Accumulating meaning, purpose and opportunities to change ‘drip by drip’: the impact of being a listener in prison




Christian Perrin & Nicholas Blagden

Psychology, Crime & Law

26 Feb 2014



Established in 1991, the Listener scheme, regulated by the Samaritans, is currently the best-established peer support scheme in place to help reduce suicide in prisons. Each prison Listener team is comprised of a group of inmate volunteers who provide face-to-face emotional support to their peers. Although the scheme has been in operation for over 20 years, empirical research on the scheme is limited. A deeper understanding of how being a Listener affects prisoners' attitudes, beliefs, emotions and experiences of imprisonment is needed. The present study is a qualitative analysis on the experience of being a Listener and the impact it has on individuals and their prison experience. Interviews were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. The analysis revealed two main superordinate themes: ‘Listening and Personal Transformation’ and ‘Countering Negative Prison Emotions’. These themes are unpacked and the analysis focuses on their implications for desistance and offender reform. Results suggest that prisoners who adopt Listener roles experience profound internal changes, shifts in self-identity and gain meaning and purpose from prison. Implications for how such schemes may be utilised in the future and suggestions for further research are offered.