Don’t call us, we’ll call you

November 24, 2008

Nothing beats a conference in sunny So Cal!

I do have a picture of me in front of my poster, but it’s on one of those ancient, non-digital, disposable cameras (the digital camera Andrea gave me is having issues, but I don’t blame her). So you’ll have to settle for this generic picture.

My poster presentation went very well.  The setup of the posters was pretty awkward (very ill-planned in my opinion) so I was worried that nobody would not find my poster. But I was pleasantly surprised that those who worked with or had an interest in incarcerated populations found it in the program and sought me out. See, this conference is unique in my field because the attendees are more heavily practitioners than reseachers, which is precisely the reason I wanted to present here. I’m not too interested in researchers analyzing my methods (I get enough of that from my committee)…I want to hear about the experiences of people who work with prisoners and whether what I am finding and theorizing rings true to their experience.

And I was very pleased with the exchanges I had.  Many people were especially interested in my recommendations regarding juvenile detention centers.  If you looked at the poster, you may have noticed that serving time in a juvenile detention center was strongly negatively correlated with financial knowledge, i.e. those who were in juvenile detention scored much lower (on average).  Well, I explained that one of my in-depth interviews seemed to offer an interesting explanation for that when he told me (paraphrasing), “Since I was incarcerated at such a young age (10 or 11), I guess I just always thought that they were going to take care of me.” When I asked who “they” was, “the state, obviously.” **

From this and other research I looked at, I gather that it may be particularly important to offer experiential financial education to juvenile offenders.  Somehow they need to get some experience in dealing with “real life” financial matters like renting an apartment or budgeting for food before they are released onto the streets at 18 so that they can feel empowered to take care of themselves.  Some of the practitioners I spoke with really thought that this was an important emphasis that might be missing in their programs.

The dialogue gave me a lot to think about (as did all my readers’ theorizing–thanks!) — and so much the better that it took place in the OC!

**The really unfortunate part about juvenile detention is that it is not uncommon for “juvenile offenders” to be kids who were first taken from their families because of abuse or neglect and placed in foster care or group homes.  Often they run away from these situations because foster care/group homes can be pretty rough and dysfunctional and thereby become “offenders” because they are not allowed to run away from state custody.

November 17, 2008

Theorize with me…

I head to California on Wednesday for the Association of Financial Counseling, Planning, and Education (AFCPE) annual conference.  The best part, of course, is that it is right in my parents’ backyard so I’ll get to chill with my family (especially little Ayda) for 10 beautiful days!

But I’m also pretty excited about the conference part because it will be my first presentation of some thesis data.  My thesis has a couple different parts (and so many ideas that it’s bursting at the seams), which I’ll explain in more detail sometime.  But for this first presentation I’m focusing on some statistical analysis. In particular, I am looking at what characteristics of these incarcerated men (e.g., age, race, marital status, criminal history, financial behaviors like having a checking account or filing a tax return) are related to their score on a financial knowledge test.  Can you guess what single factor was most closely connected to the financial knowledge of these men in jail?

Take a guess…

Alright, I’ll tell you.  Filing a tax return.  For those who understand correlations, I’ll just say that the correlation coefficient was a whopping .693!  And for those who don’t, I’ll tell you briefly that it is an astounding correlation.  There is something in statistics called multicollinearity, which basically means that when 2 things are very strongly correlated (usually we worry about it when a correlation is about .7 or above), we actually consider that we may be measuring the exact same thing.  But of course, financial knowledge (questions about banks, interest rates, etc.) is not the same thing as whether someone has filed a tax return.

So here’s where my faithful readers come in…the stats tell me that filing a tax return VERY strongly predicts how much the men know about financial matters.  But, of course, stats can’t tell me why.  Is it because the act of completing a tax return teaches about finances?  Or are people who understand finances more likely to file tax returns?  Or is it pointing to something underlying both of those, like men who have had legitimate employment (as opposed to just illegal work) are more likely to understand finances AND have filed tax returns?

What do you think?  Theorize with me…

P.S. Here’s a link to the poster I’ll be presenting if you want to learn more: afcpe_poster-final

November 14, 2008

Neal’s significantly significant experience, Part IV

Filed under: Incarceration research, Neal's writing — Tags: , , — llcall @ 12:27 am

For Part I, click here.

For Part II, click here.

For Part III, click here.

And now for his summation…

The thing that surprised me more than anything else was how normal, and how friendly the men were. Outside of the cell-block fishbowl, they were regular people just like me and my fellow researchers. They shook our hands, laughed with us, told jokes, cried. They talked about wanting to invest, wanting to provide for their wives, their girlfriends, their kids. More than anything else, it was their kids that made them want to be better people. They loved their families. They prayed. In talking to these guys, I couldn’t help feeling they were just like me, except without the privileges. Most didn’t have father figures, or if they did, they weren’t good. They just never had someone to steer them like I had. Most had not made it to college. Some lived in tough neighborhoods. But they were real people; most of them were good people. Good people who made mistakes, not bad men who deserved to be cut off from humanity. Interviewing with us, they could let their guard down. And when the interviews were done, they put their protection back on, their swagger, and steeled themselves for the hell of the cell block.

When I watch TV now, it’s hard to watch the news and see a mug shot of a man flashed on the screen, and the terse blurb of his charge. Inevitably the picture is terrible; they’re not smiling, they look like a bad dude. Drug charges, assault, failure to pay child support. Whatever. I used to see those mug shots on the news and be glad one more bad dude was off the streets. But now I know the likelihood is that that mug shot is of a guy who is just like me but he just didn’t get the breaks, a guy that’s scared. A guy that needs someone to be a mentor, to help him do it right the next time.

cute-oneBy Neal Call

(I had to throw in this pic of my dreamy husband)

November 13, 2008

Neal’s significantly significant experience, Part III

Filed under: Incarceration research, Neal's writing — Tags: , , — llcall @ 12:58 am

For Part I, click here.

For Part II, click here.

Another guy we interviewed sat across the table from us, fidgeting constantly. He cried after nearly every question we asked, always apologizing. “I’m sorry, guys. I don’t know why I’m crying so much. I hardly cried at all last week.” We asked if he had a good relationship with his parents, and he cried. We asked if he understood how compound interest worked, and he cried. He didn’t know how it worked. The jail nurse came in and gave the guy a paper cup with his pills in it, and one filled with water. When she left, he explained, “I’ve been in solitary for like three weeks now, and I swear I’m going crazy. I just needed to talk to someone.”

We interviewed guys that were in jail for drug charges, for moving vehicle violations, for grand theft auto, for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, for driving under the influence. We interviewed guys that were charged with murder and sexual assault. One white guy who we met with had a completely shaved head and long goatee beard. Like most of the guys we met with, he was muscular, filling out his uniform. He had tattoos and his arms behind his back. But he wasn’t handcuffed like we thought; it was just his way of strolling. He’d been arrested for dumpster diving.

We never really knew whether many of the men had actually done what they were charged with. Our research was not concerned with guilt or innocence, just with gathering specific financial data and personal feelings about jail and family member relationships. But some admitted guilt without hedging. Others admitted they deserved to be in prison, but that the charges actually brought against them were bogus. Others said it was their first time, and they were scared. Far fewer than I expected actually said they were innocent.

November 12, 2008

Neal’s significantly significant experience, Part II

Filed under: Incarceration research, Neal's writing — Tags: , , — llcall @ 12:48 am

For Part I, click here

We, the undergraduate researchers, entered the jails with some degree of trepidation. The female researchers had been asked, awkwardly, not to dress provocatively. A guard took the entire team on a tour of the jail, and when we entered the cell blocks, every eye was on us. Men sidled up to the glass and leered. Others goaded each other into calling things out to us. “Hey, sweet thing.” “Hey, look over here.” Some men barked.

The first interview I took part in was for a young black guy, about 22 years old. He wore the standard issue uniform, black and white stripes. Scraggly beard hair. He sat comfortably, but with good posture. He smiled, and shook our hands warmly. We asked about his family relationships, and about his children. We asked what he was charged with. “Armed robbery,” he said. What did he expect to do when he got out of jail, we asked. He wanted to cook. He had a passion for the restaurant business, and just wanted to get back home so he could go back to his cooking. When we asked how often he felt lonely in jail, he said “every day.” Depressed? “Every day.” Like it’s an effort to get going? “Every day.”

The next man I interviewed was ripped. He was one of the older guys at about 38, but he was easily six feet tall and 180 pounds of pure muscle. He walked into the room cautiously, shook our hands carefully. We thanked him for coming in to do the interview, and he waved it off. “Hey, I’m not doin’ anything else. And this research is gonna help people, right?” We said it was. “Well, let’s get started,” he said. He thought for a few moments before answering any of our questions. We asked a series of questions starting with “How often do you feel…?” He didn’t feel lonely. He didn’t feel depressed. But he admitted that he sometimes felt fearful. And when we asked if it was a good thing that he came to jail, he laughed, and then was silent far longer than for any other question. “Yeah,” he finally said. “It had to happen.”

November 11, 2008

Neal’s significantly significant experience, Part I

Filed under: Incarceration research, Neal's writing — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 3:22 am

Alright, enough of celebrating me…

One of my avid readers (one of the very few that will brave blogs without many pictures 🙂 ) chastened me for not posting enough.  I blog non-stop in my head, but don’t always find the time to put it in writing.  But tonight and for the next couple days (in installments), I’ll be featuring something Neal wrote about his experience this summer. It is really interesting for me to see him writing about his experience–seeing how he views my work and what left an impression on him.

My wife has just started her second year in her Master’s program for MFHD. Though she did her undergrad work in history, she developed a connection with vulnerable populations after doing Americorps work in Washington, D.C. (where we met). She wants to help people in transition learn to manage their finances better. She hopes to create programs that would benefit men and women as they leave jail or prison, battered women as they learn to support themselves, and others who are in a position both logistically and emotionally to better their lives through sincere, concerted efforts at change. She paired her financial literacy work with a University of Illinois researcher’s work in fatherhood among incarcerated males, and we spent the summer going between the Champaign county downtown jail and satellite Jail.

As part of the IRB protocols for working with an incarcerated population, we had to protect the well-being of the “jailed individuals” (the preferred term over “convicts” or “inmates”). There are a series of requirements that must be met for work with vulnerable populations, which amount to safeguards against the sorts of non-voluntary experiments that were often tested on incarcerated or minority populations in the middle part of the 20th century. One of the things we had to verbalize to the guys coming in for interviews was the possibility of benefit weighed against any risks involved. We stated that talking about financial matters can be a “very emotional topic,” but that any topics our questions brought up were not anticipated to be more difficult than what they would normally experience during their stay in jail.

Before anyone went in to do any interviews, a friend of the Illinois researcher spoke with all of the Jail Study workers about what it was like to be in jail. He was an LDS convert (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) who a few years earlier had a warrant out for his arrest on drug violations. Rather than go to jail, he left the state, eventually marrying a woman from New Mexico and having several children. When they both decided to join the church, the man voluntarily returned to Illinois, walked into the jail, and asked to be booked so he could serve his sentence. He served six months in the Satellite Jail, which he called “the cushy jail.” Before completing his presentation, he showed us the scars of stab wounds from pens and pencils in his arms, hip and side. He talked of guards that allowed him and several other men to congregate in the LDS guy’s bedroom for what he assumed were KKK meetings. They were, in fact, scripture study sessions.

November 3, 2008

Because if you don’t celebrate yourself, who will?

Filed under: Personal — llcall @ 6:42 pm

That’s right; I’m taking a break from my usual fare to celebrate myself. I was a really cute baby; see:

About 3 months old

About 3 months old

And now 29 years later, I am only slightly less cute (I don’t have definite picture proof of this, but you could ask around if in doubt).

So if you haven’t guessed it yet, today is my birthday…and yes, I LOVE my birthday.  In fact, I prefer to celebrate it for 5-7 days rather than the customary one day (my friend Krista informed me that I am trying to have the Hanukkah of birthdays).

In the past, I have done some crazy things to celebrate my birthday.

Like eating cake off the floor…I LOVE cake.

Or strangling my dad (I got my poser nature from my cute dad) and brother while decorated in bows.

I’ve had big sushi parties (at this one Katharine–the blond standing in the back–introduced me to my favorite roll EVER):

And small cake-centered celebrations at home

I LOVE them all and feel grateful to get another year to celebrate me!

P.S. Maybe next year I’ll locate the pictures of my teenage and college years–they would tell the tale of my less-sedate years.

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