Methods: An exploratory case study of an alternative school that provides arts, education, vocational/employment programs, and social supports to formerly incarcerated youth in Los Angeles County was conducted. Students (n = 117) were 67% were male, 54% African American/Black, aged 18.7 (on average), and 74% had been involved in the criminal justice system. Data collection consisted of 12 months of field observations (n = 33), semi-structured interviews with school personnel (n = 4) and formerly incarcerated young Black men (n = 8), and one focus group with case managers (n = 4). A review of organizational documents, class handouts, and student work was also conducted. Data analysis and interpretation consisted of a range of inductive techniques, including coding, constant comparison, and memoing.
Results: Three themes, “Traditions are just not for me”, “The Inside Wants to Come Out”, and “I try to go as far as I possibly can”, describe how an alternative school fosters and cultivates educational resilience for formerly incarcerated young Black men. The first theme refers to the non-academic curriculum as one element, because the multicultural and individualized approach offered the young men several opportunities for meaningful participation and time to build caring and supportive relationships. Theme two refers to the arts and self-expressive activities that were designed to support students’ social-emotional development, because many young men experienced traumatic life events that posed obstacles to them remaining engaged in the learning process. The last theme highlights the important role and influence non-academic supports, such as employment, played in the young men’s school and community reentry processes.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings help to enhance our understanding of how the structure, culture, and practices within an alternative school can facilitate positive school and community reintegration experiences for formerly incarcerated young Black men as they navigate and negotiate reentry obstacles. These findings are important because they highlight the important role space and place and relationships play in bolstering young Black men’s resilience following incarceration. Directions for future research concerned with alternative schools and the post-release success of young Black men is posed.