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Research Proposal

abby rose's picture

For my research, I would like to interrogate the identity of "Criminal"

How is it formed? What are it's repercussions, emotionally, socially, legally... Its effects on (formerly) incarcerated individuals. It is a dehumanizing thing, to be called a criminal. That dehumanization disallows individuals to feel/express sadness, vulnerability, pain, anger… It diminishes one's ability to be a complex person; criminality, by the books, is inherently linked to badness. But when does one start believing this? How does this label lead people to dehumanize themselves? It becomes a self-posessed identity. When we're told who we are over and over, we begin to believe it. And then imagine having a legal proclamation of this! YOU ARE GUILTY. YOU ARE A CRIMINAL. NOW REPENT FOR YOUR SINS AGAINST HUMANITY. Against humanity... (Find Tocqueville's quote about committing a crime in the US. It means here that you are acting against humanity itself).  And also, going to prison -- you are asked to take  accountability for your actions. Every reason you are inside is your own fault. Choice.. You chose this. Why would you choose to be a criminal if you weren't "bad"? This is where my thinking has begun. 

So I guess more practically, I would like to explore individual's understandings of themselves as "Criminals" (or not), during and after being incarcerated. And how the experience of incarceration is traumatic in and of itself, and dehumanizing. What are the psychological effects of being incarcerated? How does it affect one's sense of self? (May be too big for this project, but) what are the steps taken before during and after incarceration to enforce this dehumanization of people? What is the true purpose this work serves if the proclaimed purpose of enprisonment is reform and becoming a "better person"?

From sifting through Tripod and the Internet and also our classes, 

Tocqueville's Democracy in America; for the public perception of criminals in the US -- I want to look at more sources that explore the societal understanding of what makes a "criminal"

Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 by Kali Gross; for complicating women's motivations to commit crimes and how it differs from white, middle-class authority's interpretations of why crimes are committed 

Healing Neen, by Connell Creations (video); the story of a woman who had 66 criminal convictions due to addiction and mental illness and her experience with trauma-informed care as treatment (she is not a nationally known motivational speaker, according to the film blurb)

The Impact of Incarceration on Women's Mental Health, by Harner & Riley; discusses the psychological impacts of inprisonment. 

I also really would like to research more artistic and literary expressions and personal testimonies from (formerly) incarcerated individuals! 


abby rose's picture (Combatting the stereotypes of "criminal", especially powerful since teens who are labelled as such are the ones who are working against it) (putting faces to the generic name of "Criminal," exposes the personhood of people behind bars)

These sources and other such artistic projects help answer the questions that Sheila posed for me intitially, which I would like to include in my research:

How does the trauma of confinement manifest itself in the lives of the incarcerated and their families? How could life after prison be documented and made visible? How can the label of ‘criminal’ be changed so that we perceive incarcerated and formerly incarcerated as human beings?