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Falling Back

Falling Back: Incarceration and Transitions to Adulthood among Urban Youth

Jamie J. Fader
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Falling Back
    Book Description:

    Jamie J. Fader documents the transition to adulthood for a particularly vulnerable population: young inner-city men of color who have, by the age of eighteen, already been imprisoned. How, she asks, do such precariously situated youth become adult men? What are the sources of change in their lives?Falling Backis based on over three years of ethnographic research with black and Latino males on the cusp of adulthood and incarcerated at a rural reform school designed to address "criminal thinking errors" among juvenile drug offenders. Fader observed these young men as they transitioned back to their urban Philadelphia neighborhoods, resuming their daily lives and struggling to adopt adult masculine roles. This in-depth ethnographic approach allowed her to portray the complexities of human decision-making as these men strove to "fall back," or avoid reoffending, and become productive adults. Her work makes a unique contribution to sociological understandings of the transitions to adulthood, urban social inequality, prisoner reentry, and desistance from offending.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6075-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    A five-hour drive from Philadelphia, nestled deep within a dense forest in western Pennsylvania, is Mountain Ridge Academy, a reform school for delinquent youth. The facility’s sprawling ninety-acre campus contains eight dormitories, each of which houses thirty-two young men between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. The dorms, school, gym, and administration buildings are all clad in brown clapboard, giving them a rustic feel that is at home in its rural surroundings. The well-manicured grounds extend to the forest’s edge, inviting deer and other wildlife to pass through. Although the facility has no fences, razor wire, bars on windows, or...

  6. Chapter 1 No Love for the Brothers: Youth Incarceration and Reentry in Philadelphia
    (pp. 19-42)

    Philadelphia is often called the city of brotherly love because its name combines the Greek termsphilos, love, withadelphos, brother. For the twelve years I lived in the city, I found it exceptionally easy to strike up conversations at pubs, on buses and trains, and at dog parks. Urban sociologist Elijah Anderson has described places such as Rittenhouse Square and the Reading Terminal Market as “cosmopolitan canopies,” public spaces where people of different colors and social classes come together and interact with civility and even pleasure.¹

    The rest of the city, however, is deeply divided. Indeed, Philadelphia is one...

  7. Chapter 2 “Because That Is the Way You Are”: Predictions of Failure and Cultural Assaults Inside Mountain Ridge Academy
    (pp. 43-55)

    This chapter examines the methods and philosophy of change employed at Mountain Ridge Academy. Mountain Ridge’s explicit theory of delinquency is based on criminal personality theory and assumes that young people offend because they regularly make serious errors in their thinking. The school’s practice is also based on implicit assumptions, including the assertion that crime is freely and rationally chosen by those who engage in it. Embedded more deeply in the way the program is implemented on a daily basis is the conviction that urban street culture is evidence of an innate criminality.

    By studying Mountain Ridge in depth, I...

  8. Chapter 3 “You Can Take Me Outta the ’Hood, But You Can’t Take the ’Hood Outta Me”: The Experience of “Reform” at Mountain Ridge Academy
    (pp. 56-76)

    This chapter examines how young men of color from inner-city Philadelphia interpreted and adapted to the program of change used at Mountain Ridge, drawing primarily on in-depth interviews conducted shortly before they were released.

    Understanding these young men’s experiences requires an appreciation of the social and cultural lenses through which they view the world. I show that their mastery of the street code and the pride generated by enduring poverty and violence-stricken neighborhoods shape how these young men perceive and respond to interventions designed to address criminal behavior. I then discuss their perspectives on the various components of Mountain Ridge’s...

  9. Chapter 4 “Nothing’s Changed but Me”: Reintegration Plans Meet the Inner City
    (pp. 77-101)

    Tony, nineteen, was light skinned, thin, and quiet. We met in the cafeteria at Mountain Ridge, where he approached me about being part of my study. His culinary arts coworker, Sincere, had told him all about me, and he was hurt that I had failed to contact him. Although I realized that a clerical error had prevented him from being on the list, I soon learned that Tony often felt overlooked and left out, and for good reason. His mother had smoked crack for the past twelve years and was still an addict. He and his sister had different fathers,...

  10. Chapter 5 “I’m Not a Mama’s Boy, I’m My Own Boy”: Employment, Hustling, and Adulthood
    (pp. 102-126)

    Six months after returning to Philadelphia, I found Sincere and several male friends hanging out on the stoop, bracing themselves to go into Center City to look for jobs. I flashed back to the moment when, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my parents dropped me off in front of our local grocery store with instructions for inquiring about a job. I got a cashier position on the spot and, as I worked my way up into the head office, learned that the manager sorted applicants by physical attractiveness. When I informed him that someone had asked about a job, his...

  11. Chapter 6 “I Just Wanna See a Part of Me That’s Never Been Bad”: Family, Fatherhood, and Further Offending
    (pp. 127-162)

    The young men I followed were only marginally connected to the formal labor market and consequently were vulnerable to the pulls of the underground economy. Few were willing or able to become full-time hustlers, however. Without a consistent income from either legal or illegal work, these young men sought dignity, autonomy, and a sense of mastery in other realms, often by becoming fathers. This is not to say that all planned their children carefully, although few were displeased to learn that their failure to use protection had resulted in a pregnancy. A surprising number eagerly anticipated taking on a father...

  12. Chapter 7 “I’m Finally Becoming the Person I Always Wanted to Be”: Masculine Identity, Social Support, and Falling Back
    (pp. 163-189)

    The young men whose stories have been told thus far occupied marginal roles in relation to the labor market and the family, two important social institutions that are often thought to promote law-abiding behavior. Any sense of masculine identity these men earned by working or by being an involved father and a romantic partner was hard-won and easily lost. In this chapter, I focus on James and Gabe, the only two young men who fell back, becoming stable, law-abiding adults. Both returned to Southwest Philadelphia, a zone of exceptional violence, but they found decent jobs and continued close relationships with...

  13. Chapter 8 “I Got Some Unfinished Business”: Fictions of Success at Mountain Ridge Academy’s Graduation Ceremony
    (pp. 190-207)

    Almost a year after I began my field research, I trekked back to Mountain Ridge Academy with five of the former residents for their graduation ceremony. As we traveled down the six-mile road leading to the facility, I witnessed what sociologist Erving Goffman called “a wonderful putting on and taking off of character” as they prepared to move from the back stage of our van onto the front stage of the facility’s campus.¹ During this time, they prepared for the roles they planned to play during the graduation ceremony.

    Inside Mountain Ridge Academy, like most total institutions, young men were...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 208-232)

    On a recent visit to Albany, New York, where he spoke to my students, Sincere said something so honest and profound that it nearly took my breath away. “Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and feel like I should be doing something more. God meant for me to do something more when He decided to let me live when so many people died [in the church van accident]. I know I was meant to do something special, but I haven’t.” Although we could interpret this as a classic case of survivor’s guilt, I think social forces...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 233-248)
  16. Index
    (pp. 249-256)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-259)