Dr. Lukas Carey completed his Doctorate in education and has worked in the field for most of his working life as a coach, teacher, trainer and educator. While filling a role in local government he was charged with receiving secret commissions and served time in Prison. During that time Lukas used his theoretical lived experience knowledge to study the lives of the incarcerated, the educational happenings inside the justice system and their influence over the future employment opportunities upon release.
With an interest in the role previously incarcerated people have in the development of policy and procedure in the justice system, Lukas is a strong advocate for the Convict Criminology and Lived Experience stream. The importance of the lived experiences of previously incarcerated people and people from working class backgrounds drive the work Lukas is doing in the education and research field.
The negative experiences of many working class academics and previously incarcerated people from working class backgrounds often eat them up from the inside out. In the large part, the world sees people from these backgrounds as second-class citizens and their experiences as negative. The recent Working Class Academics conference bought together a diverse and intriguing set of people with amazing lived experiences. The common factor that all presented highlighted in both a deliberate and also subconscious way, was the need to ‘own your own narrative’.
Owning your own narrative – The power of lived experience.
Dr. Lukas P. Carey
So you come from a working class background? You have a criminal record? You are fighting daily to remain relevant or equal? There are thousands of people around the world sharing the same challenges on a daily basis. They wake up in the morning and fight anxiety. They wake up next to a person who emotionally, physically or psychologically abuses them. They wake up unemployed with minimal prospects moving forward…… The story and examples could fill this page, and a hundred like it. Some of the major challenges many of these people face is being brave enough to tell their own story, finding a medium willing to hear it, and most of all, owning the narrative of their own story.
Leon* spent 3 years incarcerated for armed robbery, where he broke into a house with a knife and stole money, jewelry and electronics, while threatening the homeowner with injury. He sold those items in pawns shops and online and used the profits to feed his insatiable ice addition. He was a street person at the time and had a $1000 a day drug habit and unashamedly treated the community as his own ATM.
This is the story that the media told and showed him that they owned Leon’s narrative. He has never had the ability to own his own narrative, as he has been told over and over again by media, the criminal justice system and some of the people around him, that this story ‘is him’ and will remain with him forever. I challenged him on this and provided him with an ear to tease out his own story and how he could own and share his own narrative.
With the sole focus on achieving Leon’s goal to return to meaningful employment, we started working together to find a medium that would allow him to, at last, own his own narrative. Leon and I sat and started mapping out his journey and started to humanize it and bring emotion to it, while at the same time challenging the people he wanted to deliver his narrative too; future employers. After feeling empowered and that his lived experience narrative would be appreciated, here is what HE came up with, as the new owner of his own narrative.
‘My name is Leon* and I had a massive problem when I was younger, I was a drug addict. I made some mistakes and pushed away some of my family and found the only way to take away the pain I caused was to take drugs. The only way I could afford to feed my addiction was to steal from others, I had to do that to live. It was wrong, and when I realized that, I surrender myself to the local police station, owned up to my crimes and asked them to send me to jail so I could get clean and more importantly, better’.
‘I went away, served my time, saw in the eyes of others the influence of drugs and also the pain I had caused. I steered away and remain focused on staying away from drugs, I remain sober to this day and am now engaged to my long-term partner and am expecting a child. I ask you in the most respectful way, does a person that had a weakness, found out a way to challenge and face it, developed mental and physical strength and found love, happiness and a new life, have a place in your workplace family? I had a weakness, took an uncomfortable road to deal with it, all valuable characteristics your organisation would benefit from, all I need is for you to give me and my family a chance’.
Once Leon owned his narrative and didn’t have it forced upon him by irresponsible media, angry community members, family and friends and the ignorance of others, his whole mindset changed. Presenters at the recent Working Class Academics Conference discussed this in depth and provided options to a wide range of people to ‘harvest’ their own narrative. Deirdre O’Neill discussed the use of film as a voice, Charlotte Wetton highlighted the use of poetry, Emma Louise Hammond highlighted video journals as a way to share her owned narrative, and Kirsty Fife outlined her use of music and Zines to share her voice and own her own working class narrative.
The flexibility of finding a medium to share a persons narrative, developing the courage in them to share their experience, and empowering them to own their own narrative is challenging, but rewarding and character building for the individual.
Do you own your own narrative? If not why not? What do you need to own your own narrative?
Can you help someone from a working class background find his or her own voice and find a way to share it?
The more lived experiences that are shared by empowered people can inspire others, are you going to sit by and watch or use your skills to help another person own their own narrative?
* Pseudonym Used