Date of Award

Spring 2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Charles Mathies

Committee Director

Felecia Commodore

Committee Member

Laura Smithers

Committee Member

Royel M. Johnson

Committee Member

Amanda Petersen


Black individuals have been disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system in the United States (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2022). Because of their criminal justice involvement, Black individuals are perceived as second-class citizens making their quest for “freedom” an endless journey impacted by oppression and domination post-justice-involvement (Couloute & Kopf, 2018; Johnson, 2021; Pager, 2003). To combat domination and oppression, Freire (1970) emphasized pursuing higher education helps individuals who experience marginalization become more humanized and aids them on their plight to freedom. Research highlighted pursuing higher education post-justice-involvement is a liberatory yet challenging experience because of discriminatory on-campus experiences, and policies that inhibit admission, engagement, and accessing support services (Johnson & Manyweather, 2023; Johnson, 2021; Livingston & Miller, 2014; McTier Jr. et al., 2020; McTier Jr. et al., 2017; Stewart & Uggen, 2020; Strayhorn et al., 2013). Amongst the growing body of research examining individuals’ experiences navigating society and higher education post-justice-involvement, scholars have advocated for more research that centers and examines Black individuals’ reintegration and higher education experiences post-justice-involvement (Johnson, 2021; Strayhorn et al., 2013). Therefore, this dissertation centers and explores Black individuals' higher education and societal experiences, and the interconnectedness of freedom and domination post-justice-involvement. Using a social constructivist paradigm and Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) approach, this study analyzed the impact of race and justice-involvement, examined Black individuals’ ideologies of freedom, and their experiences in higher education and navigating society post-justice-involvement. To conduct this study, myself and three Black individuals with lived experiences in the carceral system were engaged as co-researchers to curate and execute the study. The data for this dissertation was collected through a journal prompt, semi-structured interviews, and focus groups. The findings should be used to influence future research, legislation, and policy reform to eradicate barriers that affect Black individuals in higher education and navigating society post-justice-involvement to help them actualize and experience freedom in its fullness – freedom physically, psychologically, and ontologically.


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