16th Reintegration Puzzle Conference

Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
1-3 March 2023

Changing Seasons,
Changing Lives

This is Me: Prison Education, Identity and Desistance from Crime

“This is Me”
One of the greatest moments in the film, The Greatest Showman, is when the bearded lady sings the anthemic ‘This is Me’, unashamed and unapologetic of who she is regardless of how different she is to what is considered ‘normal’ in the community beyond the circus to which she belongs. Within the circus, she has freedom to be restored and grow.
Within prison research, however, it has become accepted that successful desisters ‘knife off’ their past to create a ‘new’ identity, often stating ‘I’m a different person now’. In addition, prison education research often describes the ‘transformative’ power of education which learners use to carve out a ‘new’ identity. It appears that in order to successfully desist from crime, we need to help learners find their ‘new me’, but is this always the case?
This presentation interrogates notions of transformation and identity, based on findings of a recently-completed qualitative PhD. Outlining more varied notions of identity experienced by prisoner learners, a distinction is made between those who feel they have been transformed into someone ‘new’ and those who feel they are being ‘restored’, becoming more ‘who I really am’, exploring the crucial role of agency within these notions and resisting notions of ‘normality’.
Unfolding of identity, together with the development of social and emotional skills, can be linked to the process of desistance, even among reluctant learners. Curriculum, culture and connection are identified as crucial to the process of identity restoration, affording dignity and supporting desistance journeys.


Fiona McGregor
External Partnerships Coordinator
, Department of Justice, WA

Fiona has over 30 years’ experience in education (20+ in prison education), originally as a secondary school English teacher and then a prison educator, manager, government adviser, consultant inspector and researcher, specialising in prisoner education in UK and Australian prisons. She is committed to social justice and especially interested in the education and vocational training of juvenile and young adult male, female and Aboriginal prisoners.

Fiona completed her doctoral thesis exploring the relationship between engaging in adult basic skills learning in prison and desistance from crime. Her goal is to work with staff, prisoner learners, university and other external research and corporate partners to reduce the harms caused by imprisonment by creating the culture and conditions which support the journey towards desistance from crime, and to better understand the catalytic role prison education plays within this process. She is currently working for the Department of Justice Western Australia as External Partnerships Coordinator.

When not at work, Fiona is generally an uber, feeding and banking service for three busy kids and their animals.