Date of Thesis

Spring 2020


This thesis is an investigation of destistance strategies among men sentenced to life in prison in a medium security prison in Pennsylvania. Desistance here is defined as the process leading to the cessation of formally deviant behavior. Drawing from life narrative interviews conducted among 22 men, I argue that desistance is intrinsically tied to how inmates conceptualize themselves within the institutional context of the prison and can be expanded to include people who are still incarcerated. I build off of Peggy Giordano and colleagues symbolic interactionist perspective on desistance and expand it to chart how men with life sentences order their criminal past selves and operationalize their transformed past selves. Inmate narrative espouse a view of self that morphs over time, not dissimilar to Erving Goffman's notion of the moral career, except inmates term the process "transformation," which is at odds with the rehabilitative paradigm of the institution and is a causal mechanism for identity change.


Prison, Criminology, Life Senteneces, Desistance, Rehabilitation

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts



Minor, Emphasis, or Concentration

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Carl Milofsky

Second Advisor

Paul Muniz

Third Advisor

Alia Stanciu