Mass Incarceration is a Feminist Struggle: Voices of Formerly Incarcerated Women

Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America

1.2 million women are under correctional supervision in the United States, yet the narrative of mass incarceration often ignores the gendered aspects of punishment.

This panel centers on the voices and experiences of incarcerated women and their work to build communities free of mass incarceration. As society pushes for an end to mass incarceration, what do we want a future society to remember about the abolitionist efforts of today?

This event launches the Mass Incarceration Lab Archive at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and is a Humanities Lab project led by Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, Associate Professor of Sociology at Brown University. The Humanities Lab Initiative is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Speaker Biographies

Cherie Cruz is a first-generation college graduate who transcended her own personal and family history of three generations of incarceration and involvement with the criminal legal system to now hold two degrees from Brown University, A.B. Cum Laude. Cherie uses her experience of being directly impacted by the War on Drugs in empowering and lifting up the voices of people who have also been directly impacted. This includes advocating for the Right to Vote, parent’s right to volunteer in school, parental rights, Fair Chance Licensing, decriminalization of substances, and more. Cherie was named ACLU of RI Lay Leader of the Decade in 2019, and is a JLUSA Leading with Conviction 2020 Alum. Cherie, along with fellow Rhode Islanders, co-founded the Formerly Incarcerated Union of RI, a membership-driven non-profit organization, founded and led by people who have been directly impacted by the criminal legal system. While continuing to advocate to reduce the barriers to successful reentry, FIU continues to build collective leadership to ultimately reach the goal of reducing the prison population until one day we can shut them down.

Aminah Elster is a campaign and policy coordinator with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, where she leads its work on reproductive oppression in women’s prisons. Aminah’s motivation to achieve racial and gender justice is rooted in her direct experiences navigating intersecting identities. She is committed to fighting the impacts of decades of systemic oppression and liberating criminalized survivors. Aminah is a researcher and University of California Berkeley alum. In addition to organizing with the Berkeley Underground Scholars, she is also an organizer with Survived & Punished CA, and co-founder of Unapologetically HERS (Healing Experiences Through Research Solutions).

Daniela Medina earned her MSW with a concentration in Strengthening Organizations and Communities from the University of California, Berkeley in 2021 and her B.A. in Social Welfare from the University of California, Berkeley in 2019. She is from Oakland, CA, and has worked closely with Berkeley Underground Scholars for several years supporting formerly incarcerated students like herself. She is an award-winning expert on higher education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, an experienced program manager, and a thought leader. Daniela previously worked at Community & Youth Outreach, providing direct service support to those reentering the community after incarceration. She is a certified life coach, a previous Young Professionals of Color Fellow with the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, and was an inaugural Perez Research Fellow at Bright Research Group. Daniela is also the co-founder and host of the Berkeley Underground Scholars podcast, On The Tier.

Facilitator Biographies

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Brown University and an affiliated scholar with the American Bar Foundation in Chicago, IL. She is an affiliated fellow with Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) and the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA). She is the author of Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court (2016) and The Waiting Room (2018). She is the generator and faculty lead for the Mass Incarceration Lab @ CSREA, generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Esteem Brumfield was born to civil rights activists in the Bay Area. Esteem cultivated a deep sense of social responsibility, passion for human rights, and a love for the Bay Area. His interests center on law, health, and alternatives to incarceration. Particularly, his work examines the relationship between incarceration, mental health, and public health outcomes. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Health at Brown University and plans to enter law school to study constitutional law. As a Fulbright Fellow to South Africa, he researched the relationship between learning disability accommodations and rehabilitation within the Western Cape’s prison system. Prior to pursuing his masters, Esteem served as a Public Health Commissioner for Alameda County and reviewed the health effects of incarceration within the county. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.