Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl Getz, EdD, Chair Leslie Boozer, EdD, JD, Member Patricia Geist-Martin, PhD, Member


formerly incarcerated women, leadership, autoethnography, stigma, identity


Incarceration rates for women have increased by 840% since 1980. Incarcerated women are disproportionately uneducated, poor, women of color with an 80% likelihood of being mothers. The process of negotiating self-concept is complicated considering the many stigmas being a formerly incarcerated woman (FIW) provokes. This process is challenging and often leads to silencing and oppression as women hide their past and present selves. Drawing upon the theoretical frameworks of magulo leadership and the principles of authentic leadership, this dissertation argues for a broader understanding of leadership. Valuable insights are revealed about leadership through my navigation of challenging life experiences pre-and post-incarceration. It suggests that leadership is about guiding others and creating spaces where individuals feel valued, understood, and connected.

This autoethnographic exploration of my journey as a FIW presents my reflective voice; a voice often stigmatized, silenced, and rarely heard, albeit being a significant contribution to identity and leadership development. The research results are structured around three themes: Finding the Messy Self: Identity Negotiation, Finding the Messy Voice: Advocating to Lead, and Finding Others Among the Mess: Relationships Matter. Each theme is identified based on a set of stories that reveal the challenges and achievements of overcoming societal stigma, navigating relationships, and finding a sense of belonging within various communities, including the academic and familial spheres. This autoethnography does not just tell my story, it challenges stereotypes about formerly incarcerated women, offering insights into the complexities of identity, the significance of belonging, and the essence of leadership.

By sharing my journey, this study aims to inspire others to embrace their stories, acknowledge their leadership potential, and contribute to changing the narrative surrounding incarceration. In doing so, this dissertation contributes to the academic discourse on autoethnography, leadership, and social reintegration, highlighting the importance of personal narrative in understanding broader sociocultural dynamics and advocating for a more inclusive and compassionate approach to supporting formerly incarcerated individuals.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC License

Available for download on Friday, May 09, 2025