deadline for submissions: 
August 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Timothy Barnett

Today, many thousands of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people are crossing borders and building bridges between communities as they fight against injustice and for alternatives to mass incarceration. This volume, edited by a collective of Northeastern Illinois University faculty and students, some either currently or formerly incarcerated, will tell the stories of these justice leaders.

This collection will demonstrate the value—and difficulties—people caught in the US justice system encounter when crossing racialized, gendered, educational, and other boundaries in search of change. The stories should help a general, politically engaged audience, as well as academic audiences in disciplines such as rhetoric and justice studies, understand the significance of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated justice leaders’ work. The stories should also emphasize ways academics, politicians, and others can, and should, learn from these leaders.

This volume is inspired by Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), Anzaldúa’s and Cherrie Moraga’s This Bridge Called My Back, (1981), and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality (1989), as well as the mountain of work in response to these foundational authors. We encourage authors to draw from these and related intellectual histories (which extend back to thinkers such as Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B DuBois, Sojourner Truth, and Audre Lorde) as they write their stories.

This collection is also inspired by Susan P. Sturm’s and Haran Tae’s report “Leading with Conviction: The Transformative Role of Formerly Incarcerated Leaders in Reducing Mass Incarceration.” The report argues that justice leaders, or “organizational catalysts,” are emerging from the ranks of formerly incarcerated people who have added intensive education, community work, and political activism to their lived knowledge of the justice system. Sturm and Tae write:

Organizational catalysts… have a unique combination of information and insight that comes from their experiences with the criminal justice system, post-secondary education, and boundary-spanning positions…. Many of them have developed the literacy and legitimacy needed to link worlds that often remain separate.… They have developed an unusual mix of relationships and resources which scholars call social capital. They remain bonded to a community affected by incarceration, while they also develop ties through their education, employment, and activism that enable them to serve as bridges between these different worlds (11-12).

Stories in this volume will explore what it is like to be such organizational catalysts and to cross difficult boundaries—from prison to the university or into political activism, for example. The stories will also demonstrate the ways such border crossings offer formerly and currently incarcerated people unique insight into the US justice system and a much-needed perspective on alternative forms of justice, such as restorative and transformative forms of justice. Especially welcome are stories that show how knowledge from multiple, and very different, areas (the streets, the law, higher education, activism, prison, political organizing, etc.) can provide justice-impacted people “bridge-building” capabilities others might not possess.

Finally, we would like authors to reflect on the stories they submit. While the essays in this book should be fully developed stories that will engage readers with detailed descriptions of people and settings, emotions and actions, we also ask authors to reflect on how new knowledges, abilities, and identities are created when formerly and currently incarcerated people cross into new territories and build bridges that have not been built before.

More specifically, we are interested in stories and analyses that help readers consider questions like the following (do not limit yourself to these questions, however!). Also remember that we are looking for essays that focus narrowly on one event, or maybe a few related events, from the writer’s life and that these events should help readers think deeply about one or two of the kinds of questions listed below.

  • How are currently and formerly incarcerated people affected (psychically, intellectually, emotionally) when they “cross borders” (into higher education or community organizing, for example) in search of personal, social, and structural change?
  • What does such border crossing look like when an “organizational catalyst” moves between worlds that have historically been in conflict? For example, how do formerly and currently incarcerated justice leaders collaborate with public officials who have designed and often benefit from a bankrupt justice system? How do such justice leaders succeed in systems of higher education that are often hostile to the poor, people of color, and the incarcerated?
  • How do formerly and currently incarcerated leaders move between worlds linguistically? Do these leaders need to change their speaking and writing when crossing borders? Do they create hybrid or mixed languages or dialects? Do they code switch? What costs do leaders pay when forced to move between multiple languages and dialects? What benefits do they receive?
  • How does post-secondary education provide tools for justice leaders interested in individual and social change? Does it depend on the kind of college education students receive? Why do some leaders who gave up on education when young find power from college later in life, when incarcerated or as returning citizens? What are the limitations and problems of higher ed?
  • How do formerly and currently incarcerated people move into community and justice-related work? What is their motivation and how does higher education enable or limit this kind of work? What other forms of knowledge contribute to successful justice or anti-violence work?
  • What kinds of relationships are formed in the varying environments encountered by justice leaders? How do different environments call for different relationships? How do the multiple, and varying, relationships engaged in by “organizational catalysts” help create new kinds of knowledge and leadership?
  • What kinds of tensions do formerly and currently incarcerated leaders experience as they maintain commitment to their home communities but also grow in new directions through systems (such as education, social work, or the law) that can be hostile or indifferent to the communities they come from? How are these tensions managed? Can they be positive in any way? Can justice leaders change so much that they are unable to connect with the communities they most want to serve? How does that kind of change happen and how can it be prevented or minimized?
  • How is identity central to all of these questions? For example, when justice leaders move from community to community, form different kinds of relationships, use multiple languages/dialects, and draw from multiple sources of knowledge (from the streets, formal education, the law, etc.), is it possible for them to maintain one stable identity? What are the implications (positive and negative) when justice leaders find themselves navigating and juggling multiple identities and communities?

Please submit proposals for this volume (no more than 1000 words) to by August 15, 2020. Provide a cover sheet with your name and full contact information (phone number along with email and home address), but please leave your name and any identifying information off of the proposal itself. Authors will be notified of their status by October 31, and accepted authors will submit full drafts (5000—7000 words) by December 31, 2020. The editorial team will offer feedback through February 2021 with final drafts of submissions due March 15, 2021.