57 thoughts on “INCARCERATED WOMEN

  • January 17, 2020 at 10:26 am
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    This is the summary/curation for Chapters 3-5 of “Incarcerated Women”:
    Together, these three chapters create a narrative that illustrates the methods of which incarcerated women, specifically incarcerated African American women, navigated prison life through various forms of resistance in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States. Specifically, chapter 3 approaches the idea of resistance through humanization. In Eastern State Penitentiary inmates are given numbers, instead of being called by their names, and are continually isolated and silenced. Therefore, these women used letters and poetry as a method to maintain their humanity and sense of self, while also resisting the system and the rules of the system (isolation, silence, etc.). Chapter 4 approaches resistance differently by analyzing sexual relationships between female inmates and male inmates/prison employees. Although a lot of these relations were the outcome of assault; coercion; abuse and rape, sometimes incarcerated women utilized their sexuality and these relations for various benefits such as food, better working conditions, less work, money, alcohol, social interactions, etc. Most of the women who did this, as Hayden and Jach note, were African American women, and they linked this to the treatment of these women during slavery and how, due to their enslavement (due to rape/intercourse from/with masters, other white men and other male slaves), they were typically more open with their sexuality. In turn, Hayden and Jach link life in a penitentiary to life in slavery for African American women. Chapter 5 establishes the avenues women had to leave the prison, specifically in Mississippi. This included death (from suicide or illness), pardons from the governor and escape. The chapter focuses mostly on pardons, and how a few governors in Mississippi pardoned quite a few women, and men, due to overcrowding in the prisons. However, it is important to dive into the nature of the petitions sent to the governor asking for pardons. Often times, incarcerated women and their family members and friends used aspects of their life, showed vulnerability, used religious appeals and begged for forgiveness in order to ask for a pardon. On the other hand, when white men would write these petitions on behalf of women of color, they would outline the inferiority and ignorance of African American women, while also asserting their good behavior; therefore, offending then defending these women. Overall, these chapters outline some of the difficulties women faced in these prisons, such as having their children taken from them, being confined and silenced, torture (specifically whipping as a form of humiliation), unsanitary conditions, little food, etc. Hayden and Jach used these chapters to display how incarcerated women navigated prison in a way that allowed them to maintain their humanity, create better conditions and, hopefully, leave the penitentiary.

  • January 17, 2020 at 9:20 pm
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    Incarcerated Women Introduction-Chapter 2

    The disturbing details of the first part of Incarcerated Women introduce the theme of the state appropriating women’s reproductive labor through the carceral system. In both case studies of the Louisiana and Virginia state penitentiaries, the forced labor of female inmates was necessary to keep the prison running, as they took care of cleaning, cooking, and even making the clothes for all the other prisoners. More perverse even is how cities like Richmond were built on the slave labor of inmates. As (mostly black) men worked to build railroads and canals, female inmates served the domestic needs of laborers and guards.

    Louisiana had an especially cruel policy that claimed children of incarcerated slaves as property of the state. Predictably, the state only cared for them when they were old enough to have a monetary value. As young children, they were left behind in the overcrowded and unsanitary cells. Yet when they were 10, they were auctioned off, sometimes even to people working in the penitentiary.

    The authors pose the question of the extent that female inmates had agency over their sexuality. In the Virginia penitentiary, there was no talking allowed. In these lonely and devastating conditions, the authors leave ambiguity for inmates to have consensual affairs. Yet they still highlight the many reports of sexual violence perpetrated by the white male guards. Many “mulatto” children did not have record of the fathers’ names. It is heartbreaking how these men could take advantage of such an awful situation and abdicate responsibility to their children.

    These two injustices are combined in the tale of Martha DeFord, who was likely assaulted by a guard or the superintendent of the VA penitentiary. The authors note how she and her baby disappear from the records, speculating that the superintendent took them as domestic workers for his house. The fact that an official from the penitentiary could not only use a black woman’s body against their will and then take them out of the penitentiary as personal workers demonstrates the callousness of the white supremacist patriarchal carceral system.

  • January 20, 2020 at 2:14 pm
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    I find the assault that happens in prison so abominable and very interesting to analyze what allows these assaults to persist. For that reason, I found parts of the chapters that address this dynamic the most significant. Often times it is attributable to the power dynamics that are present in penitentiaries, with correctional officers at the top and inmates at the bottom of the prison “food chain.” It is astonishing to me that male guards can impregnate inmates and simply get away with it because they can make these women and children disappear from records. It was shocking to me that it was so easy for them to get away with this without any level of accountability. What is also so concerning to me is how women feel they have to offer themselves sexually in order to get things in return from guards. This system that allows for these wrongdoings is clearly corrupt and broken.

    • January 21, 2020 at 1:12 am
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      Remember that this is a historical account. Conditions are still terrible, but stay conscious of the time period about which the authors write.

  • January 20, 2020 at 10:57 pm
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    I was particularly taken aback by the sexual nature of many of the punishments that were given to incarcerated women at this time. While the author states punishments like lashings or the “horse” were often the result of resistance against the expectation of submissiveness, at times these punishments are also stated to have been dealt at random or from perverted intent. One man recalled that another guard “seemed to take pleasure in inflicting punishment”. The brutality and sexual nature of punishments like the horse was particularly directed towards black women, as the prevailing medical view at the time was that they had “animal-like genitals”. This is without even mentioning the reality that rape was a common occurrence. While racism led to the preference of lighter colored black and brown women, it was commonplace to believe that all black women could not be raped at all. Both the sexualization and dehumanization of black women led to circumstances where men could sexually abuse women as they saw fit in the name of reform.

  • January 21, 2020 at 8:34 am
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    Something that stood out to me in these chapters is that the treatment of women (particularly black women) in prisons and penitentiaries leading up to the twentieth century presents a paradox. Experiences like being assigned a number, sexual assault by guards, and torture mechanisms like the “horse” indicate dehumanization. Incarcerated black women were able to resist these methods of control by playing upon negative stereotypes about their sexuality and intellect. Thus, they humanized themselves (garnered better working conditions or a pardon) by dehumanizing themselves. The strategy of leveraging sexual favors for benefits was contingent on a view of black women as promiscuous and subordinate, however when weaponized it was used to benefit incarcerated women. Further, the pernicious idea that the women were feeble minded actually helped them to be perceived as non-threatening and eventually receive pardons. These chapters demonstrate to me the ingenuity of leveraging dehumanizing stereotypes about black sexuality and intellect to achieve better outcomes that had the effect of humanizing the incarcerated women.

  • January 21, 2020 at 9:01 am
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    It is so heartbreaking that women were treated as numbers almost as if they were a nobody, but that they stayed resilient utilizing literature. This speaks to the intelligence of the female psyche and the confidence of these inmates who without perseverance could have easily developed Stockholm syndrome by the guards horrendous treatment. Like the curators, I was struck by how these women utilized sex to garner basic human rights, but many were openly used to these tendencies because of prior enslavement. Specifically in Chapter 5, I saw the gender disparaity of how female pardon requests were treated drastically different than their male counterparts. In the later 1800s, females were not allowed higher education opportunities and therefore their language skills suffered as results. Therefore, their requests had less evidentiary support and persuasive aspects.

  • January 21, 2020 at 9:44 am
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    On page 23 of Incarcerated Women, Hilary L. Coulson says “black women experienced physical and sexual abuses at the hands of white men for decades,” and I felt this sentence encapsulated much of the main argument throughout the essays in the book. I agree with Avery and Freddy’s comments above as well in that the sexual, physical, and emotional trauma depicted throughout this historical account is not only horrifying but sadly, the reality of the carcerate system. We see patterns throughout history that depict the injustice that prevailed against sexual and racial minorities– particularly black women– and American prisons were no anamoly to this systematic oppression. While this book had some flamboyant language and I was a bit taken aback by the reading level of these essays, I feel like the first five chapters gave me an excellent rundown of the incarceration system from the beginning of slavery and convict leasing. I also think the authors did a good job including the histories of American prisons both in the South and the North, as much of Southern prison history gets understudied and confused with slavery and convict leasing systems.

  • January 21, 2020 at 1:07 pm
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    After reading chapters one through five I cannot agree with my classmates that I found anything surprising at all. Literally, not one thing throughout the five chapters were surprising to me. The first five chapters illustrate the conditions and treatment that women had to endure from The early nineteenth century. Black women were bought into prison and dehumanized even further than they were on plantations and slave farms. When women were bought into prisons they were raped, they were not provided with sanitary living conditions, their children were taken away from them and sold (the women didn’t even have a chance to find where their children where sold because records were not kept), and they were exploited. As I read my classmates answers, I honestly want to ask what was so surprising about this reading? Even today we see the same exact patterns in the prison industrial system. Women are given little to no privacy, the sanitation of prisons are horrible and there is no safe place to raise or give birth to children. The moment of bringing a child into the world for a women that is incarcerated isn’t even enjoyable. Women are chained to hospital beds when they are giving birth to their children. They have to pee in the open with male guards walking around surveilling them. So honestly while the time period might have changed, conditions have not. The sexualization of women, black women especially, is not surprising at all and they still exist. The first five chapters gives the reader the raw facts that expose why certain patterns in the prison industrial system still exist today.

    • January 27, 2020 at 10:44 am
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      Tania:
      I’m amazed that you had the same response I had to this information. It’s true that I am the prof and I have been studying prisons a long time. However, this indicates how invisible the pain of others can be. We certainly don’t teach our children anything about systemic inequality in high school. There is no mental room in which to place this information because our foundation is weak. History is important. Context is everything,

      ProfSi

  • January 21, 2020 at 11:58 pm
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    There are so many apparent and less obvious parallels to draw between the modern prison system and how carceral procedures took place in the past. From the forced labor that sustained the life of the institutions to the exploitation of the enslaved laborers’ reproductive systems, systems of oppression were (and still are) kept in place to maintain a quality of life for a specific group of people. Groups and identities of high socio-economic power exercise the positive desire to keep things (and people) under control and the negative desire to suppress the good potential of a minority group.
    It is truly fascinating to wonder how the majority of the United States and it’s internal institutions would have been established if it were not for the subjugation and dehumanization of black people. When the topic of reparations emerges to the discussion, it is crucial for everyone to know and understand that no amount of money and stuff can replace the centuries of pain African-Americans had endured. A price could never be put on past pain in the same way that prices were put on young black children who were born just to be claimed as state properties. Yet, the initiation of such a conversation is indeed a start. Eventually, these conversations would have to end and we would return to the question of, “now what?” The reparations would not be complete with only open ears willing to hear and a few apologies.

  • January 25, 2020 at 3:53 pm
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    Chapters six through eight focuses on an array of topics regarding incarcerated women. Chapter six centers around the Illinois State Reformatory for Women between 1930 and 1962. The happenings at the prison under Superintendent Ruth L. Biedermann documented in the book were very concerning. Correctional officers and Biedermann would scrutinize the inmates’ every move from hanging their bras to using swear words. They documented everything in warder’s daily reports (WDR) which allowed for Hayden and Jach to depict the injustices in the Reformatory at the time. No matter how trivial, few suspected rule violations were allowed to pass unpunished. Biedermann also had an obsession with lesbianism and took extreme measures to avoid female relations in her prison. It was documented that even a smile shared between two inmates could raise suspicions. Walking with another woman or sitting with her would cause correctional officers to document the occurrences and put them in their files. In some cases, they would throw inmates in the hole for extended periods. Although the depiction of the inner workings of the Reformatory was interesting, what greater questions these injustices beg are essential to analyze. One such question is if this treatment is due to their gender. The answer is both yes and no. Similar occurrences in other male prisons suggest it may have been the tenor of the times, rather than the gendered nature of the reformatory regime. But, other facts suggest otherwise. Hayden and Jach write: “men’s disciplinary records provide striking evidence that women experienced far higher levels of surveillance and were punished far more severely for relatively minor transgressions” (page 111). Additionally, while they were searching men for knives and weapons, they were searching these women for bras and panties, candy and gum, and counting their barrettes and hair bands (page 114). Furthermore, obviously, the obsession with sexual female relations is gender-specific.

    Chapter seven discusses motherhood in prison and in particular the Westfield Reformatory in Bedford Hills, New York which has a dedicated prison nursery that still exists today. The chapter talks about how children of female inmates have a history of accompanying their mothers to jail. Mothers could sometimes bring their small children with them during incarceration and pregnant inmates could keep their infants for up to two years. Westfield wanted to incorporate motherhood into its rehabilitative program. The belief was that the cycle of criminality could be broken by teaching inmates the basics of good parenting. They thought by teaching motherhood they could replace old patterns of abuse, lack of self-control, and crime with hard work, femininity, and discipline. Westfield appeared to do a great job of creating treatment plans for the inmates including therapy and education classes. Moms who just gave birth could spend time with their infant in the nursery and care for them. Westfield had strict rules pertaining to the children and their mothers. They had to constantly take care of the children in very particular ways, including taking the babies’ temperatures twice a day. “The mothers were expected to be constantly available, constantly cleaning, and minutely regulating every single aspect of an infant’s life. Westfield’s standards and the reality of inmates’ lives once they were released were completely incompatible” (page 140). As a result, even though Westfield’s administrators wanted to help the inmate women be good mothers, their standards probably created an unrealistic pressure to be perfect (page 137). One thing I wish they discussed more in this chapter was the history of shackling pregnant inmates, as I have a particular interest in this. A question I would pose to my classmates is: what do you think about women being able to have their children in prison with them? Additionally, how do you think this can negatively and/or positively affect both the child and mother?

    The concluding chapter of the book, chapter eight, was extremely moving and interesting as it is about writing and teaching in women’s prisons. The chapter includes accounts from instructors. To start, what was interesting was the reality that instructors face that they must navigate their positions of race, class, and gender privileges. These characteristics are fundamentally important parts of teaching in prison because it forces instructors to face the biases they may have against incarcerated women (page 147). What was so moving was to hear about the stories these women share in the safe place that is created in writing workshops in prison. Women share powerful stories of abuse, rape, drug addiction, and alcoholism. Instructors discuss how it is hard for both the inmates and themselves to write and read these stories, but it helps the women feel as though they have an escape from prison life and helps with their emotional growth.

    • January 27, 2020 at 9:45 am
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      Like many of my classmates, I was shocked at the level of surveillance and scrutiny female inmates were subjected to in the mid 20th century in Illinois. Superintendent Biedermann ran nothing short of a regime and severely limited the inmates ability to resist and even interact in humanizing and natural ways. Friendship, exchange of gifts or favors, sexual relationships and letter writing were all monitored and regarded as suspicious activity. I am not sure what the Superintendent’s idea of model behavior was, but it seems her fear of homosexuality clouded her assessment of the ways people interact and rely on each other even absent a sexual relationship. I think her regulations on lesbianism, vulgarity and even dressing reflect an obsession with the performance of femininity and a need for the inmates to conform. Belinda Wilson’s incident of saying “goddamn” was investigated for being “language unbecoming a lady.” Why is profanity more unacceptable for women, and how are these other regulations a reflection of the prison’s desire to see women fulfill societal expectations of them?

    • January 27, 2020 at 4:03 pm
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      While reading these three chapters, I specifically felt disheartened by Chapter 7. It is interesting that motherhood was used as a way to reform incarcerated women; however, this system provided anxiety that made it difficult for women to actually be mothers because of the fear that it created within them. I think that the intentions of the reformatory institution here may have been good, but, by creating unrealistic standards ,women did not feel comfortable embracing themselves as mothers. In addition, the women who were not yet mothers began to fear becoming mothers because they felt that they could not be good enough. Furthermore, it is interesting that they used the virtue of motherhood and domesticity as a way to rehabilitate these women. This example is a lot different from many of the other examples that we have read about in this book, and I think that it shows the narrative of the time period in America where motherhood was one of the most important jobs for women to have. It also raised a few questions for me: Why was motherhood the main focus, and not domesticity as a whole? If motherhood was so important, why couldn’t mothers have their children with them for longer periods of time? Why would the reformatory create an image of motherhood that is terrifying because it is largely unattainable? Wouldn’t that make it more difficult to rehabilitate these women because they would have been discouraged?

  • January 25, 2020 at 5:55 pm
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    In chapter six, I find it deeply horrifying that Illinois State Reformatory for Women at Dwight was considered a “model” prison (101) like Avery’s curation states the Superintendent put women under tough rules. She criticized people clothing, choice in words, and their relationship preference specifically she ran it like a “concerntration camp” (104). Women being able to pair children in prison is still a highly debated topic and I agree that there should be further discussion about the shackling of those while pregnant. I believe infants being able to live with their incarcerated mothers stimulates growth and allows them to develop like most children do, close to their mother’s womb and identify with their cultural heritage. Additionally, mothers will be less prevalent to violent tendiences because they need to prioritize the well-being and health of their child. This result could lead to a reduction of sentences or overall better prison moral. On the other hand, it can negatively affect a child who will know prison as their first experience and could make it harder for them to adapt to the real word, understand the rights of freedom, and the good from the bad. I admire how chapter 8 conludes discussing how prisoners use their unique stories to challenge privilege, power, and politics tying this book perfectly to our class theme. Instructing and educating these women, ultimately allows their voice to be amplified and communicate to the public their imprisonment experience.

  • January 26, 2020 at 12:30 pm
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    In reading Chapter 6 centered around the Illinois State Reformatory for Women throughout 1930-1962, L. Mara Dodge does an excellent job illustrating the insane amount of surveillance women faced in prison compared to their male counterparts. These women prisoners lived in “small living units” at the Illinois State Reformatory whereas male prisons housed prisoners in “larger and far more anonymous cellblocks,” (Dodge 101). Just as the other essays in the book conveyed, this intense surveillance and violation of women’s privacy was a means of social control of the inmates due to their gender and their social status as dependents to men. Specifically, female inmates were watched so closely that if they used “un-ladylike” speech or curse and slang words, they received demerits for this behavior. This surveillance represents a complete violation of a constitutional right– freedom of speech– simply because of traditional gender roles and a belief that these women were lesser than non-incarcerated women. Furthermore, their sexual acts and sexual orientations were questioned and surveilled by the superintendent for these same reasons. While these acts of extreme surveillance over female inmates seem less intense as the “horse” punishment or the sexual violence described in earlier chapters, it represents an extension of the same pattern of disenfranchisement of female-identifying, poor, and (often), African-American prisoners. We see this today in the carceral system as women in prison are deprived of the same working and learning opportunities as men simply because of their gender (and this population is greatly minority women). It makes me wonder to what extent the carceral system has roots in this country’s history of enslaving African Americans.

    • January 27, 2020 at 10:46 am
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      Ah, yes, Anna. Your last sentence is something to perhaps research for your paper/presentation? It’s an excellent question.

      • January 27, 2020 at 11:25 am
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        Another possibility for you or another student: What about incarcerated people and civil liberties? Do they lose them? Should they lose them? What does the ACLU say?

  • January 26, 2020 at 11:10 pm
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    This section continues the theme of state ownership of female inmate’s sexuality. I found Chapter 6 particularly interesting in how the guards targetted inmates suspected of homosexual activity. Even today, sex (even kissing) between inmates is prohibited in many states. However, as I had brought up with last discussion, this contradicts the modern concept of conjugal visits. Some female inmates do have access to these. So while the prison system may have perhaps become more open with the inmates’ sexuality, there are still interesting questions to be raised about value judgements. Conjugal visits were set up originally between heterosexual married couples. Are lesbian prison relationships wrong because of the immorality of homosexuality? Or is it that sex between between prisoners is always considered impure? I don’t really have an answer, but I thought it would be interesting to discuss.

  • January 27, 2020 at 10:06 am
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    Chapter 7 was fascinating. Clearly there are many competing dynamics at play, most significantly the power dynamic based on the reality that these women were incarcerated/institutionalized and their wardens and caretakers were not. Yet in juxtaposition especially with the surveillance state cultivated at Dwight, Westfield administrators took a markedly different approach in how they treated the women in the facility. I was struck by the elasticity of the class curriculum and how frequently they were adapted based on considerations of future external usefulness. Reading about how Hightower, an outside social worker, was allowed, and in fact invited, to enter the facility and conduct a study oriented around authentically understanding and improving outcomes was also surprisingly positive to hear about. The author brings up real concerns with the unrealistic standards of middle-class motherhood being forced upon and internalized by women unable to meet them, as well as the lack of perspective from the women directly, shielding the institution from criticism from those who were imprisoned there. It is a real shame, because there is little way to understand what the true lived experience of the women was in comparison to the rosy picture painted by staff members, supporters, and administrators. The picture is VERY rosy (although Dwight might have lowered the bar) and it sounds like an institution, despite the inherent reality of being a place where someone was sent against their will after committing a social transgression, that sought in good faith to help the women sent there.

  • January 27, 2020 at 11:20 am
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    Sam:
    Prisons are very strange places. It is as if all of the things that are wrong outside–racism, sexism, classism, and bigotry–are magnified inside of prisons. Remember that homosexuality was considered an abomination and a psychiatric disorder. This is from an article in Behavioral Sciences, an academic journal:
    n 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed the diagnosis of “homosexuality” from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). This resulted after comparing competing theories, those that pathologized homosexuality and those that viewed it as normal. In an effort to explain how that decision came about, this paper reviews some historical scientific theories and arguments that first led to the placement of homosexuality in DSM-I and DSM-II as well as alternative theories that eventually led to its removal from DSM III and subsequent editions of the manual. The paper concludes with a discussion of the sociocultural aftermath of that 1973 decision.
    This might be something you explore for your paper/presentation. I’m placing the article on the Resources page.

  • January 28, 2020 at 1:02 pm
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    IN the last three chapters I found a consistent trend of over surveillance in different areas of the prisons that women just could not escape. First, I would like to draw how over obsessive the prison guard, Ruth L. Bierdmann was. She did not want the women to live anything close to normal life and punished them every day. Again, not surprising how women are treated, but very surprised that a woman could find it in herself to tear away womanhood from other ladies. Her petty actions did more than just make the women’s lives miserable it LITERALLY took away their womanhood and degraded them. Instead of her trying to implement programs to reform the women she wanted to see them suffer which is SICKENING. In chapter seven we see how the prisons tried to implement programs to reform and give a sense of womanhood back but that control was still there. While programs were there to try to help women become better mothers they were forced to be “perfect” I mean come on I do not know one mother that does everything to the nitty-gritty like these women were forced to in the prison. There was an unrealistic expectation set for mothers that– extremely absurd. Lastly, in chapter eight women were given the chance to free themselves through knowledge and writing programs and prison guards still wanted to police them. The prisons wanted guards to sit in on the classes and listen in on conversations that were being held in programs that were supposed to help women open up. Guards took away a sense of vulnerability and trust that the women built with their professors and mentors. However, chapter eight was my favorite chapter of the book because it exposes the NEED for education in prisons. The human mind is free when it is learning but captured and enslaved when it is sheltered and hidden from education.

  • January 28, 2020 at 1:19 pm
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    Aside from sexuality, violence, and family relations, there are so many other elements to female prison life that are of equal or greater importance. Overt disciplinary practices and subtle social control are just a few other elements highlighted. L. Mara Dodge highlights these things, as well as prisoners’ strategies of resistance and unique accommodations to help make life easier. The occurrence of intense surveillance over the women, despite their prisons resembling college campuses, calls for control over the women and further feeds into the overarching system of patriarchy. And to think, it is even worse for women of color depending on their ethnic and racial identities. For a black woman, guards may seek to monitor her attitude and what she does when she walks past another person’s cell. For a Latina woman, guards may observe how she interacts with men… is it in a sexual manner? Additionally, they may seek to ensure she is not speaking with other inmates in Spanish, which the guards may not be able to understand. Surely, it is interesting to consider just how significant these levels of intersectionality are.

  • January 28, 2020 at 1:29 pm
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    What stood out to me most in these chapters is how harshly the prison system polices gender. The women’s prisons discussed had the aim of “reforming” the prisoners into better citizens, and this directly translated to reforming them into women who perfectly fit into the gender roles and stereotypes (mostly derived from white, middle class ideas of womanhood) of the time. The emphasis on “appropriate feminine speech,” the Superintendent’s obsession with lesbianism, and extreme expectations about tidiness are examples of this in Chapter 6. While the strict reputation of the Illinois men’s prison could offer the argument that these rules weren’t about gender, sources from inside the men’s prison said that the rules weren’t as well enforced there. Further, it was seen as natural that male prisoners would fight, swear, and resist the authority of prison wardens. When women did the same things, it was seen as unnatural, unfeminine, and in need of correction. Gender policing is also exemplified in ideas about lesbianism, where guards viewed more “masculine” women as bad influences who incited homosexual activity in otherwise “pure” feminine women. When guards removed the more feminine, non trouble-making women from the situation, they expected to “cure” their lesbianism since they otherwise conformed more to gender roles, but this usually wasn’t the case.

    An even more blatant, but seemingly more benign, policing of feminity is described in Chapter 7. Pregnant women in Westfield prison were given lessons and strict expectations about motherhood, and were coached and provided with the resources to take care of their infants “perfectly” while in prison. While his system at first seems milder than the situation described in Chapter 6, it becomes clear that it also has problems having to do with policing (white, middle class) femininity. The main issue with this system is that it taught perfection, with rigid schedules and tasks surrounding infant care that poorer women and women without support systems would never be able to replicate outside of prison. This may have led to more women giving up their children out of fear that they would never be able to perfectly conform.

    In WGSS classes I’ve taken in the past, we have briefly discussed prison as a tool of the state to enforce gender, but it becomes so blatantly obvious when reading these chapters that prison and “reformatories” have their roots in teaching people, especially women and gender nonconforming people, the necessity of conforming to gender expectations.

  • January 29, 2020 at 10:50 pm
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    The beginning of Jill McCorkel’s ethnography titled Breaking Women starts out discussing the Project Habilitate Women by the Prison Services Company, a for-profit prison healthcare services institute. Red was a successful prisoner of the program among others mentioned throughout the book to understand prison control in female versus masculine type prisons. McCorkel’s main aim here is to discuss the change in prison punishment and the “get tough” policies by interviewing over 80 plus prisoners, administrations, correction officers, and more. The book is divided into three parts: larger picture view to understand the revision of punishment, the process of habilitation and idea to “break down” a self, repercussion of changes to the poor and minority prisoners describing as “African American women with some connection to the illicit drug economy” (16-18).

    Chapter one discusses the problem of overcrowding and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines while attempting to be tough and not soft on crime. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a low rate on crime increase, but after the war on drugs in the 80s, that drastically changed. This chapter discusses administrators who wished to reform the prison system. A new prison was created, but it resembled too much of the old system and still overcrowding and it’s resemblance to a men’s prison created the “nothing works and nothing new” campaign (29-31). For the class, I would like to get their thoughts on the concept of rehabilitative paternalism. Do you think it has changed a lot and/or important in the functioning of prison operations? In what way also, would you describe “unfolding rehabilitation”?

    Chapter two McCorkel discusses more of the Prison Service Company’s influence and part in governing the East State’s prison, stemming from issues discussed in accountability meetings. Specifically, the Company was used a resource bailout through the Project Habilitate Women’s “revolving door” issue and overcrowding population due to this public private partnership (52). I truly appreciate the book in-depth description of prison privatization as it currently stand on page 53, involving “….the selling of good and services to prisoners, their families, and the state.” This chapter also explains the company’s origin story to the 1971 Attica Prison riot and how the mental and criminal issues which resulted in the riot made the Company extremely equipped to deal with. The chapter concludes with discussing the three ways of the bailout on page 63: relocating 15% of the population, adding more staff, and provision of better services. The reporting process was also drawn out causing greater power among the company and less power for prison officials.

    Chapter three starts out discussing the story of Alicia, an African American prison to understand the view of prisoners versus prisoner care. Alicia seemed to be subjected to the “good girl” ideology and a “poster child” or “victimizer” (72) The author discusses the ideology of prison and how women prisoners were different and ideological what that meant in terms of punishment. Overcrowding gave women prisoners more power in the drug war. Themes that became evident through McCorkel’s interviews were: offenders acquired visibility among state actors, state actors in terms noticed new prison behavior was different than past women, and race inferencing those “acting crazy” (77). These themes changed the narrative from “good girls” to “real criminals”. I found the question “If ‘real criminals’ [the social enemies] are Black, does this mean that “good girls” are white?” on page 83 interesting. The program can be explained by describing the disease of addition and the treatment process of rehabilitation. I was awed by the Life Cycle graphic which highlights the history of violence over time. The program hoped to offer a solution to the resource crisis and change in rehabilitative paternalism.

    Chapter four discusses the classification committee to assign tasks to prisoners in attempt to restructure the overcrowding and admittance to the program. Criteria for admittance is whether addicted or not and suitability. The Encounter Group deals with therapy and reporting negative behavior and take place when tensions arise in a pinball type scenario or to identify prisoner mobilization. The posters of “EVERYWHERE YOU GO, EVERYTHING YOU DO,…..” really frightened me and new rules led to surveillance which showed if prisoners were following the rules (107). It is interesting to see the three purposes to surveillance, as a repressive device, production of knowledge, and its nature of legitimatize staff concerns (113). Overall, the first half of this book, represent this different in female prison treatment over time including the good, bad, sad, angry, and ugly. The book utilizes and clearly identifies certain key terms to pinpoint discrimination, attitudes, and feelings.

    • February 3, 2020 at 7:35 am
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      While reading this book so far, I find the acts of surveillance quite interesting. It reminds me a little of the similar types of surveillance we saw when reading about Biedermann. However, in the examples given in this book, it seems like surveillance is used as a way to ‘break’ women from, what counselors believed to be, their deceitful ways due to their addiction and to keep women from fostering relationships with each other. In reality, this surveillance made the incarcerated women in the PHW program less trustful of one another because it was the inmates who would tell administration about the wrong doings of other inmates. If inmates did not do this, then their punishments would often be even worse than the punishment for the actual wrong doing. This type of surveillance created hostile environments for these women in which they felt like they were unable to have any privacy. In fact, one woman noted that another inmate reported her for having diarrhea. In addition, the PHW program itself fostered a lot of hostility. Beyond the ongoing surveillance done by fellow inmates, once rule-breakers are reported, then they are placed in encounter groups where they are humiliated by counselors due to their actions, and do to their classification as addicts, which, as we saw in Chapter 4, could likely be wrong.
      Reading these four chapters opened my eyes to how modern day prisons operate due to the overcrowding of prisons, specifically with inmates who have drug charges because of the pending War on Drugs. These chapters show racial prejudices when thinking about the war on drugs, while also demonstrating the treatment these incarcerated women faced in the PHW drug program. In my opinion, these chapters further demonstrate, for me, that the modern day prison system is a system in which you leave less well off than when you enter due to the deplorable conditions, the humiliation, the disability to trust inside, the racial prejudices, the name-calling, etc.

    • February 3, 2020 at 10:20 am
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      In the first few chapters of this book I was struck by the politicization of incarceration and the rhetoric surrounding the War on Drugs. In the words of the warden, “you’re either tough on crime or you’re not. If you say rehabilitation, you’re soft. And if you’re soft, you’re out.” I am reminded how much of a political strategy the War on Drugs was in the 80’s and how being declared “soft on crime” was a death sentence to a political campaign. When Michael Dukakis lost the president election in 1988, it was after George Bush Sr. had called him “a card carrying member of the ACLU” and his opposition to the death penalty lost him favor among Democrats and undecided voters. Until very recently, even liberals were expected to be tough on crime and were sanctioned for showing mercy politically. It seems the tides are turning as even President Trump has instituted many rehabilitative and early release programs for incarcerated people.

      I also think the title of the book, “Breaking Women,” is heartbreaking and telling of the methods used in women’s prisons to achieve obedience and so called rehabilitation. Psychology experts explain the steps of indoctrinating someone into a cult such as isolation, thought reform, dependency on the cult and a total breakdown of the self. This is how terrorist groups and cult like fitness programs alike gain members and achieve loyalty. It seems the prison system operates in much the same way, isolating the women, telling them they are “bad,” dissolving their sense of self and replacing it with the prison’s ideals of citizenship and womanhood.

    • February 3, 2020 at 8:29 pm
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      In Breaking Women, I was fascinated by the logic behind the therapeutic program from The Company. How incideous the concept was that these women had to come to see themselves as broken or sick in order to be released. TAnd the base claim that the program (and further lobbying by state actors that the program “worked”) used psychological data to ‘cure’ inmates is ridiculois. The fact that they were offering reduced sentences to some prisoners for completing the PHW program, and then claiming that those prisoners were evidence that the program worked would stand out to any social scientists as immediately suspicious. Test subjects coerced/bribbed to act to affirm the researcher’s theories is far from a viable conclusion to make, not to mention an extremely dirty and unethical method. But when the result you are looking for will profit your company, I guess you do not care as much about validity.

  • February 2, 2020 at 9:55 pm
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    In reading Breaking Women so far, I have found that this is a very different way to tell the stories of women in prison compared to Incarcerated Women, but hits some of the same central points that women are denied many privileges in prison that men are. The author, sociologist Jill A. McCorkel, prefaces the novel with the quote: “For the first time in nearly thirty years, Americans are rethinking what it means to punish and to incarcerate,” (ix). This was an excellent way to preface her anthology because of much of what we discuss in class– framed within the social issues of racism and sexism– is around this essential question. Really, what does it mean to incarcerate, and how does this change when bringing gender and race into consideration? McCorkel argues that the current programs in many women’s prisons do not adequately prepare inmates for life after prison; in fact, many of them are left worse off than before. For black women stereotyped as Welfare Queens and Crack Whores, their situations were even worse than their white counterparts.

    In my Gender and Work class semester, we talked in-depth about racial stereotyping in the workplace and in general– and I feel that I can take much of this knowledge with me when studying prisons. The quote on page 83 that Caroline posted above, asking whether the “good girls” are white, really spoke to me when I was reading Breaking Women as well. Racist, classist, and misogynistic stereotypes intersect to create these paternalistic agendas that the “real criminals” are Black women and the “good girls” (aka sexually conservative, “ladylike,” heterosexual, etc.) are white.

  • February 3, 2020 at 3:50 pm
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    One aspect I found particularly interesting of this reading was how the prisoners and administrators both referred to rehabilitation versus punishment and between men and women’s prisons.

    On page 24, Warden Richardson says: “you’re either tough on crime or you’re not. If you say rehabilitation, you’re soft. And if you’ree soft, you’re out. They don’t give a damn about what actually goes on in prison or what works in terms of managing inmates.” I found this quote and the de-emphasis on rehabilitation extremely worrisome. The idea that people did not want to rehabilitate incarcerated women in order to help them reenter society and not go back to prison is highly problematic. It also led to severe overcrowding. I think that a huge problem is created the second the system focuses on locking more people up and keeping them there rather than figuring out a way how to ensure that people do not come to prison in the first place or to help them leave the system reformed. Even when people raised concerns that the system was broken, they were ignored.

    Another part of the reading that caught my attention, in particular, was the discussion of male versus female inmates. “A women’s prison is different from most men’s facilities because most females aren’t dangerous and they know they’ve done something wrong — you don’t have to punish them to get them to see that.” I think generalizations such as these are inefficient in analyzing the prison population. While men and women are very different, I think that saying women can’t be dangerous or always know they’re wrong is not necessarily true. Even more interesting is analyzing how the way the women interact with the wardens and prison staff. McCorkel discusses how some inmates call the warden “Daddy,” and the warden will refer to inmates as “his girls.” At first, this seemed a little disturbing to me. But, when it appeared that the warden meant this in more of an endearing way, I further understood how it is meant to mimic a “family system.” I also thought the quotes from one correctional officer on page 37 particularly interesting. He discusses how most of the women don’t need to be in prison. He says that rehab is not the main goal for men, but more of a “side dish” because men and women are different. According to this officer, women are not “regular” inmates because they have been on the receiving end of abuse and “bad stuff.” While I believe that many incarcerated women have suffered abuse, I, again, think such a generalization is problematic. Many men also suffer from abuse before imprisonment and I do not think that their rehabilitation should be ignored or not a main goal just because more women face abuse than men.

  • February 3, 2020 at 10:50 pm
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    One of the things this book features is a recurring conversation about the relationship between rehabilitation and punishment. The first chapter shows the shift from rehabilitation to punishment in the East State Prison, and highlights the anti-rehabilitation rhetoric of the 90s. The political atmosphere required that the state be “tough on crime,” and any talk of rehabilitation could signal the end of someone’s career. In particular, the conversation between the warden and the author on page 22 stuck with me. After the prison launched the “habilitation” program, the author asked the warden if this was just a change in name to appease the politicians. The warden asserted that it was not just that, that it was an entire system change. What immediately struck me about the word “habilitation,” though was that, in leaving out the “re,” it was asserting that the people being “habilitated” had never been worthwhile, civilized, or productive enough in the first place to have something to return to. The prison had to start from scratch.

    Structural changes were certainly made in the shift from rehabilitation to punishment. The new prison was built to look industrial and menacing, and had all of the security features typical of a men’s prison. The prison system was supposed to be degendered, but it was recognized that this meant that all prisons were modeled off the male system. In general, this raises a conversation about the male sex/gender being seen as “default” and women as “other,” but in this case it was seemingly logistical. Men’s prisons were more secure, so women’s prisons were built to be the same. It’s clear though, that for the most part, male meant worse. Wardens, guards, and prisoners interviewed throughout the chapters recognized that women’s prisons were traditionally more rehabilitation focused, familial, and conscious of the trauma in many female inmates’ backgrounds, while men’s prisons expected and dealt with violence in a punishing manner, focusing on rehabilitation as a “side dish,” as one CO put it.

    Even with all of the back and forth shift in structure and rhetoric, key things about the prison system seem to repeat no matter what they are called. The extreme surveillance of the cottage rehabilitation system in Incarcerated Women repeats in the PHW, down to inmates being required to “snitch” on each other. The idea that female inmates need special consideration (not based on systems of oppression and trauma, but based on misogynistic paternalism) also appears again and again, from the white male sponsorship of the release of black women from early US prisons discussed in Incarcerated Women, to the Warden being called “Daddy,” to a CO saying that “the girls” didn’t need to be treated like “regular inmates.”

    A pattern of blaming prisoners for the prison’s shortcomings also develops, from dismissing the “revolving door” as not the prison’s fault to blaming inmates for not policing each other well enough that people dropped out of the PHW program.

    The fact that rehabilitation has been explicitly rejected is disturbing to me. While I know that the conditions of modern prisons range from ineffective to abhorrent, I assumed that the language of rehabilitation stayed consistent. The fact that the state not only admitted, but encouraged and required, that prisons be a place of punishment instead of “rehabilitation,” whatever that may mean, removes the humanity of the prisoners from the equation. If the only goal of a prison is to punish, then there is little need for education, social development, career development, spirituality, psychological care, or any other program that may help an inmate live a more stable and fulfilling life outside of prison, or assert their humanity in prison.

  • February 4, 2020 at 1:45 am
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    These opening chapters highlighted the aversion to compassion that the US has ingrained into all aspects of society. Politicians live in fear of appearing too soft on crime, which is misinterpreted as an inability to lead or maintain order. For this reason, Schwarzenegger is one of the few prominent politicians that was able to truly admit that increasing the ferocity of the legal system was not the answer to criminal activity. Free market capitalism is meant to remove emotion from economic equations and instead prioritize profitability over ethical incentive. Privately owned or supported jails often boast that they are able to run prisons at a lower cost than the state, conveniently ignoring the prison’s shameful living conditions. They celebrate their exploitation of chaos in the hopes of creating a niche and supply of human beings that are forced to rely on their goods and services. Investment in space over quality of the prisons increases the probability of profit from this forced labor and consumption, yet it fails to prioritize any kind of relief for the suffering of prisoners and society as a whole. Racist and classist traditions discourage any level of understanding for those in precarious and particularly vulnerable positions within society. Those that take the effects of oppression into consideration when determining the moral value of individuals are deemed to be overly sympathetic. Prison workers that show love and respect to their prisoners are pushed to echo the same emotional abuse that many faced outside its walls. While in theory, the US exalts loving thy neighbor, in practice public support often rests with those that punish victims of an unfair system rather than those that attempt to unify and improve society.

  • February 4, 2020 at 11:39 am
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    I admire some of the prison administrators’ and officers’ desires to remain tough on crime while being soft, or taking it easy, on criminal offenders. However, I think the unwillingness to make prisons gender-neutral or to provide gender differences for men and women is actually counterintuitive to the “equal treatment” policy [on the women’s end]. The adoption of “equal treatment” provides more access to resources and opportunities, yet maintain harsh confinement conditions and practices, such as body cavity searches and militant boot camps. The standard for prisons has been masculinized to deal with men in the best way. Yet, prison administrations and sponsors resist considering the best for women. I believe there is not much of an issue with having one set standard for the prisons, yet it should be gender-neutral to potentially be the best fit for any- and everyone. Perhaps women in prison would be more likely to receive justice through “equitable treatment” rather than “equal treatment”. With equity comes accommodation, not in regards to comfort but in regards to fairness. I can understand why some prison administrators struggle with how to approach this as any move away from being punitive or retributive may seem “soft” on crime. The past policies of correctionalism allowed for more equity in the establishment and management of prisons in spite of gender, especially under the “separate spheres” model.

  • February 5, 2020 at 5:57 pm
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    This is the summary for Chapters 5 through the Concluson of Breaking Women:
    Anna Marston

    As we delve right into Chapter 5, titled “Diseased Women: Crack Whores, Bad Mothers, and Welfare Queens” we see how the gendered, class-based, and racialized stereotypes against incarcerated women persist in and out of prison. Prisoners at the Project Habilitate Women (PHW) unit described throughout the text face constant verbal abuse from their very own counselors– being referred to as “crack hos,” “lowdown addicts,” “old dogs,” and “addicts”– in which they claim is a method to “heal the addict” (McCorkel 123). This method is called “strapping” or “breaking down” the prisoner as a means to act as a sort of external conscience that is scolding the women for their addictive behaviors. Yet, when prisoners object to this prejudiced language, they are often sanctioned as a result. In fact, PHW is so coercive and unpleasant that “prisoners often refer to it as ‘a prison within a prison,’” since they are confined into the program. Jill McCorkel also considers the extent to which this counseling stigmatizes motherhood, sexuality, and dependency from the state and labor market. Each of these categories stigmatizes women of color further as these women are the ones painted as “welfare queens” or mothers who have “victimized their children” for being addicted to drugs.
    Moving into Part III of the text, “Contesting the Boundaries of Self,” Chapter 6 begins with an anecdote about a prisoner named Carla– a “senior resident”– who was selected to share her testimonial to a press conference. Carla explains how these “‘suit and tie guys’” look at her with very minimal respect or honor, despite her courage to share her story, reflecting the classist attitudes around crime and addiction. This process, as McCorkel later describes via other prisoners, is known as “‘renting out her head,’” which means “a person who allows someone else to define her,” a common phenomenon between counselors and prisoners at PHW (159). Throughout this chapter, McCorkel looks at the intersections of class, gender, and race and how poor African American women were the main targets of this “habilitation” method. These prisoners had limited options when trying to “manage a self that was under siege,”: they could “surrender with the process” (believe their addiction is a disease), “walk with the dead” (refuse to comply with PHW and go back to regular prison), or “fake it to make it” (avoiding outright rebellion for the sake of getting out faster) (162-163). Chapter 6 focuses primarily on the first method of surrendering; of 74 prisoners that McCorkel interviewed, 13 of them “surrendered” to being habilitated (164). McCorkel, through this ethnography, collected interviews from prisoners and found a common theme among them that in surrendering they are mostly worried about relapsing again. These women described their addictions as exhausting and they just want to move past relapsing and continuing the cycle again.

    In Chapter 7, “Unruly Selves: Forms of Prisoner Resistance,” McCorkel illustrates the methods by which prisoners did not surrender to the PHW system and in fact violated the rules. The chapter begins with anecdotal evidence of a prisoner named Meesha expressing resistance to the methods of habilitation and was therefore kicked out of PHW. In refusing to surrender to the treatment at PHW, Meesha had to “serve an additional fifteen months in prison and she lost her spot among the incoming freshman class at the community college,” (181-182). She was among the 60-90% dropout rate in the first two years at PHW. As a result, the program changed its admission policies in order to lower this dropout rate and make it much harder to leave PHW; they did so by loosening the criteria to be admitted into the program as well as opening the program up to women who were sentenced there by judges. Furthermore, PHW made exiting the program much more of a bureaucracy to deter people from leaving. Regardless of these moves by administrative actors to restrict prisoners from resisting, PHW prisoners continued “ripping and running” through the system, a term they use to describe all forms of defiance (185). McCorkel interviewed 22 women who’d said they employed this strategy and they had a mix of positive, neutral, and negative views of their drug use and drug trafficking in general, but the majority viewed drugs as positive income and a source of pleasure (187). In fact, some women sentenced to habilitation in PHW had never even used drugs or did not consider themselves addicted, as they’d just been arrested on possession charges. McCorkel continues on throughout this chapter to explain the different methods by which prisoners resisted habilitation.

    The author concludes Breaking Women with a section that describes her visit back to East State Women’s Correctional Institution two years after conducting her first study there. She notes changes in the prisoners, appearance of the facility (including new surveillance cameras and razor wire fences), and in the staffing of the prison after two years away from conducting her ethnography. Furthermore, McCorkel continues her conclusion chapter by delineating some of the differences today in men’s and women’s prisons and its important connection to racial stereotyping. She also raises the question, “what are the consequences of the new penology for women prisoners?” to then analyze the efficacy– or lack thereof– of PHW’s method of habilitation (220). McCorkel interviewed 26 women after she returned to the prison in 2000 to understand the implications of the program. In summary, “these are not stories with happy endings,” by which women died, relapsed on drugs, and remained living in poverty (221-222). Finally, she concludes the text by raising the question that is the title of the conclusion, “was the cure worse than the disease?” argues that the humiliating, punishable nature of PHW harmed the majority of these women than helped them (224). There is a line between treatment and punishment– and PHW is an example of a habilitation posing punishment as “treatment”.

    • February 7, 2020 at 11:55 pm
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      I am continually shocked by the terminology utilized in this book to describe the PHW and it’s narrowness of self-expression as described in Chapter 6. I agree with Anna’s assumption that prisoners have little options, but to surrender to habilitation as a whole. To many, this surrender is giving in like “Addiction is either active or in remission- it’s never cured” or faking it (162). Chapter 7 compares those who ended up faking it to the those who so called “ripped and ran”. Many prisoners were too immature to leave the program or had been degraded by their counselors during the program, but other dropped because they felt they were being brainwashed. Reliving chapter one, the book discusses how the staff were like “vanilla powder” treating prisoners without a sense of personality or interest (210). Carla confronting the PHW system proved to be ineffective because it conformed to the needs of the prison ideology.

      The conclusion like Anna mentions brings to light more questions as not much has seemed to change since our author’s visit to the East State Women’s Correctional Institution, a few years prior. What type of community regulation should occur? And therefore how has abuse within the program changed and does the deaht of rehabilitative paternalism make it harder for prisoners to fight the system. The program made women such as Red and Carla change how they defined being a “good person” and their “true self” (221). As the McCorkel comes to realize, it is extremely hard to tamper with a system that can’t and won’t change the cycle of abuse. Therefore, a difference between cure and disease, does it really exist? Many parallels can be made between treatment in terms of the new prison reform to punishment in regard to drug and criminal abuse. Isn’t it all just the same?

    • February 10, 2020 at 2:04 am
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      McCorkel reveals in the text that PHW counselors and administrators lacked respect in the way they treated and spoke to the women who were incarcerated… and, this did not surprise me at all. Such an interaction highlights just how powerful money can be over an individual or a group of individuals. People can stray away from moral values, empathy, and common sense. The epitome of these losses is further demonstrated in the “habilitation” method used by PHW counselors, which they consider to be therapeutic. When the author highlights verbal abuse as a technique the counselors use to “heal” prisoners, one could argue that it is merely a practice of reverse psychology (although still quite harmful). However, it does not make sense for the imprisoned women to be threatened with penalization once they reject the verbal abuse. How exactly would coercing prisoners into digesting negativity ever be beneficial to their overall well-being? Perhaps, if this method of punitive habilitation was not disguised as “treatment”, it would definitely qualify as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

      It is interesting that prisoners were more anxious about the first of the three ways to heal: to “surrender with the process”. Through this measure, the women were to believe and fully accept their addictions as diseases. The women worried about the possibility of relapse, yet truly any of the three ways could have allowed for relapse. The other two ways the prisoners offered were to return to the regular prison and to fully obey/avoid rebellion in order to get out of the program faster. If one of the imprisoned women returned to a regular prison, there could be even greater access to drugs. If one of the women chose to fake the healing process, then obviously no genuine healing would have taken place.

    • February 10, 2020 at 7:28 am
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      While reading chapter 5, I found it interesting that the PHW counselors focused on various aspects of the inmates lives, such as motherhood and sexuality. Although, it did not surprise me that they focused on these aspects of life because, as we have seen in other readings, it is common due to the social constructs of gender. However, it is different because, instead of teaching women how to become mothers, as we saw in Incarcerated Women, the PHW counselors use the rhetoric that “you can’t be a mother, a real mother, when you’re an addict”. The counselors used the failures of the inmates, as mothers, in order to break these women down to ‘help’ them fight their addiction. In addition, the PHW counselors saw the act being pregnant or a mother as an addict as a form of manipulation (specifically centered around manipulating men).

      The sexuality of inmates was of gross concern to the PHW staff as well. 90% of the inmates in this institution admitted to prostitution for drugs or money, and only 1/3 of these women admitted to prostituting themselves regularly. The PHW staff labelled these women as ‘diseased’ and manipulative. In addition, sex for pleasure was seen as an act of self-hatred done by “diseased women”, or a “diseased-self”.

      These ideas around sexuality and motherhood elicit some questions: What is life in prison like for prostitutes? Did they maneuver the prison system using their sexuality? Were prostitutes in the larger prison system seen as mothers or manipulators (as they are viewed in the PHW program)?

      • February 11, 2020 at 12:07 am
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        I think it is also worth considering how the PHW conception of the inmate’s sexuality is connected with the rhetoric on the “new kind of criminal.” The author explains how the conception of the ‘diseased criminal’ that became the ideology of the prison system during and after the Tough On Crime era was highly racialized. The concept arrived the prison demographics changed that no longer made white women the majority in the space. Consequently, given the long history of pathologizing and demonizing black female sexuality, it is possible that PHW’s moral framing of the women’s sexual histories (including sex work) would itself be racialized.

    • February 10, 2020 at 11:56 am
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      The section “Motherhood” in Chapter 5 was stomach-turning. PHW constructs motherhood in an extremely narrow way: “Real mothers are in love when they get pregnant, prioritize their children’s needs, and do not use their status as mothers to satisfy their own wants and desires” (133-134). Using this definition, the counselors forcefully decontextualize motherhood from any sociopolitical realities, such as socioeconomic status, racial discrimination, the experience of addiction, and lack of support networks. Yet these are the realities that the women in PHW are experiencing and enacting motherhood, which are consistently shown through the anecdotes to be informing their decisions, emotions, reactions, and motivations. Yet by framing these decisions and reactions as independent of their context, the counselors use them as fodder in mentally and emotionally degrading the women in the program, insulting and challenging the legitimacy of their motherhood; it even goes so far as to legitimize and justify the immediate termination of their parental rights, regardless of the relationship they have with their children. McCorkel succinctly describes the issue: “at the core of the counselors’ claims that prisoners have victimized their children is the notion that the women are both autonomous actors, with access to choices and options, and, at the same time, that they consistently make the wrong choices” (130). Addiction and poverty are not choices and the choices made within those contexts cannot be legitimately positioned as representative of choices made if outside of those contexts. The accusations of child victimization and the delegitimizing of motherhood work only to degrade the women they are aimed at, without giving them context and validation of the impossible circumstances they are operating in which leads to perpetuating cycles of hopelessness.

      • February 11, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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        I also found these parts of the book deeply concerning. To say that everyone is an autonomous actor with choices and options downplays the effect that one’s environment can have on their choices and options. To say that addiction and poverty are choices is a very narrow-minded view of the world. People don’t wish to be poor or addicted to drugs, but often times their situation gets them to that low point. To give prisoners this belief would downgrade their self-worth and heighten their self-loathing, both of which would not help that woman be reintegrated into society as a successful member. To say that they cannot change and are stuck with their situation or bad to their core does not help reduce recidivism. It just makes criminal worse.

  • February 10, 2020 at 11:50 am
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    Reading the second half of this book was deeply upsetting to me. Looking back at the notes I took, through the first third of the reading I took note of every quote and statement that I found disturbing–often multiple quotes per page. As the reading went on, the notes tapered off, not because the material got less disturbing, but because I was growing numb and tired of it. So many horrible things were said and done to the prisoners in the PHW program that in the beginning I found myself wondering if it was legal. In the conclusion (Page 221), it becomes clear that I share the concerns of some of the prisoners, but ultimately the consensus seems to be that while physical abuse towards prisoners would be illegal, verbal abuse is not. This carries a bit of irony in light of the conflation between drug use/emotional invulnerability and physical child abuse made by the counselors in the program, but, as the author points out, this type of inconsistency is a hallmark of this program. The “Sameness” and “Difference” rhetoric is an example of this. Mainly though, the idea of addiction as a disease of the person is what allows for this dichotomy. Counselors describe women with addiction as having “a loss or absence of moral reasoning,” “without souls,” and “lacking a conscious.” The ability to say these things about other human beings astounds me, but not as much as what these ideas justify. The verbal abuse (calling a prisoner “garbage, human waste” stands out to me) is terrible, but the deep-seated psychological damage other parts of the program cause is worse. The PHW directly and indirectly teaches women to blame themselves for their own abuse, even events that occurred as children. The author also writes of one woman who refused to take aspirin for debilitating menstrual cramps since the PHW teaches that any substance can be addictive and there are no good drugs. To me, the effects of this program seem as bad or worse than physical punishment or abuse, but the idea that these women are addicts and not people seems to justify the program to counselors and administrators. The author also writes of the three paths that women in the program take–essentially: getting out by any means necessary, faking it until they drop out or graduate, or submitting to and believing in the program ideology. That the program had a 70%-90% drop out rate in its first years is telling, especially with the incentives provided for its completion. That nonviolent inmates were willing to behave violently, women were willing to serve far lengthier sentences, and prisoners threatened suicide in order to get out of the program drives the point home. To me, though, the saddest stories were of the women who fully bought into the program ideology. It is clear that they really did lose their concepts of self, identities that were so much more than a “diseased woman”–mothers, women with careers, partners, good people, strong people, kind people. Instead they came to see themselves as manipulators, “whores,” abusers, unintelligent, blameworthy, and weak.That this program puts so much emphasis on the disease of the person, and not the contributing factors of the family, community, and state is ineffective, and in my opinion, entirely destructive.

    • February 10, 2020 at 11:52 am
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      I would also like to know what the prison is like now. I would hope that some things have changed in the past several years, be it on the basis of scientific research, social justice work, or even effectiveness/profit, but I honestly doubt much change has been made for the better.

  • February 10, 2020 at 12:13 pm
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    I agree with Abigayle that the guards’ obsession with criticizing the women’s motherhood and sexuality did not make sense to me at first. The nicknames given to them (bad mothers, crack whores, etc) seemed overly harsh and specific things to call the women. I do not have a background in WGSS, but the more I read the more I understand that these insults are located at the intersection of gender and race with incarceration. I highly doubt incarcerated men are taunted about their parental status or sexual history in the same way that women are in the PHW.

    As for addiction, I struggle forming my own opinion of how to treat it and frame it as it becomes a more and more pressing issue societally. I know that criminalizing it is ineffective and harmful, and I think the way PHW approaches addiction as an individual character issue and a failure of willpower is incorrect. I think a lot of addiction issues stem from a sense of disconnectedness with the world and people around us. I think that the highly individualized nature of American society and of PHW actually hurts addicts because we see it as a singular shortcoming instead of the product of other pains and injustices experienced by the person. I believe it also leads to an all or nothing mentality whereby the women must remain as they are (diseased, unworthy, addicted, broken) or surrender entirely to the process by forging a new identity. The women were whole, worthy people even while they were addicted and the expectation that they renounce every aspect of their old life in order to recover is incorrect, I think.

  • February 11, 2020 at 4:32 am
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    I find it fascinating that prison wardens can rationalize the clearly oppositional concepts of empowerment and surrender. For women that likely have experience with trauma, belittlement, and disappointment in themselves, the practices detailed by the author only serve to echo exactly what was experienced outside of prison. Rather than uplift these women, wardens ask them to give up their definition of self to another person that degrades them; this is nothing short of insane. How can one expect a prisoner to feel confident enough to succeed after being released, when they have been asked to remove any shred of confidence they have in themselves? It reminds me a lot of the documentary we watched in class, where the woman that was proud of her accomplishments despite being fired and reimprisoned was one of the few who was able to make permanent positive strides in her life. Another woman who had much more of a support system, but often expressed feeling of unreadiness, shame, and disappointment in herself, quickly fell back to old habits of drug use. The “fake it till you make it” approach used in cases of self presentation in public settings that is taught in prison is ironically not applied to cases where it may actually be helpful. Perhaps this philosophy is best suited in cases of personal growth and self confidence, until one’s positive attributes become completely ingrained in one’s psyche. Instead, they are told to internalize insults and humiliation, and the wardens then wonder why their worst insults are nearly prophetic to their criminal future.

  • February 11, 2020 at 1:03 pm
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    After reading both text and watching the documentary in class I would like to comment on Habilitate and Rehabilitate.
    In all three we see a consistent pattern of prisons trying to Habilitate the women instead of rehabilitating. Rehabilitation includes regaining skills. The guards do not teach them useful skills ad mindsets that will help them when they leave prisons. Instead, we see a consistent pattern of Guards trying to control their thought process and tell them exactly how they should think and what they should do to live a better life. However, this does not help the women because when they leave prison they are absolutely clueless. They apply for mediocre jobs and try to be the domesticated woman that they have learned to be in prison only to figure out that this leads to another life of unhappiness and they end up cycling back into the prison system. If the women were rehabilitated we would see a different outcome. We would see them aspiring to be something more than a waitress at a local Denny’s or just trying to get by and stay away from drugs. In prisons, the women are not given the opportunity to really deal with the physical and mental abuse they have endured throughout their lives and it leaves them empty and hopeless.

  • February 14, 2020 at 11:59 pm
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    Melinda Tasca’s article entitled “The Role of Parental Status & Involvement in Sentence Length Decisions” asks and answers whether or not parenthood matters when determining the length of a convicted person’s prison sentence. She informs readers that judges are more likely to be lenient in sentencing women with dependent children. Likewise, involved fathers may receive less sentencing, yet held less accountable when it comes to parenthood. These likelihoods may stem from the theory of familial paternalism, which Tasca highlights as preferential treatment reserved for those fulfilling gender family responsibilities. This theory reinforces traditional gender roles and the linking of women’s status to domestic life and motherhood.
    During the study in Arizona, Tasca compared differing natures of parenthood: being a parent of a minor child (under the age of 18), involved mom, uninvolved mom, involved dad, or uninvolved dad. Parents are considered “involved” either when they are primary financial providers or primary caretakers who live with the children. There are higher expectations for women to be involved moms than for men to be involved dads. What’s more, women are expected to be “good” moms that will care for and train up children so they do not become financial or social burdens onto the state. Essentially, absent mothers would be punished for violating both gender and mother roles.
    The study concluded that the degree of [criminal] offense matters in the sentencing of involved parents due to the chances of negative influence. Surprisingly, involved fathers did not receive significantly shorter sentences than involved mothers, especially if there is the mom to take care of the children outside of prison. However, despite mothers and women overall being punished more severely than their male counterparts, mothers involved in their children’s lives received shorter sentences than the stereotypical “deadbeat” moms. Parental status does not matter when it comes to prison sentencing, yet parental involvement matters greatly.

    • February 16, 2020 at 12:26 pm
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      “The Role of Parental Status & Involvement in Sentence Length Decisions,” from the journal Crime and Delinquency, is a useful empirical article– armed with both theory and qualitative data– in understanding how the industrial prison complex is innately gendered. Regenia does a great job summarizing above the findings Melinda Tasca et al. show– that women and mothers were punished more harshly than their male counterparts. Familial paternalism theory “attributes gender disparities in sentencing to differences in family role expectations” is a new term for me in my studies of gender and prisons thus far and I would definitely like to expound upon this idea in class on Tuesday (p. 1900). The authors give the example of familial paternalism theory where “absent” or troubled mothers are punished more harshly because of their breaching of societal gender and motherhood norms. Because they are seen to have failed the “ideal” roles of motherhood and womanhood, they are viewed in the courts to deserve a harsher sentence. This could certainly relate to the data we read in Breaking Women that the rate of women’s incarceration has increased remarkably faster in recent years, especially for women of color.

      This study looked at two questions– whether prison term lengths differed for parents vs. non-parents and if these hypothesized parenthood effects are impacted by gender. Because previous research shows women are actually treated more leniently in the court, familial paternalism theory challenges this extremely gendered, narrow approach. This preferential treatment benefits women (probably white), “feminine” women, and those who are “good parents”. I like that the authors are taking it a step further to challenge gender norms and prison sentences because not all women fit this norm.

      • February 16, 2020 at 11:29 pm
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        When reading this article I did pay close attention to how it challenge gendered norms and I think It is important to realize that gender is just as important as parent involvement to really understand the argument and questioning of the article.
        Gender is so important and it’s sad that women are held to such a strict standard while men are not.

      • February 17, 2020 at 1:03 pm
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        Familial paternalism theory was also a new term for me upon reading this article. The reason I wanted to reply to your post, in particular, is because of when you write:
        “The authors give the example of familial paternalism theory where “absent” or troubled mothers are punished more harshly because of their breaching of societal gender and motherhood norms. Because they are seen to have failed the “ideal” roles of motherhood and womanhood, they are viewed in the courts to deserve a harsher sentence.”

        While reading this article, when the reality that women are more severely punished when they breach societal and gender norms became apparent, I was unfortunately not surprised, but still deeply concerned. In the eyes of the judicial system and court proceedings, one should not be judged based on their gender, but the severity of their crimes and potential for rehabilitation. I find it extremely unjust and unfair that women are being treated more harshly in the judicial system simply because of their sex. The 14th Amendment ensures equality before the law, yet this reality that faces incarcerated women is severely unconstitutional seeing that they are not being treated equally before the law. My question is: How do we change this? Is there a way to break this cycle?

    • February 16, 2020 at 11:25 pm
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      Melinda Tasca’s Article “The Role of Parental Status & involvement in Sentence Length Decisions” exposes how parental status does not have a huge effect on sentence length decisions, however, Parental Involvement does. Tasca explains that Judges may be more lenient toward women and men with children. While men are given leniency Tasca highlights that they aren’t held as accountable as women. This is because women are expected to fulfill a certain societal role as a mother. She furthers her research by explaining the Familial Paternalism Theory which states that parental treatment is reserved for those fulfilling gendered family roles and responsibility. Tasca focuses on the point that women are expected to fulfill a certain role as a woman and a mother which is why they are treated differently when it comes to involvement and the way they are sentenced. If a mother is seen as a “good mother” and the primary provider for a dependent child then the judge will show greater leniency. However, If a woman does not meet societal roles and is deviant displaying characteristics of a “bad mother” then they are given harsher sentences and shown less grace in court. Tasca pays close attention to Arizona parents’ who were involved, uninvolved, and primary financial providers and caretakers of children.
      She concludes that while men did not receive significantly shorter sentences for being involved in children’s lives (because society does not hold them to this standard like they do women) women did receive a difference in sentencing.
      After reading this article it is important to pay close attention to how society’s standards have such a great effect on how the courts make their decisions. While the effect may be indirect it is very clear that there are certain standards women are expected to fulfill and if they do not they will be punished for it while men are not held to the same standard. This reading isn’t just questioning the effects of involvement and ‘good’ parents versus ‘bad’ parents, it really exposes the gender norms and differences society has set for men and women. It is clear that society has a much great effect on women than their male counterparts.

    • February 17, 2020 at 12:00 pm
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      One aspect of this article that I really appreciated was the concise yet in depth overview of previous research on sentencing and gender, as well as the explanation and analysis of familial paternalism theory. While in this course we have looked at the role of motherhood in the experience of female incarceration, I really appreciated this data-driven assessment of the interaction between parenthood, gender, and sentencing in the criminal justice system overall. It really demonstrates that these factors (the role of the mother, the lens of deviance applied to “criminal” women, gender roles and assignments and attributions of blame, etc) are considered not just in the experience and methodology of incarceration, but are baked into the criminal justice system as a whole, including the perceptions and actions by prosecutors, judges, and prison administrators.

  • February 15, 2020 at 2:11 pm
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    Regenia does a fantastic job in summarizing “The Role of Parental Status and Involvement in Sentence Length Decisions”. It truly is irritating that gender still plays a significant role in sentencing guidelines, but it is enlightening to see that a parent’s choice to engage with their child while incarcerated has become more influencial. Involvement in childrens lives while in prison tends to be a bigger factor than status. For example, individuals who tended to be described as “bad parent” recieved harsher sentencing times (1900). The article’s study therefore asks two questions: the first about involved versus non involved parents and the second gender disparities among parenting. This case utilizes randomized data from the Arizona Department of Corrections. Some quantitative and qualitative characteristics include lage, type of offense, prior history, race, parent involvement and many others which serve as independent variables. The dependent variable, length of the sentence represents the cotinual number of years an individual has been sentenced (1907-10). “Parents were not sentence differently from nonparents”, the study emphasizes (1914). Although, it proved that gender and involvement still major determinants of sentencing and should be revaluated when taking into account criminal justice.

    • February 16, 2020 at 11:32 pm
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      Gender should definitely be re-evaluated because it is evident that women are held to a standard that men are not –and it harms women. However, the criminal justice system does not focus so heavily on men being a good or greatly involved father.

      • February 17, 2020 at 1:05 pm
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        Tania, I definitely agree. But once it is re-evaluated, how is it fixed? While it is wrong that women are being held to a different standard than men, what policies can be put into place to change this reality? I definitely don’t have the answer. But, this might be interesting to address in class on Tuesday.

  • February 17, 2020 at 9:08 pm
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    Unfortunately, I was not very surprised by the information detailed in the text. The idea that fathers “babysit” their own children is widespread and ingrained in many aspects of our culture. As more women enter the workforce and fathers choose to stay home, I hope that this expectation will begin to subside. Recently in the State of the Union Address, Trump announced the passing of a bipartisan bill called the Advancing Support for Working Families Act, which extended paid family leave for both new mothers and fathers. However, in our justice system, good mothers are rewarded, but bad mothers are disproportionately punished. The “chivalry” the author describes only applies to the women that follow gender stereotypes, while those that stray are judged more harshly than men that have the same behaviors.

  • February 17, 2020 at 10:36 pm
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    As several of my classmates have already expressed, the information in this article was for the most part unsurprising given what we have already learned in this class, although it was definitely a concise and quantitative report. That women were generally sentenced less harshly than men and that women deemed “poor parents” were sentenced more harshly than nonparents was foreseeable. To a degree, it was refreshing that “involved” mothers were given shorter prison sentences, although the reasoning behind this/ its implications are, as usual, uglied by race, class, and gender policing. It was also unsurprising that “involved” fathers weren’t given the same leniency, because, again, due to gender constructions, it is expected that children need a present mother as a primary parent and that fatherhood, especially outside of “breadwinning,” is less important. Class and race are also definite components in this, since the idea of a good, involved mother is rooted in white middle class ideals, and poor women, drug-involved women, and others who fall outside this norm who genuinely work to support their children, but are not given the structural support to do so, are unfairly labeled as bad mothers.

  • February 17, 2020 at 11:06 pm
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    This is a topic I hope to expand upon in my research, but it continues to frustrate me how much the state can control the private lives of its most powerless citizens, i.e. poor people and people of color, and “criminals.” Wealthier parents, who do not have to worry about making enough to feed their children or dealing in dangerous environments (themselves caused by structural inequality), do not get this level of scrutiny into how they treat their children. But when someone (especially a woman) breaks a law, suddenly their personal family lives because the state’s business. Criminal defendants have to not only probe they did not commit the crime in question (or if they did, what was their involvement), but they also need to prove to the penal system that they are ‘good’ women, fulfilling their social duties. This, I find incredibly frustrating.

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