The Improbability of John Brown


  • Norman Conti


I was a senior in high school when I saw the videorecording of Rodney King being beaten by LAPD officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseño, and Timothy Wind. I had just come home from my first year of college the day the L.A. riots broke out. I watched all of this, and more importantly I watched the reaction to it from the people closest to me. I observed these events through the lens of a young man who had always wanted to be a police officer, but was also coming to life intellectually in the world of higher education.

In 2000, I passed on a seat in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Training Academy in order to continue working to become a scholar of occupational culture and socialization within policing. To further my academic career, I had to focus on graduate funding, data, jobs, conference presentations, publications, grants, tenure, and promotion. It was a lot of work, it did not pay well, and in the end, I didn’t see how it was really helping anybody. By 2007, the weight of all that was crushing me. That’s when I was introduced to the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, and that changed everything.