The Miami Health & Justice Lab is guided by principles from the following:
Exchange for Change offers writing courses in prisons and runs letter exchanges between incarcerated students and writers studying on the outside. By preparing incarcerated people for their reentry into the outside community and preparing that community for their return, Exchange for Change provides vision and understanding on both sides of the fence.
Beyond the Bars is a grassroots, membership-based organization that is building the collective power and self-determination of incarcerated people and their families in Miami, changing the carceral system from the ground up.
LEAP for Ladies empowers incarcerated women to transcend their past and successfully re-enter society by providing transformational education, entrepreneurial training, and mentorship. We serve as a model, voice and advocate for the the power of rehabilitation over retribution.
TransSOCIAL was created to promote unity within the Transgender community, and to increase Trans visibility and understanding in our surrounding communities. Our mission is to expand safe and affirming resources for our Trans and LGBQIA+ community.
I am a medical sociologist at the University of Miami with expertise in justice health. Much of my work centers around the extreme racial inequities imbedded in the U.S. system of mass incarceration and the subsequent impact on the health of people and communities. Check out my CV for more details.
My junior year of high school I dropped out and got my GED. I hated high school and got in trouble a lot so I figured, what’s the point? I remained directionless until I discovered the social sciences a few years later while taking classes part-time at the Houston Community College. I didn’t really know that things like sociology, anthropology, and criminology existed or that they were fields you could study and work in. These intro classes were very exciting! I transferred to the University of Houston and double majored in sociology and anthropology. While there, I volunteered/ interned at several places (while working full-time!), including Houston Area Women’s Center, Victim and Witness Program at the District Attorney’s Office, the Research and Evaluation Department at the Harris County Department of Education, The Houston Zoo Primatology Exhibit, and a historical archaeology dig sponsored by the Texas Archeology Society and the Fort Bend County Museum. These experiences were fascinating and I learned so much. I applied to multiple PhD programs in sociology/criminology and was rejected from all of them. It was heartbreaking (to say the least), but I was accepted to the terminal masters program in sociology at the University of Houston, and completed my MA there. For my thesis project, I conducted an evaluation of a children’s court services program. I was fortunate to get a job as a project director at the UH Center for Drug and Social Policy Research. I worked under amazing mentors, who I still collaborate with today (Avelardo Valdez and Alice Cepeda), on multiple National Institute on Drug Abuse funded studies. This experience inspired me to try applying to PhD programs again. I was nervous given how crushing it was to receive all of the rejections previously, but am proud to say that I was accepted to 8/9 schools that I applied to (including one that previously rejected me!). I chose to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder so I could work with the iconic feminist criminologist Joanne Belknap. I quickly became intrigued by demography and also specialized in population health under the guidance of Jason Boardman and Rick Rogers, in addition to criminology. My dissertation combined these two areas to examine disparities in health and health care among currently and formerly incarcerated people using a variety of existing datasets. I graduated with a PhD in sociology and a graduate certificate in demography in 2016 and was hired an an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami Department of Sociology where I have been since.
I am a proud Board Member of the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health and frequently collaborate with the UNC Re-Envisioning Health & Justice Lab. Finally, I am grateful to all of my students with a special shoutout to Sofia Mohammad for designing the lab logo.
“The United States has the unenviable distinction of having the highest rate of incarceration and the most people under correctional control—more than 6.7 million people. Although we often refer to this as “mass” incarceration, the criminal legal system’s discriminatory impacts are disproportionately concentrated in Black and Latino communities: one in three Black men and one in six Latino men born in 2001 can expect to go to jail or prison at some point in their lifetime. At this magnitude, mass incarceration is a key structural driver of not only individual and population health but also racial health disparities across numerous health outcomes.” American Journal of Public Health, January, 13, 2021