Advocate for Decarceration & Social Equality.


Kimberly Martin is a graduate student in the Women’s and Gender Studies program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She obtained her BA of Psychology, with minors in Religious Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies, from Guilford College in 2015. Her research interests include power and privilege, mass incarceration and broken family systems, trauma, and East Asian philosophies and culture. She has spent time abroad in SE Asia both academically and for personal enrichment, to understand deeper spiritual practices and a way of life that has the potential to transform hearts and wars. Additionally, she advocates for holistic wellness, especially for women who often forego their own self-care when prioritizing care for others.

Kimberly’s current research centers carceral spaces such as mental healthcare and prison industries as institutions compounding traumas. This work explores how race, gender, and trauma intersect with crime and punishment; pointing to how trauma often precludes criminal involvement and/or legal issues for individuals. Specifically, “How are traumas resulting from the nuanced intersections of race, gender, and class further compounded by institutions such as mental healthcare and the criminal justice system?”

Studies support the correlation between trauma and criminal involvement predictors. Individual and collective traumas resulting from oppressive systems and ideologies, have often been a factor in the development of adult perverse behaviors and their failures to become optimal, law-abiding citizens. Rather than addressing unprocessed traumas in folks and how they factor into “criminal” narratives, individuals are relegated to carceral spaces such as mental health facilities and prisons, further compounding those traumas. Family systems and individual hopeful aspirations are destroyed, and a future generation of broken people is forever on the horizon. This work is important since the U.S. judicial system centers personal responsibility in policy-making and sentence structuring. I argue there is an unaccounted for social responsibility, for the traumatic effects of living in a culture as a person of color, a woman, and those persons who fall below the poverty line. At the end of the day, upholding the idea of personal responsibility alone when looking at “crime” and punishment is questionable when we can agree there are dominant systems enacting layers upon layers of damage within and amongst our society. No man/woman is an island. A person struggling to survive, who has layers of faulty wiring, is not going to show up and engage the world in the same way as those who do not experience various daily inequalities, systemic oppressions, and often times violence. Psychological studies report the arrested brain development occurring because of traumatic events. Yet, once a said individual steps outside of the limits of law, there is zero accounting for how their development and lens for viewing/engaging the world has been previously permanently skewed. Because most of the folks who are funneled through the prison industry (and it is an industry) are bodies of color, women, and of lower socioeconomic status, they are already always considered other and deemed of little to no social value. Hence, we have racialized and gendered sentencing structures the dominant majority both creates and upholds; punishments mandated to “fit the crime.”

In addition to her academic pursuits, she is a single mother to three mixed race children. After she was arrested in 2003 for her non-violent participation in a crime and incarcerated six months awaiting trial, two of them were given to the state under the guise of “no means to care for”. During sentencing procedures, Kimberly stood by as a judge handed down a 9 year sentence to her co-defendant, a male of color with no priors, and then proceeded to release her on six months time served and three years probation. She understands first-hand how racial disparities in sentencing procedures play out, then and still today.

Upon release as a felon no one would hire, she found herself in compromising, coerced spaces in order to survive and provide adequate care for the daughter she would spend the next 13 years supporting, by sacrificing herself. Rather than give in to her circumstances, she used the gift of improvisation to manage each obstacle set in her path. However, she acknowledges the marked difference between her overcoming, and the inability of others like her, often times resided in skin color. Society’s love affair with power and privilege, its usage to consume and commodify women and bodies of color, both played to her advantage, but more so, her emotional demise.

Her hope is to give voice to the debilitating effects of mass incarceration on family systems, creating ongoing future generations of broken people. There are thousands of women like her, no one will ever speak of or hear of; let alone have celebrities rallying behind. They are the forgotten. They are the women suffering in the trenches, raising future generations, while the world continues to ignore and keep them in the margins. Kimberly challenges us to consider as those women lie on their backs, fall to their knees, praying for another day’s security, how the rate of mass incarceration goes on rising exponentially, with women the fastest growing percentage of its target population…while the powers behind the epidemic go on raping all hope and possibilities.