22 Sep Interview with Jordan Tudisco on working with the Partnership for Re-Entry Program
September 22, 2021
Jordan Tudisco is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature. Their interdisciplinary research in literature, sociocultural linguistics, and queer and trans studies examines transness at large and its relationship to narratives of the self, constraints in genres and forms, trauma, criminalization and mass incarceration, and healing. As an IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellow, Tudisco worked this summer with the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Partnership for Re-Entry Program (PREP), a nonprofit organization and restorative justice program that seeks ways of improving the successful re-integration of parolees back into the community through pre-release self-help modular correspondence courses.
Tell us about the projects you worked on during your internship with PREP.
During my 10-week internship with PREP, I worked on a variety of projects related to providing assistance and input for a few different tasks: locating funding opportunities, organizing and managing existing data, and creating surveys for additional data collection. These three main tasks were all linked by the same goal of securing funding for continuing and new programs offered by PREP.
While searching for funding opportunities and grant calls on the websites of several foundations and state-wide or local institutions, I had to locate specific information within the data that PREP had collected over their many years of nonprofit work. This often was accompanied with identifying needs to reshape some of the database files for easier consultation and analysis. We also realized that some of the grant calls were targeting a specific part of the incarcerated population, such as parents or young offenders (18-25) and that PREP had no information about how many of their past or current participants fell into these categories. This informed us that there was a need to create additional surveys to administer to current and future participants so as to gather more demographic data as well as some input about overall satisfaction and/or areas for improvement.
As such, I created three surveys: one digital survey for past participants who had been released from their facilities since having participated in a PREP program, and two paper surveys (a pre-assessment and a post-assessment) to be sent to new participants along with their first and last lessons, respectively. I also created two Excel databases for PREP employees to enter the data that will be gathered by these two surveys.
How were you able to use your academic training in this setting?
My academic training was the most helpful with the tasks of survey design, as it allowed me to shape questions in a way that would yield both the highest number of meaningful responses and data that would be easy to analyze and categorize. My academic training also assisted me quite a lot in my funding searches and in analyzing the several calls for application that I found in order to identify the frameworks and perspectives through which these different actors were seeing restorative justice or prison education work.
The skills I learned in the two classes offered by the IHC’s Public Humanities Fellows Program also helped me tremendously when it came to thinking about nonprofit work as a whole and as a culture and budget planning or the other documents required by the various calls for application I found. My academic training and my participation in the IHC’s program have also taught me flexibility and adaptability, which were two qualities that I had to use daily during my internship in order to jump from one task to another on a short notice or to adapt my method of communication to different interlocutors.
What new skills did you develop?
This is not a skill per se, but I think the most useful quality I have developed throughout this internship is that of being a self-starter, which will help me tremendously during my dissertation process. While in academia, I have always been very much other-motivated: tasks and deadlines are set by professors, advisors, or programs and conferences, and I have been used to receiving very clear guidelines and expectations in terms of what I need to accomplish and how I will be evaluated. But it does not exactly work like that in the nonprofit world. Because of the sheer number of tasks and duties that everyone had to accomplish every day, I could not necessarily rely on someone having enough time to set all of these clear expectations for me. Instead, I had weekly meetings to discuss the goals of the week to come and had to develop a sense of initiative and identify on my own what next steps needed to be taken when I was done with the specific tasks that were discussed.
In addition, I was also able to improve my survey design skills as well as my public writing and public communication skills, since this was one of the first truly non-academic space in which I found myself working.
What did you learn about restorative justice or nonprofit work during this internship?
Although I had read a lot about restorative justice and had been following a lot of nonprofit organizations centered on restorative justice, there was so much I didn’t know about the daily workings of a small nonprofit organization. I learned a lot about the internal organization required when doing nonprofit work and when coordinating both employees and volunteers on such a varied number of tasks and projects. I also learned about the tremendous variety of skills needed when doing this kind of work: the people I worked with not only had to fulfill the daily tasks needed to continue offering dozens of classes and programs to thousands of participants across all of California, but they also had to keep an eye on long-term projects related to funding and fundraising, securing a bigger location for their office, staying in contact with participants who have been released so as to build community, and following guidelines and regulations regarding reporting duties set by grant-giving institutions. There are just so many moving parts to keep track of!
I also learned a lot about navigating what can sometimes be seen as inner tensions between being driven by a deep restorative justice goal and having to collaborate with institutions that may be involved in a more retributive or punitive system of justice in order to find funding or have programs and courses allowed inside facilities.
Do you have a sense of how your internship or participation in the Public Humanities Fellows Program might impact your graduate studies or your work after graduation?
My coming to grad school has always been motivated by a need to be useful and to do research that impacts other people within and beyond the classroom. Because of my background as a first-generation college student, I have been deeply invested in focusing on the everyday knowledge that abounds outside of academia and in making sure that my research can be understood by a non-academic audience. My participation in the Public Humanities Fellows Program and in this internship with PREP gave me additional skills and tools to continue connecting my research to the world outside the university. Although I am still looking for a career in academia, I know for a fact that I will want this career to be accompanied and informed by a continued participation in public humanities programs either via collaboration with community members and nonprofit organizations or via offering classes to non-academic audiences. I do not want my career and research to remain within the academic bubble but truly want to be connected to the needs of the public.
Click here to learn more about the IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program.