"People slowly fill up the seats in a green and gold room before Jay Borchert even arrives. It’s the day of his dissertation defense, a day that is perhaps the most important milestone in a doctoral student’s career, a culmination of five or more years of intensive work; they’re presenting their research publicly and receiving feedback from their mentors and, if all goes well, their soon-to-be academic peers.

As if this moment weren’t already soaked through with the weight of its significance, Jay Borchert’s defense was uniquely meaningful. Prior to beginning his academic career, Borchert had spent over seven years in prison. He said that the defense was “the final step in turning my life around from the last time I was arrested and incarcerated in 2004.”

Borchert’s doctoral work focuses on incarceration in the United States, including the ways we treat and understand prisoners, work conditions for prison staff, and the varied relationship each group has with prison administrations. All this is under the umbrella of revealing the myriad ways the criminal justice system is broken: “Our criminal justice system is failing citizens at every point--not only who we watch, but who we arrest, prosecute, and sentence, and in the ways we fail to actually prepare these men and women to reenter society upon release.” Government agencies, journalists, academics, and advocates and prisoners themselves have all documented our broken system, particularly its disparate effects upon the poor and people of color but little has changed with these data. Borchert decided to go back into prisons as a researcher to collect new data that might one day lead to real change--eventually."

Go to Rackham's Website to read the rest of Jay's story and learn more about his dissertation work and advocacy work.