, we're invisible, we are voiceless, we're done. That's done to us through the the environments that we work in the organisations that we work with, who wants to take the credit, and get the glory of employing someone that's been to prison. And actually, our value is simply for a tick box exercise in the sector to say, yeah, we employ someone that's, that's been to prison, or, most of the time, you can come and volunteer with us. So we'll take your time, we value you, but but you're not going to go on the payroll. We're not going to help you to alleviate you from those social structures, which will see you living in poverty, so you not be able to pay your rent, look, live on Universal Credit, but volunteer with us, give us your time, we'll get the kudos for it. And you will still be on benefits excluded from the labour market. But we've given we've given you a chance, and you should be grateful for that. That that's that's the narrative that is very often portrayed in criminal justice and the utilisation of lived experience in those roles. And I really wanted to move away from that. So lots of the literature review was around the depictions of women in prison. So really, really, historically, hundreds of years ago, and a comparison to what those depictions are now, those depictions are exactly the same. So if you think that we're talking about women that have experienced trauma, women that are drug addicts, women that have been abused as kids, women that have been raped, and hundreds of years later, we're still sending those same women to prison and nothing like At what point do we think actually, this system of punishment isn't working, because we're still getting the same churn of women coming into prison. So that that was that was much of the kind of literature review was around the narratives that we use to talk about women in prison. Women that we criminalise women that we don't want in society, because because that's what it is. We'll send these women to prison is easier. And that's just a cycle that will continue to perpetuate. And in the first instance, for my dissertation research, I was initially told that I wouldn't be able to research women that had been to prison because it was a risk. That's ridiculous. I've been to prison, I mean, your university on a criminology degree. Like, I just don't know how that can be justified, these women will be in leadership roles working in the criminal justice sector. If you wouldn't exclude me from working with leaders within the Justice sector as part of my degree that didn't have a conviction or hadn't been to prison. Why are you excluding these women that could be me facing exclusion, again, from research that your university is carrying out? So first of all, I had to even fight to be able to do the research there was, there was absolutely no way I was going to change the direction of my research. And then I remember writing my interview questions, and I went to review them with my supervisor. And she had said, these questions aren't very academically written. And I said, I know, because the people that I'm researching and asking the questions to our academic, and she just couldn't get our head around it. So I'm asking questions to people that really have similar similar life experiences to me. If I wasn't here, in this academic space, I'm not going to write questions that I wouldn't have understood prior to me starting this degree. And, and there, they were in management and leadership roles, but their academic language that we we are taught to use, if you've never heard, I see words. And I'm like, I think, how do you even pronounce that, and I'm googling it, like pronounce this word for me like that. That's how I live in here.
Doing my degree like so I'm, I'm, I know how language can be so exclusionary. And and actually, what that means for people when they don't understand something is it leads to shame and embarrassment, and what a shame and embarrassment lead towards withdrawing from society, and developing really unhealthy coping mechanisms to not be embarrassed. And all of those life experiences that I've had really cultivated me into a person with such great academic awareness, I'm not writing for academia, I want this. I want this research to benefit the women in my research, I want this to be a platform of their voices, and I want them to read it and think that's, that's helpful. Thank you for doing that. But like, what can we do with this? Now?
How can we use this not? I don't understand a word that says Michaela, congratulations on getting your degree. But what like, what does that mean? So there was those experiences of talking about language. And me saying that I have an awareness of, of my research cohort. And, and this is how it's going to be. And if you need me to write that in my write up, that's what would happen, but it's not changing. And then part of the ethical approval process is obviously making participation so anonymous. So I was very much of the perception that I don't want my participants to be anonymous, that is a part of academic academia, invisible icing people, especially women that have been to prison criminalise women, that, that you seek out for research constantly. And you don't name them so so we participate in this research that produces this new knowledge. And you might give us a 20 pound love to shop voucher, if we're lucky. And you put, you put a footnote saying thanks to the participants, what do we gain from that if you want to make research that has a benefit to the lives of the research issues that you you are focusing on? And it's more than just a career trajectory for you or or promotion or wanting or needing to publish? How are we as research participants ever going to be able to contribute to that knowledge and have that attribution? So this is about attribution. And I was reading a lot about the functions of attribution as part of my research. And, and one of the main functions of attribution is punishment. So if you've done a really bad piece of work, You get told off for it, you get told to go back and to do it again and revisit it. And if you do a really good piece of work you get that organisational respect you get that individual respect you you get promotions, you get a pay rise, all of those things that happen when you produce good work continuously. So if you as a named author on a research paper who who says that focuses on criminalised women as an example, because you feel passionately about alleviating those systemic oppression oppressions that leads to the criminalization of women. And you're not having paid criminalised women on your research cohort within your budgets that you get for this research that you're carrying out. And you're just in and out of prisons with an interview schedule and some vouchers, and saying thanks to the participants in in an interview, and they've got absolutely no attribution. You've done absolutely nothing to alleviate them from from the things that lead them to prison and the things that will lead them back to prison when they come out of prison. So actually, you're, you're continuing to narrate the traumas and the vulnerabilities of women in prison as a cycle, which continues to perpetuate exclusion. Because that exclusion is perpetuated in society that continues to read about the vulnerabilities and all of the kinds of horrific things that that have happened to women in prison. And then as a society, we get some of that narrative that comes out in, in the sector, or in, in politics, all through the Daily Mail. And that just stems back into society, who then legitimise the punishment of those women, because they're drug addicts, because they've been prostitutes before, not because we as a society continue to write about these women as vulnerable, we ignore anyone who is really strong and has got a voice and can really talk about systemic oppression of these women. And we continue to just go in and out with our research papers published these journals. And that's it. So I really wanted my participants to be named, it was refused through the ethics process, which I was expecting. So I, I focused a lot in the write up around our invisibility and academia's role in invisible, visiblising, and making us voiceless.
And getting the attribution from our knowledge. So I talk about us as women being the teachers. So we we as academics, we think about questions, we think about gaps in knowledge, and we want to go in there and we want to get these questions answered, and produce a piece of writing which concrete contributes to knowledge. Every time I'm talking about my experiences, whether I'm being a research participant, whether I'm sat in an office with my supervisor talking to her about language, that's excluding people from participation, I'm teaching these people what I know, from my lived experience. So when this research is produced and written up, that's my knowledge that someone else has gone away and and put their spin on it or theorised it. And actually, I could read that when it's published and think that isn't what I said at all. That's what you think I said, or that's how you've written it, because that's who's funded your research. And this is what you really need to say, to get that next bit of funding. So that that's kind of how this, this all happens. And I had to make my participants anonymous, but I asked each and every one of them. If you could be named in this research, would you want your name in it? And all of them said yes. And the the justification for anonymizing participants in the research is always down to risk. Who are we as an institution and as a discipline, to put that risk on somebody who doesn't want that risk to them. We're not here to do things to people. Women that face oppression have things done to them their whole lives. And actually, if we want to move away from oppression and we want to move away from it, we want to move into inclusive cultures which give people choice and autonomy. And we ask them as a research participant, would you want to be named in this? And they say, Yes. Who are we to say? Well, actually, no, because we think it's a risk. That's how we live our whole life, people doing things to us. And that's sustained through academia. And I think, me having those experiences as really challenged, challenged my thoughts on my place in academia, and actually, do I want to be an activist? Or do I want to be an academic? And is there space for both? Is there space for a really challenging voice, that, that was oppressed and is working in an environment which is oppressive to people like me, and it's something that I haven't quite got to grips with yet. But I said earlier that I absolutely love being being a student, and I, I just can't think of being anything else anymore. Um, but I don't, I don't quite know what that looks like, moving forward. Yeah. But we'll say,
you know, you're very gregarious, and, you know, I say stand up for you know, what you believe in and change, change those mindsets and research, the point of you doing this research is to make a contribution to the field contribution to knowledge and contribution to society. And if you can't say, at the end of your, you know, research, when you submit that thesis, that that you have a way of of disseminating it taking and then spreading it out within society and doing something good with it out in the world into the wider community. And then what contribution Have you made, and I think that is the the mentality that researchers should have. It's your research, it's not your supervisors research. It's not your University's research, it's yours, it's your baby, you're going to take four years to give birth to it. So you do it, you know, in a way that makes you most happy. And there, that's my, that's my piece to you.
You know, Michaela, what I'd like to know now is, you know, what is your aspirations for the future?
My, my aspirations for the future, I think, in terms of further education, post graduation from a master's degree, I'm still thinking about that. So I'm not quite sure what that looks like in terms of more broader aspirations. I want to support platforming the voices of women that have been to prison, I want to help support a shift away from vulnerability and victimhood and talk about our strength and survival. And I want more people to hear about our stories and our strengths. And that is an aspiration for me is that we stop creating and sustaining this conversation about vulnerable women. Because we will always remain vulnerable. If we live in societies, what aren't pumping strength into us, if we're not taking into that individual responsibility to see trauma and actually recognise that there is strength in surviving trauma. If someone survives trauma, they are a strong person. And it's about finding and tapping into those strengths. My kind of my main aspiration is just to really stop using criminalised women as as the vulnerable targets for research and the vulnerable targets for for criminal justice, poster girl rehabilitation. This is what it looks like, look what we did, and and to really start investing in people who have experienced trauma to tap into what their strengths are and find out what their own aspirations are, as individual women with individual stories and individual ambitions and aspirations themselves. And I I really don't want to be the voice for women for criminalised women. What I want to do is put the mechanisms in place systemically. So we draw out those voices. So people often get me to talk and and have a misconception that I might come and talk about criminalised women in prison. Every single woman in prison had a different journey to me they had a different story, we might we might share trauma. We Might very much relate to each other as women as our experiences, but I'm not a voice to talk to them and very much in my work in my organisation, I'm not the prisoner voice, I make the methods and the models of gaining prisoner voice so we can all hear everybody's voice. And I think that my aspiration is just to continue in my professional role to develop that, and to enhance how we hear everybody's story and, and understand better how we can support individuals rather than seeing people in prison as a big group of vulnerable people that need dedicated, constant support and will plan that support for them and give it to them. Because that never works.
And I absolutely love I love what you said there because rather than policy and practice in people placing a ceiling height, on whatever it whatever level they feel that a person can aspire to, you know, it's really asking asking somebody, you know, what is your aspiration? What where do you How far do you want to go? How high is your sky? And and then supporting them, you know, listening to their voices, and then supporting them to reach those aspirations, you know, and I think that's, that's key in what you you know what you were saying there. And so we're coming to the end, obviously, we're getting towards the end of our conversation here, which, oh, it's been just amazing for me, You are such a source of inspiration, and so positive and so forward thinking and, you know, definitely a champion for equity and equality and social justice and the rights of the, you know, the voice of others, the marginalised and the oppressed in many ways. So, do you have any words of final words of wisdom to share with us before we say goodbye?
This is something that I really, really thought about often when I was imprisoned myself, and I can't remember who who said it to me. But I'm sure someone said this, to me what a point in time where I was in trouble. And I've just flipped that which I genuinely have done in every situation in my life, where I've been in trouble to use it as a positive, which I just think this, this quote just absolutely sums up my life perfectly. And what they said to me when I was in trouble was everything you do in the dark always comes to light. So kind of like, if you do something naughty, or bad, like someone at some point in time is going to know about it and know and hear about it. And when I was in prison, I, I did lots of distance learning courses, when I was in prison, generally read quite a lot try to do as much kind of self education as I can. And I live by that, like what you do in the dark always comes to light. So now I see that as having those dark days is all of my trauma, and having that prison experiences really dark days in my life. But the light at the end of that is all of the work that I've put into survive. It's all of the work that I've dedicated to learning myself, making sure that I know things that I'm talking about dedicating my my kind of professional and personal life really to to the cause of social justice. And I think that for people that are in prison, when when the women asked me this the first time and for anybody that is going through really tough times in their life is to understand that as we think you do in those days, even though you don't realise it at the time, even if you're just surviving, it's gonna come to light because you're going to see another day, if you survive a really dark night when you're in tears, the light is going to be in the morning and you can really use that to kind of a really broad range of experiences and I just find it really funny that the first time I heard it was when I was in trouble and it was almost like a telling off like people are gonna know you've done that. And and I've just flipped that and like I think about it all the time. And I really use that now that was a telling off to really spurred me on in in difficult times, because it will come to light and I just have to persevere in in those challenges. And I've just like ingrained that into my being and I hope it will be useful for other people because it's been so useful to me.
And you know what, Michaela, you are a person who exudes that that idea of when somebody says to you, you can't do that, or you know, you won't be able to do that you definitely are the person that says, Just watch me and and does it you know, you were just so positive. And I've really appreciated you taking the time to come and talk to me about your own lived experiences. And you know how you can be triumph triumphant over adversity. So thank you. Thank you for being with me today.
Thank you for having me. I've enjoyed it.
I hope that you've enjoyed this discussion on a dash of salt, a space where you'll always find fresh and current discussions on society and learning today. Season with just the right touch of experts in education, and a dash of sociological imagination. Please be sure to like and share this episode. And don't forget to subscribe to a dash of salt on pod bean so that you don't miss the next episode. Thanks so much and we'll chat again soon.