Date of Award

Spring 5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Scot Danforth

Second Advisor

Lilia Monzo

Third Advisor

James Kirylo

Fourth Advisor

Fred La Puzza


There exists a wide breadth of literature in regards to the harmful and dehumanizing impact of incarceration on human development and dignity. Through my years as a volunteer in detention ministry, I have witnessed firsthand these effects particularly on youths who have been incarcerated. My experiences have led me to wonder then, “Why does the prison system still exist to harm people despite the array of research condemning its practices?” Through this pondering, I critiqued the larger systems at play: the prison-industrial complex, the sociopolitical rhetoric of “tough on crime,” and the overall demonization of this population. As a response to this dominant narrative, this study sought to explore the experiences of Catholic detention ministry volunteers. Through a heuristic methodology and with the theoretical underpinnings of Critical Pedagogy, Catholic Social Teaching, Liberation Theology, and Restorative Justice, I gathered data–the reflections, testimonies, and stories–from other volunteers who served as collaborators within this study. I identified four major themes that emerged from the data: (1) God within this context, (2) detention ministry as a classroom, (3) critiques of justice, and (4) solidarity to transformation. The conversations with my collaborators suggested that the experiences of volunteers ultimately shed insight into the lives of those impacted by incarceration as well as put a spotlight on their humanity. This study highlighted the need for rehumanization: transformation within the prison system calls for a shift in perspectives, an altering of attitudes, and a change of heart around the demonization of this vulnerable population.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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