Mass Incarceration as a Descriptive Understanding from a Minority Group

Large Group Discussion Topic

Topic: Discussion forums thread 2 - Theory and Boundary-Crossing
Date: 05/20/20
Title: Mass Incarceration as a Descriptive Understanding from a Minority Group

Incarceration is a topic that I connect with in my joined yet separate lives as an academic, practitioner, and individual. Before I was born, my father had committed murder, horribly killing three people. An article published in the Kitsap Sun (1994) described him as the poster child for the death penalty and that he was feared and loathed by many. His case was very publicized throughout Washington state (and I’ve been approached by people nationally discussing him) and discussed by many. I’ve been told many times that I should write a book either about my connection to him or his life. I never had a desire to until several years ago, the title “not a monster” and thoughts about links to labels and peoples perspectives could be integrated stirred within me. I grew up visiting my dad in prison, and to me, he was always just my dad. Perhaps when I finish with my Ph.D. program, I will work on telling that story more fully.

I had legal entanglements as a juvenile and young adult, where I made some significant changes in my life. This connection seems intertwined with my professional interests and decided to pursue my doctoral degree from the California Institute of Integral Studies (Campbell, 2019). I had a time I was doing a lot of outreach to incarcerated juvenile offenders that I figured out that was a part of my vocation. Most of my early career was focused on working with at-risk youth and kids that were making all kinds of poor choices. Before I had any training in ways I could help them, I often would tell my own story as a way of trying to inspire hope (Campbell, n.d.).

Considering Coates (2015) kept bringing up thoughts about my father, youth, and adults that I have worked with over the years who had legal concerns. I am not African American and am a part of the dominant ethnic group (Campbell, 2008), and Coates’s article focused on their connection with mass incarceration. Upon the first inspection of the discussion topic posed for this forum, it seemed that there was no connection to multiculturalism. Coates only in passing mentions Hispanic / Latino incarceration, which is also done at a disproportionate rate (although much lower frequency than their darker-skinned fellow minority group members).

Song (2017) describes that the term multicultural often is used to characterize diversity within a society. The focus on multicultural ideas moves away from assimilation and the ideal of the “melting pot” as a way of understanding cultures, but focuses on minority groups having distinct identities and practices that are collective. This openness to everybody having their own identity means that researchers must be able to listen. In discussing becoming an anti-oppressive researcher, Potts and Brown (2005) describe that openness to uncertainty and looking to the emergency of what happens as the way we relate to the individuals we are researching. They state, “staying on top of the ebb and flow of relating is a time consuming and challenging part of doing anti-oppressive research” (p. 272).

Coates (2015) informs about African Americans, their context, and the interaction that happens within the correction. It provides a way of relating to what happens for so many Americans and to the disproportionate amount. To make some of the changes in focus that Coates talks about, such as increasing prevention and retraining efforts, it would have an impact on the black community, but it would cross boundaries and impact all of the races.


Campbell, J. (2008, July 18).The ethnicity of non-ethnicity: The ethnic autobiography of the dominant culture.

Campbell, J. (2019, November 4). The path to the Ph.D.: Intertwining my experiences and research topic.

Campbell, J. (n.d.) About my story, a bit of testimony.

Coates, T.-N. (2015, October). The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration. The Atlantic.

Kitsap Sun. (1994 May 8). Charles Campbell, death row’s poster child, feared and loathed.

Potts, K., & Brown, L. (2005). 10 - Becoming an anti-oppressive researcher. In L. Brown & S. Strega (Eds.), Research as resistance: Critical, indigenous, and anti-oppressive approaches (1st ed., pp. 255-286). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Song, S. (2017). Multiculturalism. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.


This essay was originally posted a part of the course work for TSD 8215 - Varieties of Scholarly Experience.