My positionality as a researcher and educator is intimately tied to my upbringing and background. I grew up in a semirural desert town outside of Phoenix that was comprised mostly of Mexican American and Mexican migrant families. Growing up in a white working poor household in an economically struggling town, I witnessed and lived through extreme poverty and violence in my neighborhood from an early age. My geographic relocation to a large urban city in western Massachusetts as a teenager did not change those conditions. It was at this time, however, that I began to understand how the criminal legal system – which claims to helpfully intervene in street violence – actually inflicts greater harm upon disadvantaged communities.
The persistent enforcement and policing of mostly low-income Black and Puerto Rican residents of my city and elsewhere in the state, some of them my peers, was troubling to me. I was especially concerned with the increased amount of young, single mothers who were subject to these harsh scrutinies. I came to know many women who were legally forced to give up their children to the state’s social services as a result of their usually minor nonviolent offenses. Some of those mothers never saw their children again. The weak infrastructures in place that fail to prevent and treat the associated problems of drug (mis)use, poverty, criminal records, the children left behind, and feelings of disposability inspired me to join popular grassroots efforts to transform those underlying conditions and to mitigate the harm done by the criminal processing system.
After working with this movement for over a year and effecting change at the policy level, I realized that there were significant gaps in academic research and knowledges about the effects of punitive social control on communities and particularly how these systems affected women. As a first-generation scholar, I take pride in entering the academy with a history of rich experiences and intimate involvement with a variety of communities.