“How I Got out of the Gutters”

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  • Title: “How I Got out of the Gutters”: The Lived Experiences of Ex-prisoners who Became Social Change Activists
  • Author(s): Micheal M Van Wyk
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Common Ground Open
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Diverse Identities
  • Keywords: Criminality, Critical Events Theory, Corruption, Phenomenological Design, Qualitative Research Approach, Social Change
  • Volume: 18
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2327-7866 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-8560 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2327-7866/CGP/v18i02/1-14
  • Citation: Van Wyk, Micheal M . 2018. "“How I Got out of the Gutters”: The Lived Experiences of Ex-prisoners who Became Social Change Activists." The International Journal of Diverse Identities 18 (2): 1-14. doi:10.18848/2327-7866/CGP/v18i02/1-14.
  • Extent: 14 pages


Criminality is a complex phenomenon, and people’s motives for becoming involved in criminal and corrupt activities remain a huge conundrum for many governments. Why express an interest in exploring the stories of ex-prisoners who have become social change activists in their respective communities? The author employed a qualitative research approach, using a phenomenological design, so that participants in this study could narrate their lived experiences as former inmates. In interrogating and analysing their stories the reasons for their incarceration were revealed, and, ultimately, also the turning points each had experienced. Two major phenomenological identifiers emerged from the narratives, namely the discriminatory legislation of segregation and the socioeconomic climate prevailing in South Africa at the time of their arrest. Discriminatory apartheid laws prohibited blacks from accessing quality education, from utilising learning opportunities and participating in the economy. Further investigation will determine to what extent socioeconomic issues such as crime, drug abuse and poverty affect the quality of people’s lives in general. An exploration of similar stories might explain why many ex-prisoners become success stories as the voices of the voiceless in their communities.