Gaining access to stigmatized populations using qualitative sampling requires the application of carefully planned strategies to avoid inadvertent slights to research participants. While there is a growing body of literature on qualitative sampling strategies, there is less discussion on how to manage the sensitivities of stigmatized research participants, such as African American females with incarcerated mates. This paper provides insight into how successful recruitment strategies, aligned with best practices described as checkpoints, enabled this researcher to gain access to a sample of 20 African American women who experienced grief and loss, and social withdrawal as a result of their mate’s incarceration. Women in the study revealed their need to mask their emotions and hide their circumstances, mainly because of the social stigma associated with incarceration. Successful strategies were used to recruit the sample, including: implementing a transparent process, offering flexible interview logistics, acknowledging and managing microaggressions; refraining from claiming insider status, and maintaining access to the sample through ethical mindfulness.


African American Women, Incarceration, Inmate Wives, Recruitment Strategies, Qualitative Sampling

Author Bio(s)

Avon Hart-Johnson is the president of DC Project Connect, a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization whose mission is to help inmates and their families to remain connected. Dr. Hart-Jonson teaches life skills at Washington DC’s only half-way house for women. She is a researcher whose focus is to understand the impacts of mass incarceration on families of inmates. Dr. Hart-Johnson works as an adjunct professor at University of Maryland University College and as contributing faculty at Walden University. She earned her master’s degree in Information Systems Management from George Washington University, and a master’s degree in Forensic Psychology, from Walden University. She holds a PhD in Human Services, from the same institution. Her research, Symbolic Imprisonment, Grief, and Coping Theory: African American Women with Incarcerated Mates, was nominated for a prestigious research award. Dr. Johnson is the chairperson of the Advocacy in Action committee for the International Prisoner Family Conference organization. She is a member of the American Counseling Association, the National Organization of Human Services, and Tau Upsilon Alpha’s Alpha Chi and Psi Chi honor societies. She is the past Vice President of Prince Georges County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and steering committee member for Community Connections Organization. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Fairview Community Relations Board. Dr. Johnson is an author and conference speaker on the topic of mass incarceration. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: avon.hart-johnson2@waldenu.edu.

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