Suppression, denial, sublimation: Defending against the initial pains of very long life sentences

Serena Wright, Ben Crewe, Susie Hulley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The central purpose of the article is to explore the psychic components of the early pains of imprisonment described by male and female prisoners serving very long mandatory life sentences for murder. While there is a strong tradition of documenting prisoners’ adaptations to ‘life inside’, little work in prisons sociology explores how life-sentenced prisoners, specifically those convicted of murder, reactively respond and adjust to the early years of these sentences. Having outlined prisoners’ descriptions of entry shock, temporal vertigo and intrusive recollections, we draw upon a Freudian terminology of ‘defence mechanisms of the ego’ to argue that suppression, denial and sublimation represent key ways of ‘defending against’ (rather than ‘adapting to’) these experiences. We suggest that the particular offence–time nexus of our sample—the specific offence of murder combined with a very long sentence—helps to explain these defensive patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-246
Number of pages22
JournalTheoretical Criminology
Issue number2
Early online date27 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • Coping
  • Defence mechanisms
  • Life sentence
  • Long-term imprisonment
  • Prisoners

Cite this