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New Narrative

Breaking the wall of discrimination to enable successful re-entry into the society for formerly incarcerated individuals by writing a new narrative.



The severe rate of recidivism is a strong barrier for re-entry into society post-incarceration.



released prisoners are rearrested within 5 years of release.

Of those are rearrested by the end of the first year itself.


To identify what triggered people to commit an unlawful offense leading to cycles of recidivism.  

The study focused on understanding how various cultural and societal norms lead to incarceration and cycles of recidivism. Initial research aimed at understanding what triggered people to commit crimes and how being convicted affects their lives. It was also essential to study the effects of incarceration on immediate family members, especially kids. Various types of prison ecosystems and their stakeholders were also mapped out to understand how they treat convicts.

The research was restricted to studying offenses like :




Burglary           Smuggling            Felony           Drug Peddling



Piril Akay

Megan Melack

Sneha Gokhale 


Project Advisor

Dana Ragouzeos




Hand sketches 


8 Weeks 

Key Skills

 Ethnography research

Contextual research

Artifact study

Workshop design Workshop facilitation



The objective of the project was to understand social judgments and cultural implications that affect

self-esteem and self-actualization when re-entering society post-incarceration. 



17 interviews, 1 prison visit, and 3 events attended as part of the primary research.  


Conducted 17 interviews with both formerly and currently incarcerated individuals. Also interviewed their children, partners, and mentors to get an in-depth understanding of how an individuals incarceration affects people around them.  Built screeners to identify and contact participants with a diverse history with incarceration. Robust discussion guides were created to help each of us have difficult conversations while interviewing our participants 

All participants who were photographed or who shared confidential information, were consented

New Narrative

Coss Marte

30-year-old Dominican male from New York City.

Was a “kingpin” cocaine dealer in NYC until arrested.


Currently successfully runs his  Entrepreneurial venture - conbody

That’s how I live... 

I swing for the fences, striving and existing.


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That was the most devastating thing for me, the loss of connection with my family.

Eric Jones

He was incarcerated in the 60's for smuggling.

After serving his sentence for about seven years, wrote his new narrative by starting a small transportation business to support a family of 3.


He belives everyone should get a second chance like him, which is why he mostly hires formerly incarcerated individuals for his transportation business. 


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Tony Shavers

25-year-old African American man from Oakland

Two younger brothers, raised by (single) mom.

Son of an incarcerated father.


He is a dedicated, selfless, determined, well-intentioned, hopeful, philanthropist

Do I make something out of myself, out of this name, or

do I follow the road of my father? 


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Arvaugh Williams

A 19-year-old African-American man with a father who was previously incarcerated. 


He is a poet who uses his power to move people with his writing to express his views around effects of incarceration and racism.  

If I was not hurt the way I was, 

I wouldn't be as strong as I am.



Interviewing and interacting with participants in a contextual environment

One of our team member Piril volunteered at  Chaderjian Youth Correction Facility. We also attended various events and workshops organized by Defy Ventures and Listen for a Change.


Plotting user journeys highlighted triggers that caused them to either repeat their offense or chose a more law-abiding path. 



The human stories, secondary research, and observations made at the events were analyzed using various methods like clustering, theme identification and insight generation. 

Transcribing interviews

Clustering and identifying themes

Insight generation


The insights were combined with five core components that directly affected successful reintegration into the society

post-release to create a framework.

Each of the stories leads us to discover key components that play a critical role in shaping the new life that formerly incarcerated individuals attempt to build post-release. Few of these comments are internal, for example, talent and acceptance. Others external influences include family, friends as well the prison ecosystem that focuses on punishing rather than empowering individuals to lead a reformed life. 


Prioritizing punishment over rehabilitation contributes to recidivism. 

Kinship emerges from the shared prison experience, playing an integral role in post-prison life. 

Family influence can be dichotomous.

For those who successfully re-enter society, determination and motivation has outweighed discrimination. 

Former felons can capitalize on their natural entrepreneurial skills to build legal businesses.


Comparing each participants story with the framework helped identify missing core component that can hamper successful reintegration.

We superimposed the framework onto the stories of all the participants interviewed to identify missing core component. We noticed that even though each of the participants did not have all the five components, having at least three helped them in writing a positive new narrative. 

How might we build pathways between formerly incarcerated and non-incarcerated people to enable successful re-entry?

How might we guide formerly incarcerated people to visualize their futures and build successful careers and legal business’?


Opportunity lied in designing solutions that created awareness around the five components and providing support to build missing ones. 



Leveraging initiatives taken by various organizations with an objective to enable successful reintegration. 


Many organizations like Defy Ventures and Listen for Change are already working on many initiatives like providing counseling, workshops, mentorship, etc. to support successful reintegration. Our strategy was to partner with these organization and redesign some of their initiatives based on our findings. 

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Design led workshops to support business ventures.

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Most formerly incarcerated individuals have a strong business acumen and an entrepreneurial mindset.

Defy provides such participants with mentorship and training to develop and implement their ideas. ​​

By leveraging design thinking tools and frameworks, Defy ventures could facilitate workshops that help participants visualize their idea, build robust business models and market their offerings effectively.  

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Integrating technology within the prison walls.

Integrating Technology within the prison walls aims to provide a safe space to learn the basics of new technology and skills needed in obtaining a job post-release.

Since most inmates serve time spanning decades, they are not aware of new technology and platforms used on a regular basis within the professional world. This further lowers their rate to succeed professionally.

By exposing inmates to new age technology, they get introduced to various platforms and opportunities that can be leveraged to set up a new business or apply to suitable job opportunities.

This initiative, however, will have to be designed while considering security.



New Narrative a platform to share stories and create awarness

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New Narrative aims to provide a safe space to share stories, create empathy and mutual understanding between various communities.

Its a platform for people who have been formerly incarcerated or have been affected by incarceration to share their experiences and challenges with others who are not aware of the implications of incarceration. 

Formerly incarcerated individuals have an identity that is beyond being known as a former felon or criminal. New narrative hopes to support individuals to craft that identity by sharing their story. 


Establishing trust and confidence amongst participants and collaborating with expert organizations to design scalable solutions. 

  • Incarceration is not just a complex problem but a highly sensitive topic to work on. My biggest learning from this project was to learn how to navigate such a sensitive area by scoping the project early on, using the right terminology to address the participants and their challenges and building robust screener and research guides.

  • It was also a great learning experience to collaborate with an organization like Defy Ventures and leverage their reach and expertise to scale our ideas. 

  • This project was also very insightful in terms of making me realize the interwoven nature of wicked problems. 






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P - Dexa

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New Narrative



If you are interested in my work, have an opportunity to discuss or just want to say hello! Please contact me via any medium that suits you.

Tel: (510) 240  0097

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