Haas Scholars

Janie Chen

"Know History, Know Self:" Coming Home for Incarcerated Asian Americans

During the prison boom of the 1990s, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) prison population in the U.S. exploded by 250%. AAPIs were found to be one of the fastest-growing groups of incarcerated peoples nationwide, despite occupying a relatively small portion of the total prison population. The growing bodies of literature on reentry and Asian American studies have however failed to capture the complex experiences of the racial “Other” entangled in the carceral system. Therefore, Janie’s research asks, how do formerly incarcerated AAPIs experience reentry into their families and communities upon release? Drawing from qualitative interviews, this project centers the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated AAPIs to ultimately gain a stronger understanding of the ways in which we can better support them as they reenter our communities.

Photo Caption:
The artwork pictured behind Janie is part of a larger project by illustrator Natalie Bui that she had done for Asian Prisoner Support Committee’s “Hope is Contagious” campaign. This is the illustration’s caption:

Bah Yung Pra Chang, Ung Niek Chanegh! (When We Fight, We Win!) Families, friends, attorneys, and community members rallied at politicians offices, City Halls, and community centers. They were fighting to prevent the worst-case scenario ICE deporting their [incarcerated] family members to a country from which they had escaped as refugees many years ago…In response to the pressure, Governor Newsom issued two pardons, and two other Khmer detainees won post-conviction relief. When all four Bay Area Khmer detainees were freed and made safe from deportations, the community reunited and chanted one more time, Bah Yung Pra Chang, Ung Niek Chanegh. When we fight, we win!

  • Major: Sociology and Ethnic Studies
  • Mentor: Harvey Dong, Ethnic Studies