Against the Odds: Desistance and Resilient Reintegration among Formerly Incarcerated Black Men




Champagnie Williams, Wendy, “Against the Odds: Desistance and Resilient Reintegration among Formerly Incarcerated Black Men,” Scholar@Simmons, accessed December 4, 2020,


Against the Odds: Desistance and Resilient Reintegration among Formerly Incarcerated Black Men


Champagnie Williams, Wendy




Black men’s disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system is well documented. Existing research uses quantitative data emphasizing the risks of incarceration and subsequent recidivism. What is lacking in current literature is the exploration of criminal desistance, the process by which a person ceases offending, among formerly incarcerated Black men.
Employing a phenomenological research design using transcendental data analysis procedures, the purpose of this study was to explore how formerly incarcerated Black men understand their desistance from crime. The aim was to identify the ‘what and how’ of their lived experiences that facilitated desistance among this population. The study’s conceptual framework applied several theories and perspectives: critical race theory; intersectionality; resilience theory; and the strengths perspective.
The emphasis of this study was to capture the common lived experiences with criminal desistance among study participants. Eleven individuals who met specific criteria for involvement (i.e. having desisted from crime for five or more years; not on community supervision; no open, unresolved charges) engaged in face-to-face interviews using a semi-structured interview protocol. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, and data analyzed using the qualitative software, Hyper Research. Findings reflect the essential characteristics of a transcendental phenomenological approach: textural, what participants’ experienced in their process to desist; and structural, how participants desisted and reintegrated, despite multiple risk factors.

Findings aligned with existing knowledge about individual and environmental risk factors that make the reintegration process challenging. Study results also elucidated protective factors illustrating resilience and strengths among this population. These factors supported the emergence of the concept resilient reintegration, a gradual process of desisting from crime leading to successful reintegration with family, community, and society. Study implications outline directions for future research, informing social work education, direct practice, and policy.

Key words: Black men, crime, desistance, resilient, reintegration, phenomenological research


Simmons College (Boston, Mass.)


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Doctoral Dissertations