Week 2 Update: Sending Emails and Reading Papers

Hello everyone! Here we are, nearing the end of research week two!

It certainly is strange being on campus and doing just research, full time. Normally during the year I fit lab work into 1-2 hour chunks of free time between classes and lunch dates (and I eat some lunches in the lab too, when time is tight). I’m used to being rushed, balancing multiple obligations, often sweaty and somewhat stressed. But William and Mary in the summer is a kinder place (aside from the heat/humidity). I have the whole day to pace myself, spread out the more tedious and more intellectual work, and most importantly commit myself entirely to one single thing. When I was writing my proposal for this project last fall, I was particularly overworked, overscheduled, and frequently ill. I worried I wasn’t doing quality work. I worried that this project would inevitably fail.

But after just two weeks, I feel leagues better about all of it. Campus is quieter in the summer, and so is my mind. Finally, I can prioritize this, and I have the resources to do it well.

So what have I done so far?

Well, my primary goal for the beginning of this was to find, contact, and set up interviews with reentry organizations across different regions of Virginia. And I have done that! Finding these organizations was more difficult than I thought it would be. There was no single, comprehensive listing of these places and their contact information out there – rather, I did a lot of googling and went through many less complete lists on various government and help websites, hoping I wasn’t missing any. Mixed in with these were other social agencies that happened to serve a number of ex-offenders without necessarily being “reentry service organizations” – I decided to exclude these, as I’m looking specifically at services tailored to ex-offenders. After sending initial emails, I have heard back from five willing to be interviewed in the next two weeks. Ultimately I’d like to conduct nine interviews total, so I’ll be sending more emails and calling some offices this coming week.

And my secondary goal is to work on the most intense literature review of my life. There is SO MUCH information available about the criminal justice system, geographical impact, reentry barriers and services, and their intersection with mental health problems. The topic of reentry has attracted considerable research in the last decade or two in particular, as financial difficulties and budget cuts have incentivized our government to reduce the number of people in prison or jail and keep them from reoffending. I’m glad there is a lot out there for me to work with, but it’s also daunting to sift through so much good work and find what is relevant to my project – specifically, the operations of community organizations that assist ex-offenders through reentry, and how these are affected by and respond to community (urban, suburban, rural) and individual (mental health) contexts.

Well, I’m off to respond to some emails. I cannot wait to talk to these directors and case managers of community organizations who do such incredible, heartbreaking work and are so kind as to answer my requests for interviews.