The United States holds more prisoners than any other nation; Black Americans, in particular, are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated and to receive the harshest sentences, including death sentences. Research on mass incarceration indicates that family separation, community disruption, and individual and generational trauma are among its consequences. In addition, experiences of sustained grief and loss are well documented.
Contrary to common understanding, the experience of incarceration goes far beyond effects on the individual removed from society. Kevin Reese coined the term “community incarceration” to refer to the impact of one person’s incarceration on their children, co-parenting partners, parents, friends, extended family and neighbors. In this project, we document the impact of incarceration on those who remain on the outside when a loved one is serving time.
To understand community incarceration more specifically, we take an ethnographic approach that relies on participant observation and semi-structured interviews with people who have a loved one inside. We focus on a single urban community where Black incarceration rates are high; our presence in the community is facilitated by Kevin Reese whose knowledge, personal history and collaboration is crucial to our access.
Interview questions prompt individuals to speak about social as well as economic dimensions of community incarceration as they experience it, including experiences of grief and loss. Each researcher will conduct five interviews with community members, for a total of ten. Each researcher will transcribe their completed interviews, write a summary of each interview, and identify in each narrative specific expressions of social and economic loss. The concept of ambiguous loss will inform our analysis of the individual narratives (first) and then of the collected narratives.