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The following story was sent to Essence magazine in effort to drum up interest from the editor. While Essence never published the magazine article, Dr. Hart Johnson interviewed the Editor and Chief, Ms. Susan Taylor three years later. Sometimes miracles happen in the oddest ways. We thought we would share a photo and the previous article here. Enjoy!

A Flashback Story from 2015

Dr. Geoffrey Johnson

I recently completed your February 2015 edition of Essence Magazine; I loved reading the editorials included in the “Black Lives Matter” piece. I also had an epiphany when I recognized Essence was celebrating 45 years of Black Women First. The epiphany came about Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson’s recent qualitative research study, which explores the dynamics of African American Women who have incarcerated mates.

In short, her work aligns with Michelle Alexander and other scholars who have noted, that African American men have been incarcerated at unprecedented rates over the past 30 years. By, extension, their African American female mates have experienced adverse consequences.

Her study is entitled: “Symbolic Imprisonment, Grief and Coping Theory: African American Women with Incarcerated Mates.” The primary focus of this study is to understand African American women’s emotions and other impacts of being separated from a loved one who is currently imprisoned or was previously incarcerated in the prison system. Her research revealed that women were suffering from a form of grief that appeared to be similar to that which is encountered when someone dies. Moreover, she found that women were confining themselves and restricting their socialization. Her research is groundbreaking, in that this theory did not previously exist.

Outside of academics, her research identified a demographic, i.e. African American Women, that received very little support or societal consideration. The lion-share of incarceration literature has focused on the incarnated man and to a lesser extent their children. However, her study illuminated some of the social and emotional impacts of incarceration on spouses and loved ones.

Hart-Johnson hopes that her research merits public interest and yields a voice for women who have to bear the burden of collateral damages associated with having a spouse or loved one incarcerated in the Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia criminal justice systems.

Although the scope of her research had specific relevance and importance to women in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, federal sentencing guidelines have forced many inmates to be placed under the jurisdiction of the federal bureau of prisons (FOP). Consequently, they may serve prison sentences in facilities located all across the United States.

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