Book Description & Contributors

“What Is a Criminal?” is a collection of essays by people who have knowledge of the U.S. criminal justice system from various perspectives—including people who have been incarcerated, people working in law and law enforcement, and scholarly researchers. It will be published by Routledge in 2022, and marketed toward introductory-level courses in criminology, sociology, etc. as well as a general audience. The intent is to emphasize the individual, human stories that get lost in the category of “criminal,” with essays in narrative form—telling stories of individual experiences within the justice system.  Some essays will be written entirely by the contributors, but others will take the form of interviews or “as-told-to” stories, depending on the contributors’ level of comfort with writing.

Valena Beety

Professor Valena Elizabeth Beety is Professor of Law at Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Deputy Director of the Academy for Justice, a criminal justice center connecting research with policy reform. Previously, Beety served as a law professor and the Founding Director of the West Virginia Innocence Project at the West Virginia University College of Law. Her experiences as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., and as an innocence litigator in Mississippi and West Virginia, shape her research and writing on wrongful convictions, forensic evidence, the opioid crisis, and incarceration. Professor Beety has successfully exonerated wrongfully convicted clients, obtained presidential grants of clemency for drug offenses, and served as an elected board member of the national Innocence Network and an appointed commissioner on the West Virginia Governor’s Indigent Defense Commission. She is the co-editor of the Wrongful Convictions Reader (2d edition 2022), and the author of the book Manifesting Justice: Wrongly Convicted Women Reclaim Their Rights (Citadel Press, 2022).

Brendan Cox

Chief (Ret.) Brendan Cox is the Director of Policing Strategies at the LEAD National Support Bureau where he provides strategic guidance on the implementation of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion/Let Everyone Advance with Dignity to jurisdictions around the world. Brendan was previously employed with the Albany, New York police department where he retired as Chief of Police in 2017. He served in numerous capacities in the Albany police department including overseeing its Special Operations Unit and Children and Family Services Unit. He rose through the ranks to become the Commander of Investigations, Assistant Chief of Operations and Deputy Chief. In July of 2015 he was appointed Chief of Police.

Brendan has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Dayton and a Master of Public Administration from Marist College. He is a graduate of the Police Executive Research Forum’s Senior Management Institute for Police. He is a member of the New York State Juvenile Justice Advisory Group and was appointed to the New York Governor’s Workgroup to Draft Legislation for Regulated Adult-Use Marijuana Program in 2018. He is an Executive Fellow with the Police Foundation, a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and a member of the Global Law Enforcement and Public Health Association. He sits on several local board of directors including the Albany Police Athletic League and the LaSalle School of Albany.

Jennifer Fischer

Jennifer Fischer is a writer, film producer, and activist. Her immigration film, “Smuggled,” screened at over 100 universities, colleges, and community organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Her short film “The wHOLE,” about solitary confinement, premiered at Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary Human Rights Conference. Her work has been featured by multiple media outlets, such as NBCLatino, NBCBLK, ABC, Fusion, Univision, Vice News, and others. Jennifer writes about filmmaking, parenting, and social issues. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College in International Cultural & Media Studies and a MA from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies, where she received a prestigious FLAS Scholarship.

Diane Gottlieb

Diane Gottlieb is a writer and educator living in Florida. Her essays, fiction, interviews, and reviews have appeared in About Place Journal, The Manifest-Station, The VIDA Review, PRISM International, The Rumpus, The Hedgehog Review Blog, and Hippocampus Magazine, among others. She won the 2021 Tiferet Writers Contest in nonfiction. Diane has an MSW, an MEd, and received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles where she served as lead editor of creative nonfiction for Lunch Ticket. See also served as lead creative nonfiction editor for the 2020 Women’s National Book Award Contest and is the Prose/CNF editor for Emerge Literary Journal. Diane is currently writing a hybrid nonfiction narrative/memoir about the lives of five formerly incarcerated men. You can find her at and on Twitter @DianeGotAuthor.

Jasmine Harris

Jasmine E. Harris is a Professor of Law and Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall Research Scholar at the University of California—Davis School of Law. Professor Harris is an expert in disability law, antidiscrimination law, and evidence. She is a law and equality scholar with a particular focus on disability. Professor Harris combines approaches in law and the humanities to better understand the role that perception, aesthetics, and emotions play in group subordination. By accounting for aesthetic preferences, she argues, we can better design antidiscrimination law to address structural biases and develop novel remedial pathways. Professor Harris’s recent articles have or will appear in such publications as the Columbia Law Review, New York University Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review (print and online), Yale Law Journal Forum, Cornell Law Review Online, American Journal of Law and Medicine, and the Journal of Legal Education.

Jessica Henry

Jessica S. Henry is a Professor of Justice Studies at Montclair State University. She is the author of the award-winning book, Smoke But No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened (U.C. Press 2020). After obtaining her J.D. from N.Y.U. School of Law, Henry served as a public defender in New York City for nearly a decade before joining the faculty at Montclair State in 2005. Her research interests include wrongful convictions and severe sentences including the death penalty and life without parole. She is a commentator on national and local television and radio, and has been widely cited in the mainstream media. In 2022, Henry was named University Distinguished Scholar. She also received the Montclair State University Distinguished Teacher Award in 2015. To learn more, visit her website at

Nicole Shawan Junior

Nicole Shawan Junior (Smith College BA | Pace University MST | Temple University JD) was bred in the bass-heavy beat and scratch of Brooklyn, where the cool of inner-city life barely survived crack cocaine’s burn. A black, queer and poverty-born counter-storyteller, Nicole’s work appears in Emerge: Lambda Literary’s 2020 Anthology, Kweli Journal, Gay Mag: Roxane Gay’s Medium platform, ZORA, The Feminist Wire, SLICE, Inkwell Black, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and residencies from Hedgebrook, New York Foundation for the Arts, Esalen, San Francisco Public Library’s James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center’s Show Us Your Spines, Lambda Literary’s Emerging Queer Voices Writer’s Retreat, and more. She’s an alumna of Bread Loaf, Tin House, VONA, and the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s Writers Week. Nicole’s also the founder and executive director of Roots. Wounds. Words.: A Literary Arts Revolution. Learn more about Nicole at and

Joseph Lascaze

Joseph Lascaze is a prison reform activist with deep roots in the NH community. His personal experience with the incarceration system gives him an invaluable perspective about the barriers and challenges within the current system. In his role as the NH ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign Manager, Joseph advocates for meaningful changes to the NH criminal justice system. This includes lobbying for justice-oriented legislation at both the state and federal level, serving on state Commissions, and building community partnerships with other key stakeholders in the criminal justice movement.

Joseph is also an educator. Reflecting his belief that continuous learning is essential to community and personal growth, Joseph is a frequent visitor and guest lecturer at various institutions across the state where he advances knowledge of the varying complexities and possible solutions to mass incarceration. Joseph is deeply passionate about changing the narrative for youths involved in the court system. For him, the most rewarding part of doing this work is helping these young people avoid the incarceration system by providing mentorship through a court diversion program.

Joseph currently serves on the Board of Directors for New Hampshire Public Health Association where he works to advance equitable public health practices.

Anna Roberge

Anna Roberge is an honor student at the University of New Hampshire. She is dual majoring in Justice Studies and Human Development & Family Studies. She is part of the Hamel Scholars program, where she uses her knowledge and passion to help those incriminated or dealing with the justice system. She is a strong advocate for restorative justice, having had first-hand experience with a loved one being in prison. It is Anna’s goal to show children whose parents are incarcerated that they are not alone, while also helping the incarcerated parent not to give up. Prison can be a long and painful road. Anna wants to educate inmates on how to navigate this challenging experience while also understanding what they did was wrong. She hopes to pursue a future in counseling juvenile delinquents, using early intervention techniques to help many children.

Blair Rowlett

Blair Rowlett earned her Dual Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Justice Studies from the University of New Hampshire in 2005. Shortly after graduation, she began her career at the Strafford County House of Corrections where she became a decorated Correctional Officer. In 2007, she transitioned into a position with the Strafford County Community Corrections Program. In addition to overseeing the county’s Bail Supervision Program and Post-Trial Supervision Programs, she currently serves as the Director of The Strafford County – Rochester Mental Health Court. Ms. Rowlett is a Trauma-Informed Response Instructor for Law Enforcement, a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, a trainer for local police department’s Crisis Intervention Teams, and has created a training curriculum for new Correctional Officers at Strafford County. In 2015, she had the honor of being chosen as the commencement speaker for the UNH Justice Studies Program’s graduating class. Ms. Rowlett has been featured on NHPR and was a panelist for UNH’s 2019-2020 Sidore Lecture Series. She is currently a member of the Mental Health Advisory Group for NH Mental Health Court State Standards.

Patrick Schmucker

Dr. Patrick Schmucker currently resides in Montgomery, Alabama with his spouse. He has three wonderful adult children and one grandson. His academic background consists of a Bachelor of Science – Business and Accounting, Master of Education, Master of Science – Criminology, and a Doctor of Philosophy – Criminal Justice. He is currently blessed to be serving as an assistant professor of criminal justice at Huntingdon College. His past professional experiences include: service in the United States Marine Corps, production manager within a prison industry, and over 12 years of law enforcement service in South Carolina. During his time as a law enforcement officer, he was tasked with an assortment of duties, including patrolman, school resource officer, public information officer, SWAT operator.

Seren Sensei

Seren Sensei is a filmmaker, writer, and artist. Her writing has been printed in such publications as NAACP’s The Crisis Mag, NYLON, Kweli Journal, and Riot Material, and referenced in Jacobin Mag, Vulture, Complex, Newsweek, AJ+, People, Netflix, Vice and more. Specializing in race, culture, and sociopolitical theory, she has released three seasons of the docuseries ‘The [Black] Americans’ to explore Black cultural narratives (The [Black] Americans playlist). She was a 2016-2017 cohort with ‘at lands edge’ pedagogical program to combine art and activism, and, in 2020, was named an Indie Memphis Black Filmmaker Resident for her screenplay, ‘KITT.’ She was also named a 2020 “Time, Space, Money” HRLA Resident, exhibiting a video installation on police brutality protests at Actual Size Gallery in Los Angeles. The first chapter of her speculative fiction novel, ‘Blue Zone,’ was published digitally through Arch St. Press.

Michelle Sermon

Michelle Sermon is a social worker who has worked with racially marginalized, justice-involved individuals, their children, and extended families through a non-profit. Her co-author, Paula Thompson is the Executive Director of this non-profit and is an advocate for the empathic, compassionate treatment of justice-involved communities. Other potential contributors work for the non-profit and can help broaden the perspectives of this contribution.

McKenzie Wood

McKenzie Wood is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah. A sociologist at heart, she has taught an array of classes, including Criminology, Victimology, Punishment and Society and Crime and the Media. Her pedagogy involves teaching theoretical tenets and then assisting students as they make theory connections to their own life experiences. McKenzie’s areas of research interest revolve around criminal theory, crimes against women, crime prevention strategies, and the help-seeking behaviors of survivors. Most recently she has studied active shooter and armed intruder policies in healthcare and hospital settings. She has been published in various outlets, including the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Race and Justice, and the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology.