Reframing Trauma: The Transformative Power of Meaning in Life, Work, and Community

Author(s): Francesca Flood

Each year more than 700,000 people leave prison having undergone a traumatic experience. While research about the prevalence of post-traumatic stress is emerging, many returning citizens will exit the institution undiagnosed and untreated. Many inmates learn to mask their emotions and internalize their symptoms to navigate prison. Once released, they will return to society and struggle to find work, a sense of worth, pro-social identity, and place in their community. Work plays a crucial role in our sense of self, identity, and the role we play in society. In this constant comparative study, 20 formerly incarcerated staff and volunteers at faith-based or community re-entry agencies shared their lived experience of how they were able to reframe their traumatic experience by transforming into helpers and wounded-healers assisting other returning citizens. Through their agency community and work, participants found meaningful work and meaning in life. Participants felt the culture of these agencies offered a humanizing experience, empathy, and sense of belonging enabling them to create a new narrative as good and different people, and shedding labels. As staff and volunteers undergo self-change, the ex-offender label is shed, and a wounded-healer emerges. Understanding the perceptions of returning citizens who work in helping roles provides insight into addressing the psychological challenges for this population and implications for reentry.

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