Week 5 Update: Talking to Incredible People

Hello everyone! This will be my second update since starting work on my project this summer. I’m proud to say that I have nearly finished up my data collection! This has consisted of qualitative interviews with representatives of community reentry organizations, largely about their services, the challenges that they and their clients face, and how mental health and community/geographic context affect the process of reentry.

Initially, I was apprehensive reaching out to these organizations and asking for their precious time. I’m traditionally a shy person who doesn’t like to ask for much, but I’ve observed over and over throughout college that you have to ask for things, and people are usually happy to help. This is particularly true for research. I sent quite a few emails and met with four different professors in my quest to get into a psych research lab my sophomore year, and it was entirely worth the effort. So I was ready to put even more work into making this project happen.

And it is happening! So far I have conducted seven interviews with representatives of reentry organizations from all over the state, one in person and six over the phone. And this is by far the most gratifying part of the project. I remember remarking to one of my interviewees how much more fun it is talking to people than reading academic papers off a computer screen. She laughed.

The coolest thing about these interviews is how each person I’ve talked to has approached the issue of reentry from a different perspective. Some have complained more about the attitudes of their clients, others more about the attitudes of their employers and landlords. Some have focused on race, others haven’t mentioned it. Some have railed against the state of Virginia’s criminal justice system, while others seem more optimistic about it. While this should in part be due to the differences in each organization’s services and service area, there has been quite a variety of responses even within organizations operating in the same or similar regions. These reflect the unique experiences, attitudes, and personality of each individual I’ve talked with. These are the parts of the story of community reentry that are skipped over in quantitative data – the wide range of anecdotes about past clients, the emotional highs and lows of the work, the passion in their voices when they talk about change – changing lives, changing laws, changing society.

So now I’m working through my notes from these interviews, looking for common and disparate elements, piecing together a coherent story to tell. Next week, I’ll be wrapping up with two last interviews and beginning to write.