Jamie Wong

Project title: A Taste of Freedom: The Meaning & Experience of Work for Formerly Incarcerated Asian Pacific Islander individuals

Degree: MPH | Program: Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2018 | Faculty advisor: William E. Daniell


Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) incarceration rates have risen since the 1990s as part of the rise in incarceration of Black, Brown and low income communities. The school to prison pipeline is also known as a framework for understanding the root causes of incarceration. The experiences and voices of API individuals who are systematically targeted for incarceration have been missing. The salience of the model minority myth that assumes homogeneity of all API populations as successful, wealthy and submissive caricatures has made invisible the reality of suffering in API communities. Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities often encounter the school to prison to deportation pipeline. This thesis is a cross sectional qualitative study on the post release experiences of formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islander individuals. Reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals is marked with vulnerability due to the sudden changes in environment, cultures and habits individuals encounter, alongside a lack of resources. The interviews conducted for this study aimed to 1) examine how formerly incarcerated API individuals define post-release well being and its relationship to transition into mainstream society, 2) examine the meaning of work and employment and its role in the post-release identity formation of racialized API individuals, 3) characterize the relationship between employment and an individual’s post-release transition process and finally 4) identify other contributing factors such as family connections and culture, that support the post-release transition processes. The work that individuals and communities undertake to resist incarceration after release is termed desistance work. My analysis from the interviews identified the areas that individuals engage in on the level of the self. Survival work, pursued out of financial necessity and a lack of credentials and job training, is characterized by a sense of alienation. For many, it is a harm reduction strategy they undertake to meet their immediate needs, even though it does not offer a sustainable long term sense of belonging and fulfillment. I identify instead that meaningful work and engagement with communities have more of a chance to enhance the personal areas of growth that individuals identify as important for the transition process. URI