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Hearts in the Wasteland: Redeeming the Moral Self in Corrections
The researcher of this qualitative study is Allison M. Hicks who received her Ph.D from University of Colorado. Her specializations include corrections, symbolic interactions and qualitative methodology for researches about sociology and criminal justice. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Alfred University, New York.
The research paper entitled ‘Heart in the Wasteland: Redeeming the Moral Self in Corrections was done to appraise the emotional culture of prisons as observed by the prison chaplains, in a place where conflicting expectations and split loyalties are present. The chaplains’ assumptions about the inmates’ emotions explain their own strategies regarding interpersonal emotion management which led to the redemption of the inmates’ moral selves in corrections.
Research Questions and Aims of the Study
The questions the research paper sought to answer were categorised under the following themes: perception of the emotions of the inmates, moral self and environment. The aim of the study is to describe and to help devise strategies for prison chaplains about inmates’ interpersonal emotion management and how prison chaplains socially construct a prison environment.
The researcher utilised a qualitative method of gathering data which is in-depth interview and content analysis. The type of qualitative method falls under phenomenology since the researcher read her primary and secondary data and made connections to achieve saturation which will give the researcher the themes needed in the discussion.
The researcher used snowball sampling where the primary participant will recruit another one for the study. The researcher contacted chaplains whom she knows then the chaplains gave her names of other chaplains who can be her participants. She got 40 chaplains from the Northwest and Central Region of the United States. The researcher had 40 in-depth interviews from 40 chaplains with various backgrounds on penal facilities. The participants had a range of experiences in state correctional facilities from nine months to 28 years in length. Thirty of the participants have worked at men’s prisons and the rest have worked at both men and women.
All the interviews were conducted in over the telephone because of diverse geographical areas. The researcher used an active interview approach in which participant’s conversation is free flowing yet structured. The researcher followed a loosely guided interview questions so she can modify the nature and the focus of the interview depending on the person interviewed. All the interviews lasted in an average of two hours and a half. The interview was done inductively.
The researcher also used documents like training manuals, state DOC, guidelines, chaplain newletters, and professional association pamphlets to look for some emotion themes. The researcher had a thorough examination of the data and had carefully chosen words, phrases and ideas and attaches it together to see emerging themes.
Evaluation of the Success of the Research
The researcher was able to establish the emotions perceived by the chaplains during their time of providing spiritual support to the inmates. The researcher was able to identify themes that were related to the aims of unraveling the emotions to redeem the moral self of the inmates. The following were the themes gathered during the analysis of the data as how inmates see prison: a fierce and dangerous place, a place of healing, isolation, purgation, and redemption. These themes helped the chaplains reconstruct inmates as more virtuous and emotionally-centred people though the emergence of these themes.
One strength of the study is that the researcher has an extensive background of the topic she covered having a father who was a policeman. Knowing the stories and paper works in a precinct made up her experience quite rich about criminal justice. But the researcher upon opening this part of her life made a mistake of employing her own understanding about the phenomenon studied. In a phenomenology study when the researcher is doing the epoché or bracketing his experiences should be set aside (Cresswell 2006). Her personal experiences may have affected how she discovered the themes for the study.
Another problem with bracketing is when the researcher may have more access to her emotional aspect. Tufford and Newman (2010, p. 84) discussed that depending on the level of self-awareness of the researcher, he might get an access more on their own emotions and cognitions. There might be buried emotions which will surface that will affect the analysis of the data.
The researcher should have also utilized a theory which can guide her as well in the study. The role of a theory will help lessen the bias of a research paper. A theory provides the epistemology background of the topic to be studied and it helps to arrange set of concepts to define and explain phenomenon so the researchers can move from basic to in-depth description of data (Kelly 2010).
Confirmability or the objectivity of the research should be observed in a qualitative research to avoid biases such as presented above. The role of triangulation is important to lessen the researcher’s biases (Shenton. 2004, PDF file). The researcher’s admission of his predispositions should be removed unless it will important in arriving to the answers sought in a research. In a triangulation process ‘audit-trail’ is important determine how far the constructed themes are acceptable.
Another flaw of the study was the use of induction. Although most qualitative researches use this there is a problem in using it in a study. The use of inductive approach is to identify the recurring theme in a research paper; however, a recurring theme now does not guarantee that it will still be present in the future (Bendasolli 2013). The discovery of the recurrent themes is not considered the totality of the responses of inmates in the prison. Another thing is that the diversity of the participants who came from other correction facilities will also bring different views from the chaplain’s experience they have in their respective penal complex.
In the research done by Hicks, she stated that she used participant observation but most of her participants were interviewed through telephone conversation. The data gathered through a participant observation means understanding the physical, social, cultural and economic contexts as well as the relationship among and between people, contexts, ideas, norms, and events (Anon., 2015). By not meeting the chaplains in person means she was not able to get a feel on how they manage their emotional strategy for inmates. It would have been better though if she could visit them in the correction facility where they are working just to understand as well the feeling of the chaplains when they are in the penitentiary complex. In this way, it will be more appropriate to say that she really employed participant observation.
Bendassolli, P., 2013. Theory building in a qualitative research: Reconsidering the problem of induction. Qualitative Social Research, [online]. Available at:
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Creswell, J., 2009. Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches.
California: Sage Publication Thousand Oaks
Hicks, A., 2013. Hearts in the wasteland: Redeeming the moral self in corrections. Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice Criminology, 1 (1), pp. 1-26.
Kelly, M., 2010. Role of theory in qualitative health research. Oxford Journals, [online]. Available at:
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Participant Observation., 2015. Qualitative research methods: A data collectors guide, Family Health International, [online]. Available at:
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Tufford, L. and Newman, P., 2010. Bracketing in qualitative research. Qualitative Social Work, 11 (1), pp. 80-96.
Shenton, A., 2004. Strategies for ensuring trustworthiness in qualitative research projects. Education for Information. [pdf]. Available at:
[Accessed 28 March 2015]
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