Lila McDowell’s ‘A Delicate Balance’ published

Lila McDowell’s paper ‘A Delicate Balance…’: Language as a Tool of Identity Expression for Incarcerated Men Pursuing Higher Education’ has been published in Changing English: Studies in Reading and Culture.

Lila  holds a DPhil and an MSc in Educational Research Methodology, both from the University of Oxford, supervised by myself, Mary Bosworth and Geoffrey Walford. Her research was one of those doctoral projects the student must really want to do: working inside a maximum security prison conducting writing workshops for male, long-term prisoners and taking all the knocks as well as the rewards, living a work life that revolves around very vulnerable and demanding people while also trying to hold on to your own ‘delicate balance’.

Lila’s study looked at the ways in which incarcerated men pursuing undergraduate degrees use higher education to make sense of their experiences and move forward with their lives, with particular interest in the sociocultural relationship between writing and identity. Lila’s research was also informed by her study of the criminology literature on prison education, recidivism and rehabilitation in the US context. The PhD was one of those rare creatures that sailed through the viva with no revisions – and the external examiner was Brian Street. In the Changing English piece, Lila’s analysis focuses on how her initial surprise that the men did not take her invitation to write ‘authentically’ (but rather turned in recognisably ‘English 101’ pieces) was changed by her understanding that they were using a privileged genre to do some identity work.

I was lucky enough to meet and correspond with some of the men she worked with, some of the writers whose writing is featured in this article. I am hoping that at some point more of the writing she facilitated will appear in print. Long-term prisoners tend to land on something inside – whether it is writing, the gym, a part-time job – and work on it really hard to perfect it. Some of the writing is superb.

Lila currently lives in New York City, where she works at Exodus Transitional Community as a re-entry coach for men and women making the transition from prison to society.

With Lila’s permission, a copy is available to download here. It is her first, peer-reviewed academic publication. She has much, much more to say and there are some great theoretical pieces she could/should write. (Hint, hint….)