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From Incarceration to Emancipation: How Blackamerican Muslims Male Converts Access and Use New Religious Networks during Incarceration and Reentry

Noureldin, Laila H.

Religion plays a substantial role in transforming the lives of incarcerated people, especially through conversion, which not only consists of a change in religious beliefs and associated behaviors but also social affiliations and networks. This dissertation uses Islamic conversion as an opportunity to study how religious identity change while incarcerated provides access to new networks with associated benefits both during incarceration and reentry. Through examining the conversion process, I pay particular attention to how Blackamerican Muslim converts use their newly acquired religious network to navigate their incarceration and mitigate its effects on the reentry process. Using a comparative qualitative strategy from 130 semi-structured, narrative-style interviews with formerly incarcerated Blackamerican Muslim and Christian men, this dissertation sits at the intersection of religion and incarceration in the U.S. and consists of four parts. The first part situates the convert subsample within a theoretical and conceptual framework. The second and third parts focus on the entry points to and functional uses of the Muslim network during incarceration and reentry, respectively. Findings suggest that formerly incarcerated Blackamerican Muslim male converts use the Muslim network via two primary functions—redemptive and utilitarian—and two functional amplifiers—brotherhood and discipline. While the redemptive function operates uniformly during the incarceration and reentry phases, the utilitarian function is phase dependent. Five (5) distinct functional pathway groups emerge—isolators, beneficiaries, maximizers, newly religious, and prislamists—each a unique configuration that explains how these men navigate their incarceration and reentry. These pathways demonstrate the connection between identity and narrative formation, where conversion functions as a narrative process leading to the conscious production of identity.