Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




This project examines the experiences of a group of formerly incarcerated persons involved in community organizing efforts for felon empowerment. Scholarly works often focus on what is being done on behalf of the formerly incarcerated, this work highlights how men and women with records advocate for themselves. Drawing on 18 months of participant observation and 18 in-depth interviews with a Chicago based group called FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) I found that meanings of redemption were essential to advocacy and operated as an imperative. The redemption imperative both constrained and enabled advocacy. It constrained advocacy in its narrow formulation of redemption. In this formulation the redeemed were those who were able to demonstrate qualities such as being educated, persons of faith, and who made the decision to “turn their lives around.” However, FORCE members, through redemption were empowered to engage politically. This engagement sometimes led to expanded rights by exposing discrimination. Redemption also had its limits as a resource for political engagement. FORCE members were not always able to convince legislators, and community members of their redeemed status. These findings call into question the perpetual nature of proving redemption in the lives of the formerly incarcerated, and the irony of its limitations as a resource for empowerment.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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