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Work matters: formerly incarcerated men’s resiliency in reentry

Catrina Palmer (Department of Management and Global Business, Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA)
Johnna Christian (School of Criminal Justice, Newark College of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 7 June 2019

Issue publication date: 25 June 2019




The purpose of this paper is to investigate how formerly incarcerated men remained resilient in the face of adversity while searching for and maintaining employment.


Grounded theory analysis is used to answer the following research questions: What challenges do formerly incarcerated men encounter in finding and maintaining employment? What strategies do they devise in the face of these barriers? The research entailed 24 face-to-face, semi-structured, in-depth interviews at a Reentry Center in a northeastern state between February 2016 and July 2017.


The authors present a model of resiliency in the job-seeking and maintaining process. It illustrates the non-linear and complex nature of employment experiences, in which men encountered cycles of anxiety and pressure, and yet also devised resilience strategies fostering growth and adaptation. These processes required adept management of adversities such as involvement with the criminal justice system and the attending social stigma. Shifting mental and behavioral frameworks, adapting and refining expectations for work and adopting a future orientation were essential for participants’ growth. Finally, findings revealed participants’ resiliency strategies were bolstered by pro-social outcomes.


The challenges and barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated men are well documented, but less is known about the processes men employ in order to gain legitimate employment. This paper explores an understudied area of the criminal justice and employment literature – how men demonstrate agency and tenacity in the reintegration process, specifically related to seeking and maintaining work.



Palmer, C. and Christian, J. (2019), "Work matters: formerly incarcerated men’s resiliency in reentry", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 38 No. 5, pp. 583-598.



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