Beyond Barbed Wire

How Aesha Mu’min ’10, MA ’19, draws from the community to combat the prison system’s revolving door syndrome

The United States’ high recidivism rate is a complex concern at the heart of criminal justice reform. A 2018 Justice Department study found that 83 percent of state prisoners (from thirty states polled) released in 2005 had been rearrested at least once in the succeeding nine years. Aesha Mu’min, deputy warden at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution and corrections counselor for the Connecticut Department of Corrections, strives to reverse this grim trend.

An alumna of AIC’s clinical psychology program and current doctoral student in the mental health counseling program, Mu’min received The 100 Women of Color Award on August 28, 2020, for her work in helping those who enter the criminal justice system successfully reintegrate into their communities as productive citizens.

According to the event’s description, the fifth annual gala and awards ceremony at Simsbury Meadows, in Connecticut, recognized “the contributions that women in business, education, entrepreneurship, entertainment and service have made to impact the lives of those throughout their communities.” Fellow honorees included keynote speaker Asha Rangappa, a legal and national security analyst for CNN; “valedictorian” Anna Nyakana, a children’s book author; and social-justice activist Nicole Paultre-Bell. Both Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin spoke at the event. A portion of its proceeds went towards college scholarships for students of color.

“My goal is to provide services to incarcerated men to assist them with successful reintegration back into their communities.”
Aesha Mu’min ’10, MA ’19

A career in criminal justice was not in Mu’min’s sights when she first came to AIC; in fact, she enrolled as a biology major. However, she says she is “a firm believer that what is meant to be will be,” and a freshman psychology course sparked her interest in the human mind and behavior. Likewise, through her transfer to Willard-Cybulski, in Enfield, she became involved with its Community Reintegration Center, which she’s helped blossom and succeed.

“My goal,” Mu’min says, “is to provide services to incarcerated men to assist them with successful reintegration back into their communities.” To this end, the program provides a holistic approach to improving the lives of those incarcerated through life skills and employment readiness programs, parenting technique courses, and the necessary mental health treatments that incarcerated people, in particular, often lack.

The program is not a one-person show, Mu’min says; it requires buy-in from her colleagues, the community, and, above all, its participants. “With the assistance of my team,” she adds, “we seek community resources that we can incorporate into a teachable curriculum. I seek assistance from community partners with specialized skill sets to provide the population with workshops, lectures, and training. Once they’re released, I ask that the returned citizens send feedback to the incarcerated men, to inform the housing unit of what’s working for them.”

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Quite often, those who do succeed then lend a hand to others. Former participants, she says, “are more than happy to share which employers are hiring and what skills have helped shape their success.”

Mu’min says that winning the Women of Color Award was “a humbling experience,” adding, “The other ninety-nine women of color were all beautiful, strong innovators of their fields, and I was honored to be recognized as one of them.”

It was never her goal, however, to win any awards. “I do this work,” she says, “because I’m passionate about what I do. Being recognized for it was a bonus.”