Researching Incarceration and Personal Reformation

Gift Amount

After developing an intense interest in the U.S. prison system, JD Davis ’15, a social work major, used his fellowship to travel to Norway, visiting a wide range of prisons, from Norway’s most secure facilities to halfway houses that are integrated into the community.

Although he grew up in Lino Lakes, Minn., home to a 1,300-man correctional facility, Davis’s interest in the U.S. prison system was sparked his first year at Luther, when Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, came to campus to talk about how the sorts of restrictions that were in place during the Jim Crow era are essentially being re-created in the U.S. prison system.

Davis took every opportunity to research the prison system: “I was able to incorporate that interest into my classes each semester and find ways to write papers on prisons and penal philosophy.”

In June of 2014, Davis used his Imagine Fellowship to travel to Oslo to spend a month in Norway touring prisons and conducting interviews. “Inmates in Norway are not treated differently from any other citizens, they’re just removed from society for a time,” he says.

Davis’s current position on the Goodwill–Easter Seals Minnesota’s ReEntry Team leaves him working with what many would call a broken system, but he remains resolute: “This is definitely my thing. I’m still very passionate about it. And the Imagine Fellowship really helped me solidify this passion, and it also continues to inspire me, because by going to Norway, I was able to see that things can be different within prison systems. The status quo isn’t the only way. So I want to continue to work with our prisons and try to create real change here.”

If you had $5,000 to design a learning experience for yourself anywhere in the world, what would you do? This is the question posed to the 10 students that Luther selects as Imagine Fellows each year. To explore giving opportunities at Luther or to help support the Imagine Fellowships, please visit

JD Davis '15