The purpose of this PhotoVoice study is to understand the lived experience of individuals transitioning from incarceration into communities in Newark, New Jersey. Specifically, we seek to answer the following research questions:
- What are individual and community challenges/abuses faced by individuals transitioning from incarceration into Newark, NJ?
- What individual and community resources are available to individuals transitioning from incarceration into Newark, NJ?
- How can we empower individuals transitioning from incarceration into Newark, NJ to address the challenges/abuses identified above?
The Newark Community Collaborative Board developed the study’s research questions. After obtaining IRB approval and a Certificate of Confidentiality, we recruited ten individuals with histories of incarceration from service agencies—and via snowball sampling—to participate in the study. Each participant met in person with the researcher to receive a digital camera and to review informed consent. Participants were then asked to photograph their communities in such a way as to depict their experiences with reentry, including: 1) challenges they experienced; 2) resources available to them; and 3) potential solutions to the challenges. Participants then selected three of their photos, one addressing each of those three areas. We held a focus group where participants reviewed each other’s photos and discussed their experiences. The focus group was voice recorded, transcribed, and analyzed to identify themes that emerged in response to the three research questions.
Ten individuals received digital cameras, and all of them submitted the three photos. Two participants were excluded because when they delivered their photos it was clear they did not understand the assignment. Of the remaining eight individuals, five participated in the focus group discussion: two were Black males, one a White Latino male, one a Black female, and one a White Latina female.
Challenges and resources emerged at the individual, community, and structural levels. Reentry challenges consisted of barriers and struggles that participants encountered as they transitioned from incarceration into the community. Reentry resources consisted of personal strengths, people, and organizations that helped participants transition from incarceration into the community. Solutions consisted of participants’ ideas about strategies that community members and the government could employ to increase reentry success.
Individual Level: Challenges included: 1) identity changes; and 2) family struggles. Resources included: 1) family support; 2) spirituality; and 3) freedom.
Community Level: Challenges included 1) poverty; 2) drug traffic; and 3) violence. Resources included: 1) service agencies; and 2) community activities.
Structural Level: Challenges included: 1) housing; 2) employment; 3) education; and 4) the criminal justice system. Resources included: 1) housing; and 2) education.
Solutions were divided into:
- Suggestions for emotional healing: in-prison counseling services must be provided to “re-humanize” people before they return to their communities. Ongoing counseling and mentoring programs must be available and accessible to support people transitioning from incarceration into the community.
- Suggestions for people reentering the community: People should work hard, have patience, ask for help, persevere, and stay committed to their goals.
- Community work and support: “Community work” referred to a call for community action and unity. Participants felt that the community was responsible for addressing its challenges and that people must unite, volunteer, and support one another. Community activities can take the form of participating in rallies against violence; planting a community garden; speaking to others about one’s experiences; and taking care of one another.
- Suggestions for policies and government: Participants felt there is much waste in the way government policies address community reentry. Participants also felt that the government must do more to support people transitioning from incarceration. They called for more prevention programs, less stigma, and more opportunities for second chances. Participants specifically called for more meaningful and available employment, educational funding, and financial incentives for those who are actively seeking employment and committed to contributing to society and staying out of trouble.
This project was featured in a segment of Due Process. You can see the program by clicking here
Photos and Blurbs
Tarrick: This right here is a picture of little bricks, and this is a part of the big challenge that I see for people entering out and people who are out. It’s a lot of homelessness going on, people losing their apartments, their jobs. It’s hard for people to have a place to stay. You come home, and your first thing is residency. You know, that’s a big problem right there. That used to be more than 2,000 people in there, and now there’s nobody there. And right across the street is Nat Turner Park. So how do you have light with dark? I don’t understand that. So there’s really nothing more for me to say about that picture.
Interviewer 2: I really like this picture a lot. Not just because of the building and seeing it boarded up, there’s no housing, but my eye kept going to the mirror. And I was thinking, “What is that mirror telling me?” And as I listened to you more and more, the more I understood what the mirror was, which is you can’t move forward because everybody is always looking backwards. And that’s what they’re saying in terms of they’re looking in your record, they’re looking in this, they’re looking for all the reasons not to allow you to advance. But everything is stalled, is frozen because the vision is backwards.
Yajahira: La Casa de Don Pedro, I don’t know. They’ve been the family that I lost a long time ago.
I missed Mr. A, […]. He’s the one right now that he’s helping me with job seeking. I haven’t taken in a job because I have a lot of things going on, trying to get assistance for my kids. I’ve been going back and forth to court a lot. I just took care of like 21 outstanding municipal warrants that I had, but it’s okay. He’s helped me. You know? They coached me right through it. Make sure I didn’t get locked up through the process. […] And they’re just there for all the right reasons. You know?
Angel: … yeah, that [is about] what we can do as a group, together, you understand? ‘Cause I know that it took more than just one person and that was more of a community thing so I know for a fact that, you know, that’s more than one people that did that so that just shows how we can get together and get along and be able to do things together. ‘Cause a lotta people, you know, nowadays, you can’t even have ’em together, you know? You can’t even have three people together because they argue and fight so much. They’re fighting something, a dislike and, you know, immediately, they’ll start arguing. So I guess that just shows bond, you know, like just bonding.