From Imprisonment to Empowerment: How past trauma and a hunger for learning redefined one woman’s lived experience from victim to victor and empowered her to encourage voice for others.


In this episode I am joined by Michaela Booth, a passionate researcher and advocate for equity and inclusion, social justice, and the synthesis of lived experiences of women in prison, power, and the use and mis-use of trauma narratives in the broader societal context.

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

Micheala talks openly about her trauma growing up with parents fully immersed in drug abuse, addiction, mental illness and the criminal system and her experiences in the education system as a young child living with trauma.  Michaela has been deeply impacted by discrimination and stigma.  She explains how labeling is really used to mock the bodies of what society deems as ‘bad people’.

Her first memory of an education provision that was failing in it’s duty to look after children, was during primary school when teachers would exclude Michaela and her sisters from afterschool activities that other children participated in as a form of punishment, specifically because her parents were addicts and chronically late to collect them.  They were made to sit in the corridor to wait for their parents while the other children were ushered into a hall to engage in arts and crafts and playtime.

Michaela and her sisters were often given detention for not getting their homework done, and embarrassed in front of others for not having the right uniform or for being hungry and asking for food.  Today, Michaela practices viewing this kind of behavior as a systemic issue rather than individual people who were less than what they should be during her time of need.

Michaela believes that her story in a broader social narrative, sheds light on the reality that many people who face social inequalities as a result of mental illness, drug misuse, and incarceration, have lived experiences that never really go away and the impact of social stigmas and its consequences are lifelong. Not just in the immediate, but for children and families who face trauma and trauma triggers on a daily basis, even if they are no longer directly in that trauma anymore. Michaela avoids using a narrative that places her in a victimhood identity.  She is the picture of positivity.

After being expelled permanently from post-primary school, having a baby at 17, and doing time in prison, Michaela was hungry for learning and was encouraged to apply for university.  She talks about an interaction with a university course coordinator that absolutely transformed her life and ideals for her future.  This woman’s enagement with Michaela, and her belief in Michaela’s potential was the first time anyone invested time in understanding who she was and how she hoped to use her past trauma for the greater good.  Michaela felt completely supported and valued for the first time in her life and to this day she shares a very special relationship and bond with the woman who believed her when no one else would.

Michaela talks about reintegration into society after a prison sentence and the stigma attached to that and all the barriers that are faced which starts you off on a track for failure rather than success.  How can this be integration? Many people can’t get past go.  We live in environments with systems and services that have failed us massively.

We talk about trauma being a ‘transferrable skill’ and whether traumatic experiences can be positively cultivated.  Michaela explains that one of her survival mechanisms has been to invest in the study and full understanding of systems and structures of oppression, trauma, social inequality and stigma, and the consequences of that oppression on groups of people. It is important to understand that these structures of oppression are not done by accident.  Through our conversation, it is very clear that Michaela embodies the ability to survive in any environment and to be successful at it.

We discuss Michaela’s research and the distinct lack of understanding by those in academia to the realities happening outside the proverbial institutional walls. She explains that academia perpetuates the invisibility of the oppressed and marginalised in society and rendering the participants voiceless in trauma research through overly strict, unreasonable ethics restrictions, and language that excluding people from participation.

It’s time to invest in people who have experienced trauma to tap into what their strengths and aspirations are as individuals with their own unique stories.  Michaela doesn’t want to be the voice for criminalised women, what she wants to do is work to put those mechanisms in systemically to draw out those voices.  She doesn’t want to be the ‘prisoner voice’ rather she wants to make the methods and models for hearing everybody’s voice.

Michaela’s words of wisdom?  We need to think differently about the quote ‘everything you do in the dark always come to light’.  It isn’t about something that you’ve done wrong, rather finding the light at the end of the trauma tunnel.  Don’t miss this conversation.  You will surely come away with a renewed sense of purpose, position, and passion for equity, inclusion, and transformative thinking. Come #ListenAndLearn

Michaela’s Blog:

Book recommendation:

The Body Keeps the Score – written by: Bessel A van der Kolk

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Garth von Buchholz 📲

Author of the Digital MANiFESTO, educator, blogger, speaker & digital literacy activist

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