The Experience of Change among Young Violent Immigrants Serving Time in Prison: An Existential Social Work Perspective

The Experience of Change among Young Violent Immigrants Serving Time in Prison: An Existential... Abstract This article is part of a larger qualitative study on norm conflict and violence among young immigrants. The aim is to understand the experience of change among young, violent male immigrants to Israel from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), who are serving time in prison. Criterion sampling for this article included inmates, aged eighteen to twenty-five, who were serving prison sentences at the time of the interview for crimes of violence committed as adolescent immigrants. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten inmates. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, and analysed according to qualitative methods. Novice inmates (non-violent in the FSU but had become violent in Israel) were found to blame mainly society whereas persister inmates (had been violent in the FSU and in Israel) were found to blame mainly factors related to their personal psychological lives. However, regardless of the source of blame, all inmates experienced personal/psychological change including regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility. Findings are discussed heuristically using an existential social work perspective. Findings suggest that, although violence can be attributed to personal and/or social reasons, change needs to come from within the person alongside social change, regardless of what triggered the violence. Prevention and intervention programmes are discussed in light of this understanding. Social work, qualitative methods, immigrants, existential social work, young persons, change, violence Introduction Immigration involves two major interrelated experiences within the realm of social work intervention: loss and change (Marris, 1980). Young people who immigrate lose familiarity, support and dimensions of identity, which threatens the ‘self’ (Jasinskaja et al., 2003). The pressure arising from having to cope with change in so many life domains requires a broad spectrum of coping in a culturally foreign environment. Israel is a country of immigration and views itself as a youth-centred society (Eisikovits, 2008). In addition, youth violence is one of the most visible forms of violence in society worldwide. The main victims and perpetrators are the young adults themselves, whether natives or immigrants. This situation calls for helping professions such as social work to facilitate change (Krug et al., 2002). The aim of this paper is to address the experience of change among young violent immigrants to Israel from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), who are serving time in prison. A major stream of immigration from the FSU to Israel occurred in 1989 as a result of political/economic changes following the breakdown of communism (Silbereisen et al., 2014). This wave of immigration was motivated by Zionist ideals and/or by the wish to improve children’s welfare and opportunities (Remennick, 2007). Although immigration is a significant life event, the decision is made by parents. As such, the adolescents were not usually party to the decision (Koren and Eisikovits, 2011). This might have intensified the young immigrants’ distress due to the dual challenge of identity reconstruction—as emerging adults (Fitzgerald, 2005) and as immigrants. Perceived discrimination and stress of immigrant youth indicate conflict between host and immigrant acculturation preferences (Jasinskaja et al., 2003). Native Israelis prefer assimilation (Shamai and Ilatov, 2001), whereas immigrants prefer integration (Jasinskaja et al., 2003). Immigrant youth tend to experience depressive moods and reduced self-esteem, but with a continued tendency for social integration (Mesch et al., 2008). Violence among adolescent immigrants from the FSU to Germany appears to be fostered by repeated negative experiences and is reinforced by making friends who share similar problems. Violence might also be a result of cultural norm differences between the host country and country of origin. Such differences might make adaptation to the transition more difficult (Zund, 2011). For some of these young immigrants, one outcome might be deviant behaviour; some get caught and some do not. Since 1989, 72 per cent of all immigrants to Israel came from the FSU, including 82 per cent of all delinquent immigrants. The juvenile delinquency statistics indicate that 10 per cent of the entire delinquent population known by social control agencies is adolescent (aged twelve to eighteen) and 14 per cent of the delinquent population from the FSU is adolescent (Population Census, 2008). A range of deviant behaviours have been studied among adolescent immigrants from the FSU in Israel. These include substance abuse (Israelowitz and Reznik, 2007), bullying in gangs (Tartakovsky and Mirsky, 2001) and attitudes towards sexual violence (Sherer and Etgar, 2005). Despite immigration and the experience of uprooting of meaning (Marris, 1980), some adolescents excel academically (Eisikovits, 2008). However, this does not necessarily prevent deviant behaviour. ‘Life in two phases’, double standards and manipulation were found to be common among adolescent male immigrants from the FSU. Outwardly, they respect their parents and teachers and place high priority on academic success. Yet, at the same time, they practise deviant and criminal behaviour such as sexual offences, and invest considerable energy to keep them secret (Sherer and Etgar, 2005). Theoretical framework: existential phenomenology of change Existential concepts are used heuristically. The concept of the ‘life world’ (Lebenswelt) includes three facets (May, 1983): (i) the physical world (Umwelt) regarding young violent FSU immigrants to Israel relates to the meaning of using physical violence within the Israeli cultural environment in comparison to the FSU; (ii) the inter-personal world with others (Mitwelt) relates to how these youths interact and communicate with peers, family members and the society in which they live; and (iii) the intrapersonal world (eigenwelt) relates to self-awareness as a young immigrant and how the experience of loneliness, anxiety, isolation and shame are experienced over time (Fitzgerald, 2005). Lived time (May, 1983) plays a role in the violent young immigrants’ identity formation. Their experience of past, present and future influences their psychological development (Fitzgerald, 2005) and their perceptions and interpretations of the violent behaviour. The process of change from an existential phenomenological perspective asks how inmates shift from an inauthentic self in a state of ‘bad faith’, driven by external factors, towards an authentic self, which takes responsibility for his/her actions (Sartre, 1991), if they undergo this shift at all. Such a process demands reflectiveness by inmate youth. It requires self-awareness that combines emotional and intellectual activities leading to new understandings (Bound et al., 1985) and is part of the change process. Reflectivity is knowledge founded in the processing of experience (Lam et al., 2007). It includes self-awareness that occurs retrospectively outside the situation, and has the potential to be carried out by the inmate youth in a future situation (D’Cruz et al., 2007). Reflectivity is restricted to individual and intra-psychic processes (Lam et al., 2007) whereas reflexivity is awareness on the social, collective level regarding the influences of power on the process of change (D’Cruz et al., 2007; Lam et al., 2007). The massive overrepresentation of youth from the FSU among delinquent populations, including imprisoned youths, reinforces the need to study the interplay between violence and immigration experiences of convicted young immigrant inmates from the FSU in Israel. Furthermore, studies on immigrants from the FSU were conducted regarding adaptation (e.g. Mesch et al., 2008) and violence in Israel (e.g. Tartakovsky and Mirsky, 2001) and in other countries (e.g. Zund, 2011). However, choices related to adaptation and change of young male immigrants from the FSU to Israel, who had engaged in violent behaviour and were serving time in prison for their offence, have yet to be examined. The following questions were addressed: (i) How do young inmates who immigrated from the FSU to Israel, as adolescents, experience their immigration and violent behaviour? (ii) What are the meanings they ascribe to their violent behaviour and to serving time in prison? Method Data analysed for this article are part of a larger study on norm conflict and violence in Israel among adolescent male immigrants from the FSU. The aim of the larger study was to explore these youths’ experience of immigration with emphasis on norm differences between two different cultures (Koren and Eisikovits, 2011). Participants and procedure The sub-sample on which this article is based included inmates aged eighteen to twenty-five, who had been convicted for various crimes committed in adolescence, such as severe violence, sabotage, rape and assault. They had been residing in the country for between four and twelve years and had immigrated to Israel between the ages of seven and sixteen because of their parents’ practical decision to seek a better life for their children. Seven of the inmates emigrated from European FSU countries such as Ukraine, and three were from Asian FSU countries such as Uzbekistan. All came from families with low socio-economic status. Five of the inmates had divorced parents, one had a single mother and four had parents who were married. Participants were recruited from various prisons for emerging adults throughout Israel. A prison was chosen if it housed inmates according to the above criteria. Data collection Data were collected between December 2009 and February 2011. After obtaining permission from the Israel Prison Authority, the author approached the social workers of the relevant prisons, presented the purpose of the study and the criteria for participation. Next, the prison social worker presented a letter of consent to potential participants, explaining about the study and their right to withdraw participation at any stage without penalisation. Approximately 60 per cent of the inmates who met the study criteria refused participation. The rest agreed and were pleased to have the opportunity to share their experience. At the time of the interview, eight of the inmates had been incarcerated for between five months and 3.5 years, and two for only several weeks. The interviews took place at various prisons in coordination with the social worker on site, in a room provided for this purpose by the prison authorities, in which only the interviewer and interviewee were present. They were conducted by a research assistant, who had experience working as a social worker with immigrant adolescents from the FSU and was trained to conduct semi-structured qualitative interviews. The interviews were conducted in Hebrew with the option of speaking Russian if the participant wished. They lasted about two hours, were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The interview guide included the following opening request: ‘Tell me the story of your immigration.’ In addition, questions relating to immigration were asked: How was the decision made, by whom, when and why? Participants were asked to make comparisons between the FSU and Israel regarding relationships with friends, teachers, parents, the school system, and reasons and circumstances that triggered the use of violence. Analysis This inmate sub-sample was analysed as part of the larger study. The author received the verbatim transcriptions of the interviews and read each one from a ‘not knowing’ stand, to become acquainted with the data, allowing the data themselves to speak for the phenomenon explored. While reading the interviews, initial notes were written regarding first impressions. These first impressions revealed the reflective self-awareness of the inmates regarding the process leading them to violent behaviour including regret and taking responsibility. Such self-awareness was not found among the non-inmate sub-sample previously analysed. Therefore, as other issues had been addressed previously (see Koren and Eisikovits, 2011), self-awareness became the chosen focus during the analysis process. During the next step, the data were organised and coded using Atlas.ti 5 (2005, The knowledge workbench, Visual Qualitative Data Analysis Version)—the same coding scheme used for the larger study (for more details, see Koren and Eisikovits, 2011). During this process, inductive codes that emerged were added such as ‘regret’ and ‘reflective thoughts’, which were found to be unique to the inmate sub-sample. Coding data by individual cases was performed first, which enabled the development of content categories by units of meaning for each interview. One of these units of meaning refers to turning points indicating change, unique for the inmate sub-sample. Subsequently, cross-case analysis was performed, identifying themes that cut across interviews. Next, data were recompiled in a new way, by connecting the four subcategories of blame, regret, reflectivity and responsibility, illustrating the relationship among them. The final step was the conceptualisation of the story of change as the central theme, around which the four aforementioned subcategories evolved. The process ended with writing the findings as a narrative including a final theme (Smith et al., 2009), which referred to interventions in prison for establishing change. Existential phenomenology was chosen as the heuristic framework for this paper following the process of analysis when the author realised how the themes are consistent with this framework. It was therefore used abductively (Charmaz, 2006) because the codes and units of meaning were inductively identified first. Only at the end of the process was the manner in which the themes constitute the existential process of change identified. Existential phenomenology was then used deductively for writing the final narrative, presented in the findings section, and discussing these findings. Trustworthiness Trustworthiness was achieved by audio-recording interviews and transcribing them verbatim to enable verification from the original, ensuring referential adequacy. The findings were presented to a group of colleagues familiar with qualitative methods, who asked provocative questions relating to the analysis providing additional insights beyond those of the researchers, achieving credibility by peer debriefing. Negative case analysis was performed, showing lack of regret as the exception, strengthening the finding that regret is the rule for the inmate sample (Lincoln and Guba, 1985). Ethics The process of receiving permission to interview inmates included approval from the Israeli prison authority received on 12 December 2009. Each member of the research team signed a letter of obligation to maintain privacy of inmates and each inmate signed a letter of consent to participate after receiving detailed information about the study. The study was initiated by researchers who had no professional or other connections with the prison authorities. This enabled inmates to agree or disagree to participate without any coercion. Prison policy forbids researchers to compensate inmates for their time as research participants, to prevent them from feeling obligated to participate and co-operate, if this was against their wishes. Confidentiality was assured by changing details that might reveal identifying information. Findings Loss and change (Marris, 1980) were experiences shared by all inmates. They experienced loss when struggling with a confused identity while facing a state of alienation and isolation in the host society. Their violent behaviour could be understood as a way to relieve the emotional stresses that temporarily accompanied their self-doubt and sense of powerlessness. This existential state of loss led to an experience of change, which included blame, regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility expressed through changed behaviour, in some cases with the assistance of therapeutic interventions. Data analysis revealed two groups that differed in their behaviour. Six inmates were identified as novices (non-violent in the FSU but had become violent in Israel) and four were identified as persisters (had been violent in the FSU and in Israel). The four subthemes—blame, regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility—were identified among all inmates but were expressed differently. The richest, most representative quotes were chosen to illustrate each of the themes. Blame As part of the experience of getting caught, participants blamed a range of factors for their behaviour, including the reasons they were caught for and imprisoned. Novices mainly blamed society whereas persisters mainly blamed personal/psychological life issues. The insult ‘Stinky Russian’ is an example of a social reason used by Russian youth when blaming society for their violent behaviour and was found among all novice inmates: Those who are Russian get picked on. They won’t leave you alone until you show them where you stand, beat someone up, react with violence. You try to explain and are laughed at: ‘You Stinky Russian, new immigrant’. They make fun of you all the time, you don’t feel like going to school, you feel frightened, they pick on you. When you’re a small child, you don’t know how to react, till you grow up a bit and show them. I used to catch three of them and beat them up. That’s how they got too frightened to open their mouths (Novice, I4D, aged twenty, thirteen years in Israel, serving time for assault and drug use, three weeks in prison when interviewed). Describing the experience of the hurt caused by the insult ‘Stinky Russian’ was a way of constructing the victim image. Placing themselves as victims of discrimination and racism in the host society established the context for justifying the use of violence. The benefits of using violent behaviour included putting an end to these insults, even at the price of maintaining an atmosphere of fear and terror. The next quote illustrates what can happen at a later stage, when hurt emotions are not expressed immediately. Interviewer: What drew you to the neo-Nazi group? I5K: I guess maybe I wanted to be a part of something big and serious. That’s what I thought at the time. Those fighting incidents with Israelis who call me ‘Stinky Russian’ was part of what made me interested. At the time, when I was 10 or 11, I wasn’t a racist. After I started to get interested in the neo-Nazi ideology, I began to feel that I belonged (Novice, I5K, aged twenty, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and racism, two years in prison when interviewed). The scars of insult eventually led to finding an outlet for hurt emotions, which had built up throughout the years. Adopting a racist ideology by joining a neo-Nazi group provided a sense of belonging and purpose in life, which was previously lacking, justifying violence. A neo-Nazi group here refers to a group of youths who committed hate crimes against weak minorities in Israel based on a neo-Nazi ideology. The group was established in 2004 and was caught by the police in 2007. The following quote by a persister inmate illustrates how social discrimination such as the insult ‘Stinky Russian’ did not escalate to violence: When I first came here [to Israel], I walked out of some store and he came out all of a sudden and said: ‘Stinky Russians’. I didn’t know Hebrew, but I understood .... This wasn’t a pleasant experience, but what did I do? I kept quiet because he was small. I didn’t do anything to him; it’s not as if he were a big person (Persister, I9S, aged twenty, five years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, 1.25 years in prison when interviewed). In this case, the name calling did not provoke violence. This could be explained by the Russian social code of behaviour upheld by persisters, which overrode the insult as an immigrant. Part of this code is that an older person does not beat up a much younger person. Thus, being insulted as an immigrant took second place to the normative Russian code of behaviour. As opposed to novices, the following quote provides an explanation other than social discrimination for persisters’ violent behaviour: Also, before my first arrest, I fooled around [delinquent behaviour], but I studied relatively well. What can I say? Friends fool around but also do good things; that’s childhood (Persister, I8G, aged twenty-one, twelve years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, five months in prison when interviewed). Violent behaviour is accounted for as a natural part of childhood, whereas social discrimination is not mentioned. These immigrant youth excel in school alongside engaging in delinquent behaviour in Israel. Sherer and Etgar (2005) recognised this phenomenon as ‘life in two phases’. Functioning well as students did not prevent the Russian youths from using violence and thus was perceived as normative for not neglecting required tasks. Regret Novices experienced regret mainly because it is an act against society, whereas persisters expressed regret mainly on a personal/psychological level such as disappointing parents. Lack of regret as exception is also illustrated. The following viewpoint of a novice inmate illustrates regret for joining a racist ideology group, who committed hate crimes: I’m sorry because I could have not done it. I had a choice, and I chose to do it and that’s a shame. It was a bad choice and the [neo-Nazi] ideology didn’t help. It’s a shame for those people. Maybe some of them are severely crippled and it’s difficult for me to explain why it happened this way with me. It was a mistake. I was looking for trouble and found it (Novice, I5K, aged twenty, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and racism, two years in prison when interviewed). During his time in prison, this inmate acknowledged that he had had a choice and had made the wrong one. His regret is not only towards each victim individually, but towards his joining an anti-social group such as the neo-Nazis in Israel. This indicates a transition from blaming society for his situation to feeling regret and taking responsibility for his actions. As opposed to novices, the following persister inmate’s perspective of regret remains on the personal level: It’s obvious that one is not in prison because someone else is not OK, but because you did something. I disappointed my mother. She expected her child to grow up to be a man. I was already arrested twice. I’m 21. Guys my age are serving in the army, studying and doing things. I am spending the best years here. My first arrest was when I was 13 (Persister, I8G, aged twenty-one, twelve years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, five months in prison when interviewed). Regret expressed by this persister inmate is not towards the victim of violence, but for disappointing his mother by becoming a criminal. His regret followed the realisation that he was the one who committed the crime and is personally responsible for receiving his prison sentence. After expressing regret and feeling responsible by acknowledging their part in committing a crime, members of both groups—novices and persisters—were able to express empathy with those hurt in the process. Lack of regret: the exception The following quote illustrates a novice inmate’s perspective of lack of regret: It’s not that I did something that bad; I grabbed someone and floored him. When I was small, I didn’t see that as bad, and today, I don’t see it as bad, either. You could say that I was helping a friend so they wouldn’t throw a bottle on his head (Novice, I2D, aged nineteen, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and sabotage, seven weeks in prison when interviewed). The importance of loyalty to friendship within the Russian culture prevented this youth from acknowledging his behaviour as illegal. He interpreted his act as defence. His justification was that someone was bound to be injured; it was either his friend or the potential attacker. Although this inmate did not regret the crime described above, he did regret other crimes he had committed (see next quote). Reflectivity Despite the essential difference between novices and persisters regarding the blame trigger, they both share the ability to be reflective of their delinquent behaviour. The following quotes are illustrative of reflectivity regarding reactions when others curse their parents. The perspective of a novice inmate is as follows: I came at that guy because he started. He also cursed my mother; do you understand? ‘Son of a bitch,’ no-one curses like that in Russia. Mother is sacred for us, she gave birth to you, she takes care of you, so when someone comes like that and curses … because I’m here and not in Russia, I have to connect and live like the people here ... I told them, my friends, you can curse others with son of a bitch but with me, don’t speak like that, and they respected this and didn’t talk that way with me. When I was under arrest, I learned that if someone calls you ‘son of a bitch’, turn around and leave, what do you care? My mother also told me the same: ‘It’s better they curse me and you just leave it, rather than going to prison’. Perhaps the talks with the probation officer helped, but what pissed me off the most was that while I was under arrest, I already understood that I had made a mistake, but I was sent to prison anyway (Novice, I2D, aged nineteen, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and sabotage, seven weeks in prison when interviewed). The innovations raised by this inmate were his reflective thoughts on three different levels. First, he realised that he has full control only over his own actions and it is not possible to control the actions of others. Second, he realised that he should adopt the local attitude towards cursing and that he would honour his mother more by ignoring even the greatest insult because the consequences of the possible results were not worth the risk. Third, a painful realisation was that, although already fully aware of his mistakes, his actions have consequences (a prison sentence), not only as a therapeutic measure, but also as a way of paying a debt to society. The following illustrates the same theme from a persister inmate’s perspective: There was a dispute with people when I came from the Ukraine. No-one can curse your mother. Where we grew up, that is really sad, because your mother is the best thing you have in the world. If someone says a word against mother, that’s it, he’s a goner. I came here [to Israel] with that thought. We were a group [of Russians] together, and a group [of Israelis] came. I asked them for a cigarette; they said no and left. Then I heard them say: ‘What sons of bitches’, and then we turned on them and there were beatings. Later, when I was arrested ..., you’re not in the Ukraine. Now I realise that if someone says something like that, they don’t necessarily think about your family. I didn’t know that then (Persister, I9S, aged twenty, five years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, 1.25 years in prison when interviewed). Lack of awareness of cultural differences regarding clashes referring to the significance of cursing parents (Koren and Eisikovits, 2011) was what led to violent behaviour and a prison sentence. Reflectivity was gained by awareness of these cultural differences and prevents unacceptable behaviour in the future. Taking responsibility Another component of change is taking responsibility, as illustrated below. The next quote illustrates self-restraint not taken for granted by a novice inmate: There were cases when I stepped aside. One day, a neighbour came and started cursing me under the window: ‘Who is that smoking? I’ll crack your skull’. I was at home, smoking. He started yelling: ‘Why do you smoke all day’? He was just looking for a fight, so I looked at him and told him to close the window if it bothered him. ... I turned around and walked away. That’s called ignoring the bait; it means a person who is looking for a fight and a person who decides to step aside (Novice, I2D, aged nineteen, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and sabotage, seven weeks in prison when interviewed). Stepping aside in such a situation under house arrest was not the natural response for this inmate. He perceived it as taking responsibility for changing his way of being in the world: from a person who could not avoid using violence to one who had the strength to restrain himself by ignoring the bait and turning the other way. The following illustrates a persister inmate’s independence: I worked the whole month; got my pay cheque and now I can shop at the canteen, I can call my parents in Russia and ask how things are, I don’t have to ask them to send me money, even when they ask me, I tell them I’m working, I have money, and if needed, I put money aside to send to them. Many 35- to 40-year olds still don’t think this way. They think only about today, they don’t think about tomorrow, there are many like this here. Give and give, and no matter how much money you give, it’s never enough. I eat the food they give me here, but they buy from the canteen. That’s no good. He’s 35 years old. Go to work, get paid, then buy what you want; until when will you call your mummy for money? (Persister, I1E, aged twenty, four years in Israel, serving time for murder, three years in prison). This persister inmate emphasised his personal abilities to take responsibility compared to others, who do not. He implied that, in contrast to older inmates, he has his priorities right. This served as a way to distinguish his future from that of other inmates, and helped him feel superior to them with greater chance of succeeding outside prison. A possible indication of change was his consideration for the welfare of others, when he explained the importance of not depending on financial assistance from parents. He illustrated responsibility towards a future outside prison, in the hope of desisting from criminal behaviour. Change establishment: interventions and therapy Change was established in various ways. Some inmates referred to the act of being caught and sentenced as a trigger to change. Others mentioned a significant helping professional who assisted with the change process. Yet others referred to prison as an environment for learning how to behave in the normative world. The following illustrates how drama therapy promoted personal change in a novice inmate: ... I started receiving tools from people who care, like the play director in prison, and the prison social worker. It was the first time I connected with a social worker. I went through a process with myself from the time I came here till now; it’s a process I see within myself, and you can see who cares about you ... there were two plays, the first was about my life story, a monologue; the stage gave me strength and security. The second play was about victimisation; the victimiser seeing the victim’s side. I was the victimiser, the one who committed murder in the play; I saw the entire situation; the other person’s side. There is always a victim, but what lies behind the victim, his family ... I will never steal from individual people again; only maybe from the government (Novice, I6M, aged eighteen, eleven years in Israel, serving time for rape and theft, 3.5 years in prison when interviewed). The process of change occurred as a combination of perceiving the helping professionals as genuinely caring and the type of therapy intervention used (drama therapy). They opened the inmates’ eyes to seeing ‘the self’ as perpetrator and the suffering of ‘the other’ as victim. However, the sympathy the inmate as perpetrator has acquired for a personal victim has yet to encompass the moral aspect of avoiding crime against public institutions. Discussion Findings presented in this article show that violent, young male immigrants from the FSU to Israel, who were serving time in prison, became reflective of their violent behaviour leading to change. Both novice (non-violent in the FSU but had become violent in Israel) and persister (had been violent in the FSU and in Israel) inmates used blame to justify their actions regardless of its target. The main blame target among novices was society, whereas, among persisters, it was related to their personal/psychological life. An inauthentic self blames external factors for his actions (Sartre, 1991). Blame is very similar to Sartre’s (1991) concept of ‘bad faith’, denying the freedom of responsibility and choice in one’s actions and believing that one is a passive reactor to external influences. Such external influences could include class and culture, similar to issues raised by novices, or parental upbringing, as described by persisters. These external factors have become excuses to justify actions such as violence. Blame is an emotion developed as a result of behaviours that deserve to be condemned (Shibels, 1987), such as becoming a member of a neo-Nazi group. Such events should not have happened, resulting in responsibility withdrawal, as illustrated by the youth who committed hate crimes. Although blame does not have the power to change the past, individuals have the ability to change the present, and those who hold onto blame deny themselves the opportunity for change (Overholster, 2005). Regret is recognition of longing to change the past (Blume and Schmaling, 1998) and awareness of the discomfort or pain caused to another (Steiner, 2000), such as the inmate who grasped the experience of the victim through drama therapy. Findings indicate that, by being convicted, the inmates understood that, when Israelis cursed their parents, they did not mean to insult their specific parents, but were cursing out of frustration. Others felt ashamed for having injured weak and innocent persons through hate crimes. Thus, inmates were reflective by combining intellectual and emotional activities leading to new understandings (Bound et al., 1985), resulting in continuous and dynamic self-awareness (Finley, 2002). The persister who admitted that he was in prison through fault of his own, rather than blaming someone else, illustrated cognitive ability to process information and create knowledge to guide his life choices by being critically self-aware. The novice who stepped aside to avoid a fight illustrates being reflective and emotional (D’Cruz et al., 2007; Lam et al., 2007); the ability to control his emotional state in response to the environment was expressed in the incident of the neighbour who complained about his smoking. This resembles the concept of ‘reflection’ (D’Cruz et al., 2007) in terms of applying the knowledge of self-awareness in the future, and is closer to the responsibility concept that was apparent among the inmates. The experience of taking responsibility was illustrated by the novice who, unlike in the past, in the present, walked away from a fight in the face of provocation. Shapiro (2006, p. 22) explains as follows: ‘This sense of responsibility consists of the awareness that what was done was not a failure of will, but an expression of will.’ Persisters expressed responsibility by considering the needs of others along with their own including willingness to take control over one’s life and behaviour (Overholster, 2005). From an existential perspective (Sartre, 1991), society’s discrimination against young immigrants from the FSU to Israel is an existential state of ‘throwness’ because these youth cannot be responsible for society’s actions against them. However, they do have ‘situated freedom of choice’, also referred to as ‘individual agency’ (Farrall et al., 2011), regarding legitimate and illegitimate options of how to react to the discrimination against them. Before serving time in prison, these youth perceived violence as an option in spite of its illegitimacy. During their time in prison, they underwent a process of change in which they abandoned ‘bad faith’ (Sartre, 1991) in favour of taking responsibility, leading to change. Persisters who blame personal life circumstances and also novices who blame society have been shown to go through the process of existential change discussed above which includes regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility. Thus, principles of existential psychotherapy (van Deurzen, 2010) could be relevant for social work intervention on the individual level to enhance change with persister and novice inmates alike, whether they blame society or blame personal life circumstances. Based on van Deurzen’s (2010) existential therapy, such principles include helping persisters and novices get better at reflecting on their situation of having used violence as a way of ‘being in the world’. It deals with their dilemmas such as how to interpret and react when named ‘dirty Russian’ or when being cursed at by another party disrespecting their parents. It assists with facing their predicament of being convicted and serving time in prison, and it promotes thinking for themselves. Attention is also paid to everyday concerns, dealing with personal/psychological (eigenwelt) and inter-personal relational (mitwelt) aspects of existence. Existential psychotherapy aims to address with clients the full description of the essential challenges of human living. Attention is paid to both the universal and the particular of a person’s existence to understand the relationship and tensions between them. The process of therapy is intended to lead novices and persisters to greater awareness of where they are, how they got there and where they want to go. The process takes into account all components of the lifeworld to enable both persisters and novices to take charge over their lives (van Deurzen, 2010). Theoretical and practical implications for social work The psycho-social perspective claim of social work is that problems rooted in social issues require change within society (e.g. for novices) whereas problems rooted in the individual require personal/psychological solutions (e.g. for persisters) (Turner, 1996). It could be concluded from the findings presented in this article that, although social change is essential for desistance (Laub and Sampson, 2003), a personal/psychological process of change as presented above is recommended alongside such social change, regardless the reasons for violent behaviour. Change of attitudes and behaviours towards FSU immigrants in the receiving country is undoubtedly important. Yet it might not be enough to accomplish change. Thus, interventions on the social level with violent immigrants are recommended to be accompanied by personal/psychological interventions such as existential psychotherapy (van Deurzen, 2010) illustrated above in order to achieve change. Such a conclusion is consistent with an integrated perspective on structural and individual-level processes in desistance (Farrall et al., 2011). Limitations and further study Data analysis revealed components of change, but not how, when and why they work. Another limitation refers to the possible differences between those who agreed and those who refused to participate in the study. It could be assumed that those who agreed to participate did so following their experience of growth and change, which made them feel good about themselves. Including inmates who have not experienced the components required for change might enrich the knowledge regarding when, why and how change could be achieved among young violent immigrants serving time in prison. These studies might assist planning interventions within prison environments. Finally, desisting from criminal behaviour can only be fully achieved when living outside prison. Thus, future studies following up on released prisoners who underwent a process of change in prison are important for examining processes of desistence and planning interventions accordingly. Conclusions The idea of combining the social and the psychological is becoming more widely recognised as necessary for achieving change towards criminal desistance (Vaughan, 2007). This coincides with existential and psycho-social perspectives used in social work practice (Turner, 1996) of interplays between macro (umwelt), mezzo (mitwelt) and micro (eigenwelt) as essential for achieving change in general and for crime desistence in particular (Farrall et al., 2011). When personal/psychological reasons for violence are emphasised, intervention within a prison setting could include reconstruction of the criminal’s life narrative, which is claimed to enhance personal change. This is achieved by providing emotional empathy that assists in initiating a process of self-approval, on which a changed identity can be based (Vaughan, 2007). Drama therapy with violent offenders (Blacker et al., 2008), similar to the experience illustrated in the ‘Findings’ section, might assist offenders in understanding the experience of being victimised and thus enhance psychological change. Preventive social interventions could include environmental modifications such as neighbourhood watch along with interventions of improved welfare for at-risk populations (McGuire, 2008) such as new immigrants. They could also include national educational programmes in schools with pupils and their parents against discrimination in general and of new immigrants in particular (Zund, 2011). Interventions on the social level might prevent crime or at least contribute by integrating released prisoners into society. The findings in this study emphasise that change on the personal level is also required when a problem stems from society. Thus, based on the psycho-social perspective in social work, advocating an integrated perspective between the social and the personal for achieving change is recommended. Finally, in accordance with recent immigration trends, the findings presented in this article could serve as a basis for examining and comparing possible delinquent behaviour and desistence from it among young male immigrants escaping to Europe from regions of violence in Africa and the Middle East. Acknowledgements The author wishes to thank: Prof. Zvi Eisikovits, the head of the Center for the Study of Society, the University of Haifa, Israel, for having me join this project and for being a great mentor; and Prof. Wilhelm Heitmeyer, head of the IKG Institute, University of Bielefeld, Germany, for inviting me as a post-doctoral fellow to work on data analysis that this article is based on. The author declares no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research authorship and/or publication of this article. This research was supported by the BMBF consortium on Migration and Integration Grant-No.: 01GWS072. References Blacker J., Watson A., Beech A. ( 2008) ‘ A combined drama-based and CBT approach to working with self-reported anger aggression’, Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health , 18, pp. 129– 37. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Blume A. W., Schmaling K. B. 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Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

The Experience of Change among Young Violent Immigrants Serving Time in Prison: An Existential Social Work Perspective

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Abstract

Abstract This article is part of a larger qualitative study on norm conflict and violence among young immigrants. The aim is to understand the experience of change among young, violent male immigrants to Israel from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), who are serving time in prison. Criterion sampling for this article included inmates, aged eighteen to twenty-five, who were serving prison sentences at the time of the interview for crimes of violence committed as adolescent immigrants. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten inmates. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, and analysed according to qualitative methods. Novice inmates (non-violent in the FSU but had become violent in Israel) were found to blame mainly society whereas persister inmates (had been violent in the FSU and in Israel) were found to blame mainly factors related to their personal psychological lives. However, regardless of the source of blame, all inmates experienced personal/psychological change including regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility. Findings are discussed heuristically using an existential social work perspective. Findings suggest that, although violence can be attributed to personal and/or social reasons, change needs to come from within the person alongside social change, regardless of what triggered the violence. Prevention and intervention programmes are discussed in light of this understanding. Social work, qualitative methods, immigrants, existential social work, young persons, change, violence Introduction Immigration involves two major interrelated experiences within the realm of social work intervention: loss and change (Marris, 1980). Young people who immigrate lose familiarity, support and dimensions of identity, which threatens the ‘self’ (Jasinskaja et al., 2003). The pressure arising from having to cope with change in so many life domains requires a broad spectrum of coping in a culturally foreign environment. Israel is a country of immigration and views itself as a youth-centred society (Eisikovits, 2008). In addition, youth violence is one of the most visible forms of violence in society worldwide. The main victims and perpetrators are the young adults themselves, whether natives or immigrants. This situation calls for helping professions such as social work to facilitate change (Krug et al., 2002). The aim of this paper is to address the experience of change among young violent immigrants to Israel from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), who are serving time in prison. A major stream of immigration from the FSU to Israel occurred in 1989 as a result of political/economic changes following the breakdown of communism (Silbereisen et al., 2014). This wave of immigration was motivated by Zionist ideals and/or by the wish to improve children’s welfare and opportunities (Remennick, 2007). Although immigration is a significant life event, the decision is made by parents. As such, the adolescents were not usually party to the decision (Koren and Eisikovits, 2011). This might have intensified the young immigrants’ distress due to the dual challenge of identity reconstruction—as emerging adults (Fitzgerald, 2005) and as immigrants. Perceived discrimination and stress of immigrant youth indicate conflict between host and immigrant acculturation preferences (Jasinskaja et al., 2003). Native Israelis prefer assimilation (Shamai and Ilatov, 2001), whereas immigrants prefer integration (Jasinskaja et al., 2003). Immigrant youth tend to experience depressive moods and reduced self-esteem, but with a continued tendency for social integration (Mesch et al., 2008). Violence among adolescent immigrants from the FSU to Germany appears to be fostered by repeated negative experiences and is reinforced by making friends who share similar problems. Violence might also be a result of cultural norm differences between the host country and country of origin. Such differences might make adaptation to the transition more difficult (Zund, 2011). For some of these young immigrants, one outcome might be deviant behaviour; some get caught and some do not. Since 1989, 72 per cent of all immigrants to Israel came from the FSU, including 82 per cent of all delinquent immigrants. The juvenile delinquency statistics indicate that 10 per cent of the entire delinquent population known by social control agencies is adolescent (aged twelve to eighteen) and 14 per cent of the delinquent population from the FSU is adolescent (Population Census, 2008). A range of deviant behaviours have been studied among adolescent immigrants from the FSU in Israel. These include substance abuse (Israelowitz and Reznik, 2007), bullying in gangs (Tartakovsky and Mirsky, 2001) and attitudes towards sexual violence (Sherer and Etgar, 2005). Despite immigration and the experience of uprooting of meaning (Marris, 1980), some adolescents excel academically (Eisikovits, 2008). However, this does not necessarily prevent deviant behaviour. ‘Life in two phases’, double standards and manipulation were found to be common among adolescent male immigrants from the FSU. Outwardly, they respect their parents and teachers and place high priority on academic success. Yet, at the same time, they practise deviant and criminal behaviour such as sexual offences, and invest considerable energy to keep them secret (Sherer and Etgar, 2005). Theoretical framework: existential phenomenology of change Existential concepts are used heuristically. The concept of the ‘life world’ (Lebenswelt) includes three facets (May, 1983): (i) the physical world (Umwelt) regarding young violent FSU immigrants to Israel relates to the meaning of using physical violence within the Israeli cultural environment in comparison to the FSU; (ii) the inter-personal world with others (Mitwelt) relates to how these youths interact and communicate with peers, family members and the society in which they live; and (iii) the intrapersonal world (eigenwelt) relates to self-awareness as a young immigrant and how the experience of loneliness, anxiety, isolation and shame are experienced over time (Fitzgerald, 2005). Lived time (May, 1983) plays a role in the violent young immigrants’ identity formation. Their experience of past, present and future influences their psychological development (Fitzgerald, 2005) and their perceptions and interpretations of the violent behaviour. The process of change from an existential phenomenological perspective asks how inmates shift from an inauthentic self in a state of ‘bad faith’, driven by external factors, towards an authentic self, which takes responsibility for his/her actions (Sartre, 1991), if they undergo this shift at all. Such a process demands reflectiveness by inmate youth. It requires self-awareness that combines emotional and intellectual activities leading to new understandings (Bound et al., 1985) and is part of the change process. Reflectivity is knowledge founded in the processing of experience (Lam et al., 2007). It includes self-awareness that occurs retrospectively outside the situation, and has the potential to be carried out by the inmate youth in a future situation (D’Cruz et al., 2007). Reflectivity is restricted to individual and intra-psychic processes (Lam et al., 2007) whereas reflexivity is awareness on the social, collective level regarding the influences of power on the process of change (D’Cruz et al., 2007; Lam et al., 2007). The massive overrepresentation of youth from the FSU among delinquent populations, including imprisoned youths, reinforces the need to study the interplay between violence and immigration experiences of convicted young immigrant inmates from the FSU in Israel. Furthermore, studies on immigrants from the FSU were conducted regarding adaptation (e.g. Mesch et al., 2008) and violence in Israel (e.g. Tartakovsky and Mirsky, 2001) and in other countries (e.g. Zund, 2011). However, choices related to adaptation and change of young male immigrants from the FSU to Israel, who had engaged in violent behaviour and were serving time in prison for their offence, have yet to be examined. The following questions were addressed: (i) How do young inmates who immigrated from the FSU to Israel, as adolescents, experience their immigration and violent behaviour? (ii) What are the meanings they ascribe to their violent behaviour and to serving time in prison? Method Data analysed for this article are part of a larger study on norm conflict and violence in Israel among adolescent male immigrants from the FSU. The aim of the larger study was to explore these youths’ experience of immigration with emphasis on norm differences between two different cultures (Koren and Eisikovits, 2011). Participants and procedure The sub-sample on which this article is based included inmates aged eighteen to twenty-five, who had been convicted for various crimes committed in adolescence, such as severe violence, sabotage, rape and assault. They had been residing in the country for between four and twelve years and had immigrated to Israel between the ages of seven and sixteen because of their parents’ practical decision to seek a better life for their children. Seven of the inmates emigrated from European FSU countries such as Ukraine, and three were from Asian FSU countries such as Uzbekistan. All came from families with low socio-economic status. Five of the inmates had divorced parents, one had a single mother and four had parents who were married. Participants were recruited from various prisons for emerging adults throughout Israel. A prison was chosen if it housed inmates according to the above criteria. Data collection Data were collected between December 2009 and February 2011. After obtaining permission from the Israel Prison Authority, the author approached the social workers of the relevant prisons, presented the purpose of the study and the criteria for participation. Next, the prison social worker presented a letter of consent to potential participants, explaining about the study and their right to withdraw participation at any stage without penalisation. Approximately 60 per cent of the inmates who met the study criteria refused participation. The rest agreed and were pleased to have the opportunity to share their experience. At the time of the interview, eight of the inmates had been incarcerated for between five months and 3.5 years, and two for only several weeks. The interviews took place at various prisons in coordination with the social worker on site, in a room provided for this purpose by the prison authorities, in which only the interviewer and interviewee were present. They were conducted by a research assistant, who had experience working as a social worker with immigrant adolescents from the FSU and was trained to conduct semi-structured qualitative interviews. The interviews were conducted in Hebrew with the option of speaking Russian if the participant wished. They lasted about two hours, were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The interview guide included the following opening request: ‘Tell me the story of your immigration.’ In addition, questions relating to immigration were asked: How was the decision made, by whom, when and why? Participants were asked to make comparisons between the FSU and Israel regarding relationships with friends, teachers, parents, the school system, and reasons and circumstances that triggered the use of violence. Analysis This inmate sub-sample was analysed as part of the larger study. The author received the verbatim transcriptions of the interviews and read each one from a ‘not knowing’ stand, to become acquainted with the data, allowing the data themselves to speak for the phenomenon explored. While reading the interviews, initial notes were written regarding first impressions. These first impressions revealed the reflective self-awareness of the inmates regarding the process leading them to violent behaviour including regret and taking responsibility. Such self-awareness was not found among the non-inmate sub-sample previously analysed. Therefore, as other issues had been addressed previously (see Koren and Eisikovits, 2011), self-awareness became the chosen focus during the analysis process. During the next step, the data were organised and coded using Atlas.ti 5 (2005, The knowledge workbench, Visual Qualitative Data Analysis Version)—the same coding scheme used for the larger study (for more details, see Koren and Eisikovits, 2011). During this process, inductive codes that emerged were added such as ‘regret’ and ‘reflective thoughts’, which were found to be unique to the inmate sub-sample. Coding data by individual cases was performed first, which enabled the development of content categories by units of meaning for each interview. One of these units of meaning refers to turning points indicating change, unique for the inmate sub-sample. Subsequently, cross-case analysis was performed, identifying themes that cut across interviews. Next, data were recompiled in a new way, by connecting the four subcategories of blame, regret, reflectivity and responsibility, illustrating the relationship among them. The final step was the conceptualisation of the story of change as the central theme, around which the four aforementioned subcategories evolved. The process ended with writing the findings as a narrative including a final theme (Smith et al., 2009), which referred to interventions in prison for establishing change. Existential phenomenology was chosen as the heuristic framework for this paper following the process of analysis when the author realised how the themes are consistent with this framework. It was therefore used abductively (Charmaz, 2006) because the codes and units of meaning were inductively identified first. Only at the end of the process was the manner in which the themes constitute the existential process of change identified. Existential phenomenology was then used deductively for writing the final narrative, presented in the findings section, and discussing these findings. Trustworthiness Trustworthiness was achieved by audio-recording interviews and transcribing them verbatim to enable verification from the original, ensuring referential adequacy. The findings were presented to a group of colleagues familiar with qualitative methods, who asked provocative questions relating to the analysis providing additional insights beyond those of the researchers, achieving credibility by peer debriefing. Negative case analysis was performed, showing lack of regret as the exception, strengthening the finding that regret is the rule for the inmate sample (Lincoln and Guba, 1985). Ethics The process of receiving permission to interview inmates included approval from the Israeli prison authority received on 12 December 2009. Each member of the research team signed a letter of obligation to maintain privacy of inmates and each inmate signed a letter of consent to participate after receiving detailed information about the study. The study was initiated by researchers who had no professional or other connections with the prison authorities. This enabled inmates to agree or disagree to participate without any coercion. Prison policy forbids researchers to compensate inmates for their time as research participants, to prevent them from feeling obligated to participate and co-operate, if this was against their wishes. Confidentiality was assured by changing details that might reveal identifying information. Findings Loss and change (Marris, 1980) were experiences shared by all inmates. They experienced loss when struggling with a confused identity while facing a state of alienation and isolation in the host society. Their violent behaviour could be understood as a way to relieve the emotional stresses that temporarily accompanied their self-doubt and sense of powerlessness. This existential state of loss led to an experience of change, which included blame, regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility expressed through changed behaviour, in some cases with the assistance of therapeutic interventions. Data analysis revealed two groups that differed in their behaviour. Six inmates were identified as novices (non-violent in the FSU but had become violent in Israel) and four were identified as persisters (had been violent in the FSU and in Israel). The four subthemes—blame, regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility—were identified among all inmates but were expressed differently. The richest, most representative quotes were chosen to illustrate each of the themes. Blame As part of the experience of getting caught, participants blamed a range of factors for their behaviour, including the reasons they were caught for and imprisoned. Novices mainly blamed society whereas persisters mainly blamed personal/psychological life issues. The insult ‘Stinky Russian’ is an example of a social reason used by Russian youth when blaming society for their violent behaviour and was found among all novice inmates: Those who are Russian get picked on. They won’t leave you alone until you show them where you stand, beat someone up, react with violence. You try to explain and are laughed at: ‘You Stinky Russian, new immigrant’. They make fun of you all the time, you don’t feel like going to school, you feel frightened, they pick on you. When you’re a small child, you don’t know how to react, till you grow up a bit and show them. I used to catch three of them and beat them up. That’s how they got too frightened to open their mouths (Novice, I4D, aged twenty, thirteen years in Israel, serving time for assault and drug use, three weeks in prison when interviewed). Describing the experience of the hurt caused by the insult ‘Stinky Russian’ was a way of constructing the victim image. Placing themselves as victims of discrimination and racism in the host society established the context for justifying the use of violence. The benefits of using violent behaviour included putting an end to these insults, even at the price of maintaining an atmosphere of fear and terror. The next quote illustrates what can happen at a later stage, when hurt emotions are not expressed immediately. Interviewer: What drew you to the neo-Nazi group? I5K: I guess maybe I wanted to be a part of something big and serious. That’s what I thought at the time. Those fighting incidents with Israelis who call me ‘Stinky Russian’ was part of what made me interested. At the time, when I was 10 or 11, I wasn’t a racist. After I started to get interested in the neo-Nazi ideology, I began to feel that I belonged (Novice, I5K, aged twenty, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and racism, two years in prison when interviewed). The scars of insult eventually led to finding an outlet for hurt emotions, which had built up throughout the years. Adopting a racist ideology by joining a neo-Nazi group provided a sense of belonging and purpose in life, which was previously lacking, justifying violence. A neo-Nazi group here refers to a group of youths who committed hate crimes against weak minorities in Israel based on a neo-Nazi ideology. The group was established in 2004 and was caught by the police in 2007. The following quote by a persister inmate illustrates how social discrimination such as the insult ‘Stinky Russian’ did not escalate to violence: When I first came here [to Israel], I walked out of some store and he came out all of a sudden and said: ‘Stinky Russians’. I didn’t know Hebrew, but I understood .... This wasn’t a pleasant experience, but what did I do? I kept quiet because he was small. I didn’t do anything to him; it’s not as if he were a big person (Persister, I9S, aged twenty, five years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, 1.25 years in prison when interviewed). In this case, the name calling did not provoke violence. This could be explained by the Russian social code of behaviour upheld by persisters, which overrode the insult as an immigrant. Part of this code is that an older person does not beat up a much younger person. Thus, being insulted as an immigrant took second place to the normative Russian code of behaviour. As opposed to novices, the following quote provides an explanation other than social discrimination for persisters’ violent behaviour: Also, before my first arrest, I fooled around [delinquent behaviour], but I studied relatively well. What can I say? Friends fool around but also do good things; that’s childhood (Persister, I8G, aged twenty-one, twelve years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, five months in prison when interviewed). Violent behaviour is accounted for as a natural part of childhood, whereas social discrimination is not mentioned. These immigrant youth excel in school alongside engaging in delinquent behaviour in Israel. Sherer and Etgar (2005) recognised this phenomenon as ‘life in two phases’. Functioning well as students did not prevent the Russian youths from using violence and thus was perceived as normative for not neglecting required tasks. Regret Novices experienced regret mainly because it is an act against society, whereas persisters expressed regret mainly on a personal/psychological level such as disappointing parents. Lack of regret as exception is also illustrated. The following viewpoint of a novice inmate illustrates regret for joining a racist ideology group, who committed hate crimes: I’m sorry because I could have not done it. I had a choice, and I chose to do it and that’s a shame. It was a bad choice and the [neo-Nazi] ideology didn’t help. It’s a shame for those people. Maybe some of them are severely crippled and it’s difficult for me to explain why it happened this way with me. It was a mistake. I was looking for trouble and found it (Novice, I5K, aged twenty, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and racism, two years in prison when interviewed). During his time in prison, this inmate acknowledged that he had had a choice and had made the wrong one. His regret is not only towards each victim individually, but towards his joining an anti-social group such as the neo-Nazis in Israel. This indicates a transition from blaming society for his situation to feeling regret and taking responsibility for his actions. As opposed to novices, the following persister inmate’s perspective of regret remains on the personal level: It’s obvious that one is not in prison because someone else is not OK, but because you did something. I disappointed my mother. She expected her child to grow up to be a man. I was already arrested twice. I’m 21. Guys my age are serving in the army, studying and doing things. I am spending the best years here. My first arrest was when I was 13 (Persister, I8G, aged twenty-one, twelve years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, five months in prison when interviewed). Regret expressed by this persister inmate is not towards the victim of violence, but for disappointing his mother by becoming a criminal. His regret followed the realisation that he was the one who committed the crime and is personally responsible for receiving his prison sentence. After expressing regret and feeling responsible by acknowledging their part in committing a crime, members of both groups—novices and persisters—were able to express empathy with those hurt in the process. Lack of regret: the exception The following quote illustrates a novice inmate’s perspective of lack of regret: It’s not that I did something that bad; I grabbed someone and floored him. When I was small, I didn’t see that as bad, and today, I don’t see it as bad, either. You could say that I was helping a friend so they wouldn’t throw a bottle on his head (Novice, I2D, aged nineteen, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and sabotage, seven weeks in prison when interviewed). The importance of loyalty to friendship within the Russian culture prevented this youth from acknowledging his behaviour as illegal. He interpreted his act as defence. His justification was that someone was bound to be injured; it was either his friend or the potential attacker. Although this inmate did not regret the crime described above, he did regret other crimes he had committed (see next quote). Reflectivity Despite the essential difference between novices and persisters regarding the blame trigger, they both share the ability to be reflective of their delinquent behaviour. The following quotes are illustrative of reflectivity regarding reactions when others curse their parents. The perspective of a novice inmate is as follows: I came at that guy because he started. He also cursed my mother; do you understand? ‘Son of a bitch,’ no-one curses like that in Russia. Mother is sacred for us, she gave birth to you, she takes care of you, so when someone comes like that and curses … because I’m here and not in Russia, I have to connect and live like the people here ... I told them, my friends, you can curse others with son of a bitch but with me, don’t speak like that, and they respected this and didn’t talk that way with me. When I was under arrest, I learned that if someone calls you ‘son of a bitch’, turn around and leave, what do you care? My mother also told me the same: ‘It’s better they curse me and you just leave it, rather than going to prison’. Perhaps the talks with the probation officer helped, but what pissed me off the most was that while I was under arrest, I already understood that I had made a mistake, but I was sent to prison anyway (Novice, I2D, aged nineteen, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and sabotage, seven weeks in prison when interviewed). The innovations raised by this inmate were his reflective thoughts on three different levels. First, he realised that he has full control only over his own actions and it is not possible to control the actions of others. Second, he realised that he should adopt the local attitude towards cursing and that he would honour his mother more by ignoring even the greatest insult because the consequences of the possible results were not worth the risk. Third, a painful realisation was that, although already fully aware of his mistakes, his actions have consequences (a prison sentence), not only as a therapeutic measure, but also as a way of paying a debt to society. The following illustrates the same theme from a persister inmate’s perspective: There was a dispute with people when I came from the Ukraine. No-one can curse your mother. Where we grew up, that is really sad, because your mother is the best thing you have in the world. If someone says a word against mother, that’s it, he’s a goner. I came here [to Israel] with that thought. We were a group [of Russians] together, and a group [of Israelis] came. I asked them for a cigarette; they said no and left. Then I heard them say: ‘What sons of bitches’, and then we turned on them and there were beatings. Later, when I was arrested ..., you’re not in the Ukraine. Now I realise that if someone says something like that, they don’t necessarily think about your family. I didn’t know that then (Persister, I9S, aged twenty, five years in Israel, serving time for severe violence, 1.25 years in prison when interviewed). Lack of awareness of cultural differences regarding clashes referring to the significance of cursing parents (Koren and Eisikovits, 2011) was what led to violent behaviour and a prison sentence. Reflectivity was gained by awareness of these cultural differences and prevents unacceptable behaviour in the future. Taking responsibility Another component of change is taking responsibility, as illustrated below. The next quote illustrates self-restraint not taken for granted by a novice inmate: There were cases when I stepped aside. One day, a neighbour came and started cursing me under the window: ‘Who is that smoking? I’ll crack your skull’. I was at home, smoking. He started yelling: ‘Why do you smoke all day’? He was just looking for a fight, so I looked at him and told him to close the window if it bothered him. ... I turned around and walked away. That’s called ignoring the bait; it means a person who is looking for a fight and a person who decides to step aside (Novice, I2D, aged nineteen, ten years in Israel, serving time for violence and sabotage, seven weeks in prison when interviewed). Stepping aside in such a situation under house arrest was not the natural response for this inmate. He perceived it as taking responsibility for changing his way of being in the world: from a person who could not avoid using violence to one who had the strength to restrain himself by ignoring the bait and turning the other way. The following illustrates a persister inmate’s independence: I worked the whole month; got my pay cheque and now I can shop at the canteen, I can call my parents in Russia and ask how things are, I don’t have to ask them to send me money, even when they ask me, I tell them I’m working, I have money, and if needed, I put money aside to send to them. Many 35- to 40-year olds still don’t think this way. They think only about today, they don’t think about tomorrow, there are many like this here. Give and give, and no matter how much money you give, it’s never enough. I eat the food they give me here, but they buy from the canteen. That’s no good. He’s 35 years old. Go to work, get paid, then buy what you want; until when will you call your mummy for money? (Persister, I1E, aged twenty, four years in Israel, serving time for murder, three years in prison). This persister inmate emphasised his personal abilities to take responsibility compared to others, who do not. He implied that, in contrast to older inmates, he has his priorities right. This served as a way to distinguish his future from that of other inmates, and helped him feel superior to them with greater chance of succeeding outside prison. A possible indication of change was his consideration for the welfare of others, when he explained the importance of not depending on financial assistance from parents. He illustrated responsibility towards a future outside prison, in the hope of desisting from criminal behaviour. Change establishment: interventions and therapy Change was established in various ways. Some inmates referred to the act of being caught and sentenced as a trigger to change. Others mentioned a significant helping professional who assisted with the change process. Yet others referred to prison as an environment for learning how to behave in the normative world. The following illustrates how drama therapy promoted personal change in a novice inmate: ... I started receiving tools from people who care, like the play director in prison, and the prison social worker. It was the first time I connected with a social worker. I went through a process with myself from the time I came here till now; it’s a process I see within myself, and you can see who cares about you ... there were two plays, the first was about my life story, a monologue; the stage gave me strength and security. The second play was about victimisation; the victimiser seeing the victim’s side. I was the victimiser, the one who committed murder in the play; I saw the entire situation; the other person’s side. There is always a victim, but what lies behind the victim, his family ... I will never steal from individual people again; only maybe from the government (Novice, I6M, aged eighteen, eleven years in Israel, serving time for rape and theft, 3.5 years in prison when interviewed). The process of change occurred as a combination of perceiving the helping professionals as genuinely caring and the type of therapy intervention used (drama therapy). They opened the inmates’ eyes to seeing ‘the self’ as perpetrator and the suffering of ‘the other’ as victim. However, the sympathy the inmate as perpetrator has acquired for a personal victim has yet to encompass the moral aspect of avoiding crime against public institutions. Discussion Findings presented in this article show that violent, young male immigrants from the FSU to Israel, who were serving time in prison, became reflective of their violent behaviour leading to change. Both novice (non-violent in the FSU but had become violent in Israel) and persister (had been violent in the FSU and in Israel) inmates used blame to justify their actions regardless of its target. The main blame target among novices was society, whereas, among persisters, it was related to their personal/psychological life. An inauthentic self blames external factors for his actions (Sartre, 1991). Blame is very similar to Sartre’s (1991) concept of ‘bad faith’, denying the freedom of responsibility and choice in one’s actions and believing that one is a passive reactor to external influences. Such external influences could include class and culture, similar to issues raised by novices, or parental upbringing, as described by persisters. These external factors have become excuses to justify actions such as violence. Blame is an emotion developed as a result of behaviours that deserve to be condemned (Shibels, 1987), such as becoming a member of a neo-Nazi group. Such events should not have happened, resulting in responsibility withdrawal, as illustrated by the youth who committed hate crimes. Although blame does not have the power to change the past, individuals have the ability to change the present, and those who hold onto blame deny themselves the opportunity for change (Overholster, 2005). Regret is recognition of longing to change the past (Blume and Schmaling, 1998) and awareness of the discomfort or pain caused to another (Steiner, 2000), such as the inmate who grasped the experience of the victim through drama therapy. Findings indicate that, by being convicted, the inmates understood that, when Israelis cursed their parents, they did not mean to insult their specific parents, but were cursing out of frustration. Others felt ashamed for having injured weak and innocent persons through hate crimes. Thus, inmates were reflective by combining intellectual and emotional activities leading to new understandings (Bound et al., 1985), resulting in continuous and dynamic self-awareness (Finley, 2002). The persister who admitted that he was in prison through fault of his own, rather than blaming someone else, illustrated cognitive ability to process information and create knowledge to guide his life choices by being critically self-aware. The novice who stepped aside to avoid a fight illustrates being reflective and emotional (D’Cruz et al., 2007; Lam et al., 2007); the ability to control his emotional state in response to the environment was expressed in the incident of the neighbour who complained about his smoking. This resembles the concept of ‘reflection’ (D’Cruz et al., 2007) in terms of applying the knowledge of self-awareness in the future, and is closer to the responsibility concept that was apparent among the inmates. The experience of taking responsibility was illustrated by the novice who, unlike in the past, in the present, walked away from a fight in the face of provocation. Shapiro (2006, p. 22) explains as follows: ‘This sense of responsibility consists of the awareness that what was done was not a failure of will, but an expression of will.’ Persisters expressed responsibility by considering the needs of others along with their own including willingness to take control over one’s life and behaviour (Overholster, 2005). From an existential perspective (Sartre, 1991), society’s discrimination against young immigrants from the FSU to Israel is an existential state of ‘throwness’ because these youth cannot be responsible for society’s actions against them. However, they do have ‘situated freedom of choice’, also referred to as ‘individual agency’ (Farrall et al., 2011), regarding legitimate and illegitimate options of how to react to the discrimination against them. Before serving time in prison, these youth perceived violence as an option in spite of its illegitimacy. During their time in prison, they underwent a process of change in which they abandoned ‘bad faith’ (Sartre, 1991) in favour of taking responsibility, leading to change. Persisters who blame personal life circumstances and also novices who blame society have been shown to go through the process of existential change discussed above which includes regret, reflectivity and taking responsibility. Thus, principles of existential psychotherapy (van Deurzen, 2010) could be relevant for social work intervention on the individual level to enhance change with persister and novice inmates alike, whether they blame society or blame personal life circumstances. Based on van Deurzen’s (2010) existential therapy, such principles include helping persisters and novices get better at reflecting on their situation of having used violence as a way of ‘being in the world’. It deals with their dilemmas such as how to interpret and react when named ‘dirty Russian’ or when being cursed at by another party disrespecting their parents. It assists with facing their predicament of being convicted and serving time in prison, and it promotes thinking for themselves. Attention is also paid to everyday concerns, dealing with personal/psychological (eigenwelt) and inter-personal relational (mitwelt) aspects of existence. Existential psychotherapy aims to address with clients the full description of the essential challenges of human living. Attention is paid to both the universal and the particular of a person’s existence to understand the relationship and tensions between them. The process of therapy is intended to lead novices and persisters to greater awareness of where they are, how they got there and where they want to go. The process takes into account all components of the lifeworld to enable both persisters and novices to take charge over their lives (van Deurzen, 2010). Theoretical and practical implications for social work The psycho-social perspective claim of social work is that problems rooted in social issues require change within society (e.g. for novices) whereas problems rooted in the individual require personal/psychological solutions (e.g. for persisters) (Turner, 1996). It could be concluded from the findings presented in this article that, although social change is essential for desistance (Laub and Sampson, 2003), a personal/psychological process of change as presented above is recommended alongside such social change, regardless the reasons for violent behaviour. Change of attitudes and behaviours towards FSU immigrants in the receiving country is undoubtedly important. Yet it might not be enough to accomplish change. Thus, interventions on the social level with violent immigrants are recommended to be accompanied by personal/psychological interventions such as existential psychotherapy (van Deurzen, 2010) illustrated above in order to achieve change. Such a conclusion is consistent with an integrated perspective on structural and individual-level processes in desistance (Farrall et al., 2011). Limitations and further study Data analysis revealed components of change, but not how, when and why they work. Another limitation refers to the possible differences between those who agreed and those who refused to participate in the study. It could be assumed that those who agreed to participate did so following their experience of growth and change, which made them feel good about themselves. Including inmates who have not experienced the components required for change might enrich the knowledge regarding when, why and how change could be achieved among young violent immigrants serving time in prison. These studies might assist planning interventions within prison environments. Finally, desisting from criminal behaviour can only be fully achieved when living outside prison. Thus, future studies following up on released prisoners who underwent a process of change in prison are important for examining processes of desistence and planning interventions accordingly. Conclusions The idea of combining the social and the psychological is becoming more widely recognised as necessary for achieving change towards criminal desistance (Vaughan, 2007). This coincides with existential and psycho-social perspectives used in social work practice (Turner, 1996) of interplays between macro (umwelt), mezzo (mitwelt) and micro (eigenwelt) as essential for achieving change in general and for crime desistence in particular (Farrall et al., 2011). When personal/psychological reasons for violence are emphasised, intervention within a prison setting could include reconstruction of the criminal’s life narrative, which is claimed to enhance personal change. This is achieved by providing emotional empathy that assists in initiating a process of self-approval, on which a changed identity can be based (Vaughan, 2007). Drama therapy with violent offenders (Blacker et al., 2008), similar to the experience illustrated in the ‘Findings’ section, might assist offenders in understanding the experience of being victimised and thus enhance psychological change. Preventive social interventions could include environmental modifications such as neighbourhood watch along with interventions of improved welfare for at-risk populations (McGuire, 2008) such as new immigrants. They could also include national educational programmes in schools with pupils and their parents against discrimination in general and of new immigrants in particular (Zund, 2011). Interventions on the social level might prevent crime or at least contribute by integrating released prisoners into society. The findings in this study emphasise that change on the personal level is also required when a problem stems from society. Thus, based on the psycho-social perspective in social work, advocating an integrated perspective between the social and the personal for achieving change is recommended. Finally, in accordance with recent immigration trends, the findings presented in this article could serve as a basis for examining and comparing possible delinquent behaviour and desistence from it among young male immigrants escaping to Europe from regions of violence in Africa and the Middle East. 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