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Struggling to Make Good: The Dilemmas of Fatherhood for Formerly Incarcerated African American Men

Published onSep 02, 2021
Struggling to Make Good: The Dilemmas of Fatherhood for Formerly Incarcerated African American Men
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Struggling to Make Good: The Dilemmas of Fatherhood for Formerly Incarcerated African American Men
Description

While some have argued that absent low socioeconomic status black fathers are to blame for urban crime and poverty, others have highlighted how mass incarceration disproportionately separates low socioeconomic status black fathers from their children. Less frequently heard and acknowledged in the public conversations about low socioeconomic status black fatherhood and mass incarceration are the voices of those same fathers who have been impacted by the system. How do formerly incarcerated black fathers view their role as fathers? Based on 30 interviews of formerly incarcerated black men recruited from a prisoner reentry organization in a large northeastern city in the United States, we found that interviewees talked about fatherhood in two different ways. On the one hand, our most common finding was that interviewees talked about fatherhood as a motivation for desistance from criminal activity. In this finding they connected provider roles and being present in the lives of their children with their planned desistance from crime. On the other hand, interviewees also mentioned fatherhood as a part of explanations for past criminal activity, in what we call strain narratives. In these stories, they typically mentioned their provider roles as fathers as part of the overall economic strain that they faced. Counter to the dominant cultural impression of low socioeconomic status black fathers as absent/uncaring, both the desistance and strain narratives demonstrated a considerable amount of concern with respect to their identities as fathers, and therefore as men. We argue for the significance of masculinity in explaining the fatherhood narratives of formerly incarcerated black men. In doing so, we build on previous qualitative work on low-income fathers, crime as doing gender, and desistance narratives in prisoner reentry.

 

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