“The Person I Dislike Is Myself”: How Narratives of Individualism Shape Justice-involved Youth’s Identity Construction [2020]

Since the vast majority of incarcerated youth will one day be released back to their home communities, juvenile corrections facilities are required to adopt programming that attempts to reduce reoffending and recidivism. Although evidence-based programs have been deemed effective, most are predicated upon getting youth to assimilate into dominant cultural norms, a practice that can have negative unintended consequences. This research examines youth narratives from a writing program in a long-term juvenile corrections facility. The findings demonstrate how individualism and abstract liberalism infuse the youths’ writings about themselves, their previous behavior, and their path upon reentry. By drawing upon these frames, the youth ignore structures that constrain individual agency and construct successful reentry as an individual endeavor to “make good choices.” In doing so, they construct themselves as problems to be fixed. Overall, this research engages the voices of incarcerated youth to examine how they socially construct themselves through narratives and how these narratives are informed by dominant and marginalizing ideologies.

Daniel B. Eisen, Taryn VanderPyl
Humanity & Society, August 28, 2020