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Falling Back

Incarceration and Transitions to Adulthood among Urban Youth

Jamie J. Fader

Publication Year: 2013

Jamie J. Fader documents the transition to adulthood for a particularly vulnerable population: young inner-city men of color who have, by the age of eighteen, already been imprisoned. How, she asks, do such precariously situated youth become adult men? What are the sources of change in their lives?

Falling Back
is based on over three years of ethnographic research with black and Latino males on the cusp of adulthood and incarcerated at a rural reform school designed to address “criminal thinking errors” among juvenile drug offenders. Fader observed these young men as they transitioned back to their urban Philadelphia neighborhoods, resuming their daily lives and struggling to adopt adult masculine roles. This in-depth ethnographic approach allowed her to portray the complexities of human decision-making as these men strove to “fall back,” or avoid reoffending, and become productive adults. Her work makes a unique contribution to sociological understandings of the transitions to adulthood, urban social inequality, prisoner reentry, and desistance from offending.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Crime and Society


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

When I started a Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania, I had no reason to suspect that I would become an inner-city godmother, drive a getaway car after my companion provoked a high school basketball team to form an angry lynch mob, deliver a group of pallbearers to...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I owe special debts to several mentors who had a hand in crafting this book. I am grateful for the mentorship and guidance provided by Elijah Anderson, Kathryn Edin, Lawrence Sherman, David Bayley, Hans Toch, and Michael B. Katz. Without institutional support from the University...

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pp. 1-18

A five-hour drive from Philadelphia, nestled deep within a dense forest in western Pennsylvania, is Mountain Ridge Academy, a reform school for delinquent youth. The facility’s sprawling ninety-acre campus contains eight dormitories, each of which houses thirty-two young men between the...

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Chapter 1. No Love for the Brothers. Youth Incarceration and Reentry in Philadelphia

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pp. 19-42

Philadelphia is often called the city of brotherly love because its name combines the Greek terms philos, love, with adelphos, brother. For the twelve years I lived in the city, I found it exceptionally easy to strike up conversations at pubs, on buses and trains, and at dog parks....

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Chapter 2. Because That Is the Way You Are. Predictions of Failure and Cultural Assaults inside Mountain Ridge Academy

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pp. 43-55

This chapter examines the methods and philosophy of change employed at Mountain Ridge Academy. Mountain Ridge’s explicit theory of delinquency is based on criminal personality theory and assumes that young people offend because they regularly make serious errors in their thinking...

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Chapter 3. You Can Take Me Outtathe ’Hood, But You Can’t Take the ’Hood Outta Me. The Experience of “Reform” at Mountain Ridge Academy

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pp. 56-76

Understanding these young men’s experiences requires an appreciation of the social and cultural lenses through which they view the world. I show that their mastery of the street code and the pride generated by enduring poverty and violence-stricken neighborhoods shape how these...

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Chapter 4. Nothing’s Changed but Me. Reintegration Plans Meet the Inner City

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pp. 77-101

Tony, nineteen, was light skinned, thin, and quiet. We met in the cafeteria at Mountain Ridge, where he approached me about being part of my study. His culinary arts coworker, Sincere, had told him all about me, and he was hurt that I had failed to contact him. Although I realized that a clerical...

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Chapter 5. I’m Not a Mama’s Boy, I’m My Own Boy. Employment, Hustling, and Adulthood

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pp. 102-126

Six months after returning to Philadelphia, I found Sincere and several male friends hanging out on the stoop, bracing themselves to go into Center City to look for jobs. I flashed back to the moment when, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my parents dropped me off in front of our local grocery...

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Chapter 6. I Just Wanna See a Part of Me That’s Never Been Bad. Family, Fatherhood, and Further Offending

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pp. 127-162

The young men I followed were only marginally connected to the formal labor market and consequently were vulnerable to the pulls of the underground economy. Few were willing or able to become full-time hustlers, however. Without a consistent income from either legal or illegal work, these...

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Chapter 7. I’m Finally Becoming the Person I Always Wanted to Be. Masculine Identity, Social Support, and Falling Back

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pp. 163-189

The young men whose stories have been told thus far occupied marginal roles in relation to the labor market and the family, two important social institutions that are often thought to promote law-abiding behavior. Any sense of masculine identity these men earned by working or by...

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Chapter 8. I Got Some Unfinished Business. Fictions of Success at Mountain Ridge Academy’s Graduation Ceremony

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pp. 190-207

Almost a year after I began my field research, I trekked back to Mountain Ridge Academy with five of the former residents for their graduation ceremony. As we traveled down the six-mile road leading to the facility, I witnessed what sociologist Erving Goffman called “a wonderful putting...

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pp. 208-232

On a recent visit to Albany, New York, where he spoke to my students, Sincere said something so honest and profound that it nearly took my breath away. “Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and feel like I should be doing something more. God meant for me to do something more when...


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pp. 233-248


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pp. 249-256

About the Author, Further Reading

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pp. 257-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780813560755
E-ISBN-10: 0813560756
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813560748

Page Count: 278
Illustrations: 3 maps, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Critical Issues in Crime and Society

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Juvenile delinquents -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
  • Juvenile delinquents -- Rehabilitation -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
  • Juvenile corrections -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
  • Juvenile justice, Administration of -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
  • Mountain Ridge Academy.
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