Whilst connections between shame and violence have been well documented among men serving prison sentences, there is considerably less research concentrating on women. In 2018 Sandra Barefoot, The Forgiveness Project’s Programme Development Lead and Ruth Chitty, Lead Facilitator of RESTORE were awarded a fellowship from The Griffins Fellowship to undertake research to bridge this gap.

The research explored Shame Resilience Theory (SRT Brown 2006) – a methodology for both speaking and working with shame to build resilience from shame’s damaging effects – and its potential contribution to understand shame based behaviours of women in custody.

We warmly invite you all to join Sandra and Ruth, along with Raushia Coles and Siobhan Jackson for a presentation and facilitated discussion on the findings from this research. The research was conducted in UK prisons but has applications internationally so we welcome international attendees and contributions.

Join the discussion

Date: Thursday, 26 May 2022

Time: 11.30 – 13.00 BST – to see what time this will be where you live click here

Location: Online via zoom

Please email research@theforgivenessproject.com to be added to the guest list.

Information on future training to be posted shortly.

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Healthy resilience…it’s an awareness. You can be aware actually of what you’re doing…that helps it be a stronger protective factor. It’s a healthier layer to wear. So you’re not wearing the trauma, you’re wearing the awareness.

About the hosts

Sandra Barefoot has worked for over 13 years leading and programme managing our prison programme RESTORE. Her extensive experience in facilitating group processes exploring trauma and pain led her to question with colleagues the place shame plays in how we see ourselves and others.

In 2018 she undertook a joint research fellowship at The Griffins Society to investigate explicitly how shame impacts the behaviours of women of lived experience of prison and discover the inner life force, resilience and ways women made meaning in order to survive. As a dance artist, Sandra realised the phenomena of shame lives within the body. As a result, she also undertook Masters studies in 2019 at the Trinity of Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, exploring the embodiment of shame and resilience as a practice of research.

Sandra’s exploration of shame has led her to understand how vital the place of finding a new language to be able to explicitly speak of shame.

Ruth has worked on the RESTORE programme since 2009 – first as a co-facilitator and then as a lead facilitator. She is currently in the last year of training as a psychotherapist. During this time Ruth was moved by witnessing people grapple with shame and curious about how and where shame fits alongside trauma and our sense of place in the world. This led her, along with Sandra, to formally research this in order to better recognise and understand where shame fits and how best to meet the needs of those she works with.

This three year project has led Ruth to deepen her understanding of how we can find a language to speak about shame, how to work with our own shame as we work alongside others, and how to get to know shame in order to find ways to bring it out into the light.

For safer prisons, we need to not only address the situational and environmental aspects of the prison environment that are under our control, but also take a proactive approach to addressing the individual needs that put some prisoners at a higher risk of violence, self-harm or suicide.

Through our work in prisons with RESTORE – our intensive group-based programme that helps prisoners explore the narratives of their lives – we identified a crucial need to explicitly understand how shame shapes women’s engagement with themselves and others particularly when looking at violent and challenging behaviours. The experience we gained working with women participating in RESTORE helped us understand how unprocessed trauma can manifest as shame that triggers violent and challenging behaviours in women.

In our discussions with both prison officers and psychologists it became clear that fear around explicitly naming shame was high. A serious concern was that women who presented with challenging behaviours were labelled by staff as unmanageable, rather than those behaviours being recognised as potentially shame based. Through further discussions with staff, it became apparent that the link between shame and violence was not explicitly known or understood. This gap in understanding hindered prison staff’s ability to recognise shame, therefore affecting strategies to address shame based behaviour.

This research offers a crucial insight into how the damage of unrecognised shame is impacting on both women and the wider prison estate.

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