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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"Know History, Know Self:" Coming Home for Formerly Incarcerated Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders


During the prison boom of the 1990s, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) prison population in the U.S. exploded by 250 percent. Although they occupy a relatively small portion of the total prison population, AAPIs are one of the fastest-growing groups of incarcerated peoples nationwide. Yet, the experiences of this racial “Other” in the carceral system remain marginalized within the canonical studies of mass incarceration and Asian America. Using 20 in- depth interviews, this research seeks to understand how formerly incarcerated AAPIs experience reentry into their families and communities. Drawing upon carceral and critical refugee studies, I adopt the militarized refugee to reveal the ways in which the legacies of U.S. militarism and transpacific displacement constitute the conditions of reentry for formerly incarcerated AAPIs. I highlight three key aspects in their reentry that demonstrate the ongoing presence of militarism in their lives – living in limbo, cultural shame, stigma, and silence, and knowledge as a site of healing and resistance. These findings demonstrate the need to move beyond traditional reentry frameworks, to which I conclude with thoughts as to how reentry programs and spaces may rethink ways to better support formerly incarcerated AAPIs as they reenter our communities.

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