Youth in the City of Inmates: Race, Gender, and Carceral Seepage
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Youth in the City of Inmates: Race, Gender, and Carceral Seepage

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Abstract

Los Angeles has been heralded as the city of inmates and prison capital of the world. In this study, I used mixed qualitative methods to explore the ideas and experiences of Black and Latinx young men in what I refer to as carceral Los Angeles. Carceral Los Angeles recognizes criminalization, confinement, and punishment as central to the making of the city. These carceral logics expand beyond prisons, jails, and detention centers. Informed by the carceral history of Los Angeles, this study was guided by questions such as: (a) What does it feel like to be a young person of color criminalized in the city of inmates? and (b) How does criminalization shape gender ideologies and gendered practices? I found Black and Latinx young men are constantly experiencing and witnessing criminalization across contexts and institutions. Their experiences revealed an overlapping ensemble of institutions and social actors were implicated in their criminalization not because they are committing a crime, but because by their very existence they are assumed to be criminal. With these experiences beginning as early as 6 years old, I show how racialized emotions (e.g., fear, paranoia) in a context of criminalization are described and understood by the young men. I argue racialized emotions are a central process through which the carceral state materializes. I also revealed that criminalization and hostility across contexts produces gendered enclosures that shape the young men’s gender ideologies and practices. Gendered enclosures bring attention to how policy, punitive practices, and discourse serve as formal and informal means to impose white patriarchal heteronormative ideals that confine the expressions and behaviors of Black and Latinx boys and young men. I argue gendered enclosures foreclose vulnerability, emotional expressions, and the opportunity to process experiences with criminalization and violence. Thus, a second set of questions also guided this study: (a) Where do Black and Latinx boys and young men find spaces to heal from criminalization?; (b) How, and to what extent, do the organizational practices in community-based educational spaces shape the gender ideologies of young men?; and (c) What strategies are Black and Latinx young men adopting in their efforts to combat the carceral state? Based on participation observations with Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition (BSS)—a coalition of nine community-based organizations across Los Angeles County engaged in abolitionist activism and political education—I found community-based educational spaces function as a homeplace (hooks 1990) that mediates gendered enclosures at the interpersonal level because being part of a homeplace provides alternative understandings of manhood via relational practices, political education, and healing programming. Thus, I argue the young men’s participation in BSS programming, including healing practices, buffers gendered enclosures. To illustrate this buffer, I honed in on BSS programming and the practices of youth workers to illuminate the ways the young men extend their understandings of gender and sexuality by their participation. Lastly, I demonstrate how intersectional thinking and an abolition ethos informs the young men’s visions of social transformation, coalition building, and relational practices. Particularly, how their intersectional thinking attends to relational practices that pose a challenge to carceral logics of abandonment, criminalization, and disposability. Based on these findings, I use water seepage as an organizing metaphor to argue the carceral backdrop the young men navigate can be understood as carceral seepage. Carceral seepage attends to the intensity, scale, and consequential nature of the carceral state on the lives of Black and Latinx youth.

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This item is under embargo until October 24, 2024.