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Bars, Boundaries, and Barriers in Researching Women's Spaces - February 12 - 16, 2007


Guest Facilitator-Dominique Chlup

Bars, Boundaries, and Barriers in Researching Women's Spaces
February 12 - 16, 2007

From February 12 - 16, 2007, Dominique Chlup
was a guest facilitator on the Poverty, Race, Women

& Literacy listserv. The focus of her discussion was
to discuss the challenges of researching women
student inmates.

Dominique Chlup is an assistant professor of adult
education and the director of the Texas Center for
the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL)
at Texas A&M University. She got her "calling" to
be an adult educator after volunteering for a year at
the Valhalla Women's Jail in New York. She taught
in the "Right to Write" program. While her career
has taken her into several other adult classrooms, she
finds she returns again and again to her work with
women student-inmates. She wrote a dissertation on
the history of the educational programs and practices
at the Framingham Reformatory for Women in
Massachusetts, and she continues to research contemporary prison programs. As a part of her research with women inmates, she has encountered both literal and figurative bars. As such, she is always interested in dialoging with others about their own experiences researching and working in women's spaces.

To learn more about her work, read the following articles:

Thanks to Ryan Hall, a graduate student at Georgia State University, the following represents a compilation of the various topics discussed by listserv members while Dominique Chlup facilitated the discussion. Each topic contains one or more discussion threads arranged by questions and answers. All of Dominique's questions and comments are labeled with her name and questions and comments from listserv members are labeled with first and last initials. Most of the postings were copied and pasted verbatim, with a few words edited here and there to facilitate reading. For complete postings, along with author information, go to the Poverty, Race, Women & Literacy Archives and look at postings between February 12 - 16, 2007.

 

1. Introduction from Dominique

When colleagues ask me about my work and the challenges I face researching women student-inmates, one of the first things I reveal to them is how I struggle with the barrier of writing about topics and women who live lives that are far removed from my day-to-day life. I am the one with perceived authority, access, and the privilege of going "home" at night, and I try never to forget that.

When I first entered a prison classroom, I naively expected to find women who were very different from me, but they weren't. Yes, their institutionalized lives were different from mine, but I was immediately struck by how my students could easily have been my mother, sister, grandmother, best friend, or me. It didn't take long for me to realize that prison spaces demonstrate a convergence of disadvantage based on racial, class, and gender inequality. All of the women I have ever had the privilege of working with were arrested for offenses associated with problems of addiction, poverty, and domestic abuse. Whatever preconceptions I had of women prisoners, I quickly realized were misconceptions based largely on stereotypes and misinformation. I now believe that in the name of maintaining dominant social order, certain resources and privileges are concentrated in some groups, which marginalize and criminalize others.

Many of the stories I have researched, witnessed, and heard over the years regarding the treatment of women inmates offend my democratic sensibilities. I have cried, laughed, dreamed, and hoped with my students (both the ones that I have actually had in class and those whom I have only researched in the prison archives). I have been rendered speechless when accosted by individuals who don't understand why I have chosen to do the work that I do. One woman, whom I struck up a conversation with on a very long line for the bathroom at a wedding, remarked, "I hope my taxpayer money isn't going to pay for that education program."

I informed her that for the most part the prisoners were raising the money to keep classes going. The education programs had been the first thing cut when prison budget restructuring had occurred. "Good" was all she said before getting off the line and walking away from me. I still struggle with the challenge of facing critics and what to say to them. I also struggle with the objectives of "giving voice to the voiceless," "sharing untold stories," and "portraying prison life." While these objectives, decidedly feminist ones, are in keeping with why I began this work, I am not sure they should be the reasons that keep me invested in this work. I question: Who am I to be telling these women's stories? What right do I have? What right do any of us have if we are not women prisoners ourselves?

I have begun this discussion by sharing a bit of my story from the social context of working with women inmates. I hope you will feel free to respond to any of the points or issues I have raised.

 

2. Beginning the Discussion…

Dominique: I...wonder about the struggles and challenges each of you face either researching or working in women's spaces. What would you describe as the biggest barrier or boundary you face in your work? How do you deal with these bars, boundaries, and barriers?

DMC: Several years ago, I taught GED classes to women receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Many of them had been incarcerated at one time or another. Since I had them in class for 20 hours a week, we got to know each other quite well. Using a functional literacy approach in which we learned the academic skills necessary to pass the GED exams within the context of "life skills" such as communication, job readiness, health, child development, and many other topics, we delved into personal issues and examined how it was that each of us (myself included) had come to be where we were. We also looked at our dreams for our future and how we could help make those dreams a reality.

I was shell-shocked at first at the desperate situations in which these women lived. And, more importantly, I was humbled by their optimism and perseverance. In short, I was proud to be working with them. To answer the question Dominique posed as to who are we to tell their stories, I'd like to suggest that it is important for both these women to tell their stories and for us to tell them also. As dismissive as the woman you encountered was regarding the need for education within the prison system, at least you did have the opportunity to talk to her. I feel that those of us who have worked with women in poverty need to be strong advocates for them as well as encouraging them to advocate for themselves. Personally, I've been able to shape to some degree the opinions of others who will listen to me but who might not listen to women such as my students. Often those in poverty, whether physically incarcerated or locked behind unseen walls of bigotry and prejudice, are simply not seen nor heard, whereas we are seen and heard - if not always believed.

The biggest obstacle I faced in my work was my pitiful lack of understanding of what it meant to be poor. Having had grandparents who were poor, I thought I understood poverty. However, it took less than one day for me to realize that there is a world of difference between economic or "situational" poverty and generational poverty in which the lack of resources goes far beyond money to include lack of a functional social network, such as trusted friends and family members, a lack of educational resources, and a lack of emotional support. I had expected that my biggest obstacle would have been establishing trust; however, this was not the case. My students must have somehow sensed my sincerity in trying to understand and be of some help to them because they opened up to me in remarkable ways. They shared their hurts and their frustrations as well as their hopes and dreams. Together we learned from one another. Often, I left class knowing that I was the one who had learned the most.

Dominique: I think the image of "enabling" is a powerful one. I am curious to learn how others enable the sharing of inmates' stories, writing, and work. ... I am curious to hear how others have publicly shared the work of inmates and managed to involve inmates in the sharing of their own work.

I remember a few years ago meeting Wally Lamb and 3 of his co-authors Robin Cullen, Nancy Whiteley, and Tabatha Rowley all contributors to the book Couldn't Keep it to Myself: Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters. All 3 women were no longer imprisoned and were touring the country with Wally to share their stories and promote the book. Robin and I began dialoguing, and I arranged for her along with other co-authors of the book to speak at Harvard (I was a member of the Harvard Prison Education Project at the time). It's the only time I know that Harvard actually paid a small stipend for speakers. Harvard typically doesn't pay its speakers (or at least that was what I was told). Speaking at Harvard is supposed to be honor enough--that's a whole other discussion. Anyway, after the women read and shared their stories an incredibly powerful discussion ensued. You see, none of these women fit the stereotype of a female inmate--whatever that stereotype that might be. One audience member even remarked that the power in the women's words was really re-enforced by seeing her personally read it.

A few years earlier, I had participated in a reading that was later taped for NPR. A group of us read stories from our student-inmates who were still incarcerated. I found both experiences powerful in their own rights, but not without their complications in terms of planning and logistics, so I am curious to hear how others have publicly shared the work of inmates and managed to involve inmates in the sharing of their own work.

BM: I'm enjoying this discussion immensely. I'm an anthropologist partially because I do want to give voice to people whose perspective we may never hear. For me, these voices are people and communities from places we may never visit and/or people in Canada and the United States who don't speak our language.

As someone from one of these communities, I was invited to graduate school to bring out the community perspective and voices. I'm getting better at it by participating in Community Based Applied Research and Participatory Research.

We need everyone's voice. Why? Because of who we are and where we are. The person who is actually suffering may either not be heard or it maybe too dangerous for them to speak.

WM: As a person also interested in listening to the voices of incarcerated literacy learners, I am thankful to you and this listserv for establishing a supportive place to pursue this interest. This is self-serving, of course, but when I share 'stories' of incarcerated men and women (from my past teaching or current studies), I try to think of it not as 'I am telling' their story, but rather as 'I am enabling' their stories (a) to be constructed by the learners (who often, otherwise, have no spaces in which to create their biographies), (b) to be heard and validated (another rare event in prison), and (c) to be shared (in a public discourse that is otherwise shaped by a deadly language of corporate accountability).

For me, the introspection (and, yes, doubt) happens most during the actual conversations with the learners: When is my interest an act of trespassing rather than support? But I recognize the ongoing need to examine my motives for doing this work at all. Now that I am in a publish-or perish mode, this can be come a slippery slope, indeed.

Dominique: You have articulated so well what I think is one of the fundamental issues of working with incarcerated women--the advocacy piece--both from the standpoint of serving as advocates for these women and then working with these women to help them learn how to advocate for themselves.

Rachel Roth in her article "Do Prisoners have Abortion Rights?," which appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Feminist Studies quoted Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), and I think Waters' quote is worth sharing with this group: "I would rather not be here this time of the evening having to strike the last word to stand up for women who cannot stand up for themselves, but since there are those who have chosen to pick on the most vulnerable women, women in prison, those of us who are free, those of us who have a voice, must take this time to speak for those women."

In terms of advocacy, I often find myself approaching my work from the paradoxical standpoints of urgency and hesitancy. I think in the moments of urgency it's because I feel I need to tell the world some piece of vital information. For instance, when I learned that women inmates are often kept in leg shackles right up until the moment they give birth I e-mailed everyone I knew. On a side note, this practice was actually discontinued at one hospital in Massachusetts, but only after the other non-imprisoned women on the maternity ward complained that the sounds of the leg shackles dragging on the floor were distracting them as they tried to give birth. Even though they had tried previously, it wasn't the women inmates who succeeded in overturning this procedure--again...who gets heard, seen, and believed... I think my moments of urgency win out on those of hesitancy. But the moments of hesitancy are valid as well because they serve to remind me that perhaps the story I am getting ready to share what would be better shared by an inmate herself rather than being filtered through my scholarly writing. I do believe that keeping this advocacy piece at the forefront of this work is motivating and incredibly important.

 

3. Questions for Dominque

AW: Dominique, I would be interested in knowing about the content of your classes, what exactly you do with your students and how you structure a class. How many students do you work with at a time?

Dominique: I'm not currently teaching inmates this semester, but I am working with colleagues on developing a new teaching/research project, so I'll explain the plan for that project to give you a sense of how I typically structure my class and I can compare it a bit to work I have done in the past. This new project is for a federal women's prison here in TX. It is still in the designing and developing stages. The prison is located very close to where I live, which is a first for me. I have been involved with a jail program (NY) and state prisons (MA) both involved at least 40-90 minutes of commute time. This project has the support of the warden and Susan Chabot, the Education Administrator of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I've never worked with a project with such a high level of prison administration support. My colleague developed this project 3 years ago, and it got shelved by the old warden at the prison. The new warden showed interest in the project, they contacted us, and now there is much support for us to get grant funding and make it happen.

The class is designed to be a part of the parenting education program at the prison. Using a book club structure, women will be using children's literature to develop literacy skills and engage in a series of activities to positively impact the students' parenting skills and nurture family literacy efforts between women inmates and their children. Women will be both reading and writing children's literature.

We hope to have women reading children's literature that is age appropriate for their children and aligned to their own reading levels. Hopefully (we still need Institutional Review Board approval on all of this) the women will have the opportunity to videotape themselves reading for their children and will be able to use visiting time to meet and read with their children. There is an onsite Children's Visiting Center. Two sections of the class will be offered and team taught by two instructors. We are anticipating 15-30 students in each class. We are also drawing from our community and connections here to have guest artists, including theater professionals, bookbinding artists, and a well-known children's book author visit the classes. Four of us have been actively involved in the planning and we are all bringing unique strengths to the design and development process since this is both a teaching and a research project. We will be assessing parental beliefs and practices, attitudes toward reading and writing, and literacy levels pre-and post the classes.

In the past, my work has both in classrooms and one-on-one. In the case of one-on-one, it was more tutoring and mentoring to transition students from their GED classroom into the prison college program. And my classes were literature and writing based, reading and creative writing classes that could be used for credit in the adult education program, but could also be taken just for the sake of taking.

Anyway, I hope that gives you a sense of what I've been up to and what I hope to do.

AW: I am interested to know what skills do you think are most important for adult teachers of incarcerated women?

Dominique: Thanks for posing this question, and now let me admit that this is a difficult question for me. First, I'm suffering from the anxiety that this isn't just an opinion question, but that there is some right answer out there and I simply don't know it. Also, I don't think the skills I would list for teaching incarcerated women would differ from the skills I would list for teaching any adult learners. And then to distinguish the "most important" ones is also a difficult task for me. In my Methods of Teaching Adults class, which is a graduate level course I teach, I rely on the texts of Jane Vella, Daniel Pratt, et al, and Parker Palmer, so I'm sure their work is informing my thinking here. I am not sure if these are skills as much as they are attributes I would want teachers of incarcerated women (or perhaps any population) to possess, but I would top my list with compassion, empathy, courage, a willingness to take a gender-responsive approach to teaching and learning. I believe all of these are consistent with feminist jurisprudence. And let me clarify what I mean by a gender-responsive approach to teaching and learning. Often educational programs are tried first in male institutions and then simply imported into women's prisons without ever taking into consideration the learning needs of the women. I believe the interests and needs of women is an important component to take into consideration when working with women inmates. I would also add to that list of skills/attributes an ability to expect great things from all students and to see the women learners first and foremost as students not just as inmates.

I would argue that teachers of women inmates need to grapple with the ways gender, race, class, sexuality and the intersections of all of these social constructs matter. I think it is also important for teachers to recognize and acknowledge the offender-victim path that many women inmates experience. Women inmates are unique in that as offenders they are also often victims of crime. A survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics cited that 57% of State female inmates and 40% of Federal female inmates reported being physically and/or sexually abused before incarceration. A study conducted by the American Correctional Association found that over 60% of girls in juvenile correctional programs reported prior physical abuse and 54% reported prior sexual victimization.

Then I would take it a step further and say that after examining and acknowledging the roles of victim-offender, teachers must help students to transcend these roles. I believe there is such a place as after, and as a teacher, I want my students to come to know that place as well.

AW: Do your female prisoners reflect the figures in the non-incarcerated population as regards race, ethnicity?

Dominique: I never actually collected demographic data from my students regarding race and ethnicity, so I don't think I can accurately answer this. I'd only be going based on my visual perceptions, and since when folks meet me they perceive me to be a female, white, American, and I'm not, I don't want to do that to my students. I will say this though based entirely on my visual perceptions, I had students who I would guess would self-identify as "black," "white," and "Latina." Sorry not to be able to give you exact statistics in this case.

I: Our female students reflect the demographics. In this area, of many cultures, and backgrounds, the targeted areas of arrests is also the targeted population of prisoners. Poor (class) people and marginalized from mainstream society. Primarily Non White but not always necessarily Black.

 

4. Resources

DR: I wonder if you have seen the documentary film What I Want My Words to Do to You and if you think this is a good introduction to women's writing in prison.

Dominique: I have to admit it has been awhile since I saw the documentary featuring Eve Ensler's writing classroom. I saw it when it first appeared in Dec. 2003. I would probably need to watch the documentary again in order to give a full answer.

I do remember being moved by the women's stories, but I also remember being struck that the women could talk about their crimes in a workshop setting. In the beginning of the documentary, I believe the women are asked to tell the details of their crime. In my writing workshops, prison officials enforced a strict policy that inmates were not allowed to discuss their crimes with one another.

Also the entire group in this documentary has been convicted of violent offenses. I believe they are all in prison for murder. In my classes, most of the women were imprisoned for drugs, embezzlement, forging checks, prostitution, and drugs. While inmates weren't allowed to talk about their crimes, it did often come out in their personal writing to me. I can count on one hand the number of women I have taught who were convicted on murder charges.

Also the class in the documentary consists of some pretty high profile women, including Pam Smart, Kathy Boudin, and Judith Clark. All of their cases made national headlines. That has not been typical of the writing workshops I have been involved in. Also my students struggled more with reading and writing than this group does. Often students would peer teach each other the literature we were reading that week. And my classes were never filled with native English speakers only. Spanish and English and other languages flew through the air during my writing classes.

And one thing that I think is hard to capture unless you experience it first hand is the sound of a heavy, iron prison door locking behind you. There is something about a prison environment that often left me exhausted. On the days after my class or visits to the prison, I could remember wanting to sleep for a day. I have to admit the Federal prison in my town here in Texas leaves me with a very different feeling as it's on an old school campus, so the education building reminds me of a typical adult education program. There's no arduous process of checking into the prison. I've never been searched and doors don't lock automatically behind me. Of course, this is in the education building. I have never actually been into a housing unit yet, and we haven't even started the education program that colleagues and I have been working on for months. I have only been there to visit, so my impressions are simply that first impressions.

In general, I do remember being moved by the documentary and feeling that it was demonstrating a powerful experience and worth watching, but again, I would need to see the documentary again to do an accurate comparison. These are just a few thoughts that come immediately to mind.

DR: Thanks, Dominique. It is helpful to learn about the differences between your experience and the Eve Ensler documentary. I would like your (and others') reactions, if you are familiar with these, too:

1. a book about prison education called Last Chance in Texas: The redemption of Criminal Youth by journalist John Hubner. For those who may not be familiar with it, the book is about a counseling program at the Giddings State School (juvenile prison) in Texas, home of "the worst of the worst" male and female juvenile offenders. The program has had extraordinary success, and its outcomes include a very low rate of recidivism. This not about an education program as such; it is a therapeutic program. Nevertheless, the program, and Hubner's in depth description of it, is extraordinary, and the book is a moving read.

and

2. two parts of an article by Massachusetts adult education teacher, Martina Jackson, about teaching Shakespeare in the women's division of the Suffolk County House of Correction, a jail in Massachusetts.

http://alri.org/pubs/shakespeareone.html
http://alri.org/pubs/shakespearetwo.html

Are there themes in these that resonate with your experience?

Dominique: I haven't read the book Last Chance in Texas, but I had a student last year who wrote a paper on the Giddings State School. Then the school's programs were featured on NPR (I believe) sometime last year. I remember being really impressed with everything I learned about the school, so I'll add the book to my very long "to read" list.

As for Martina Jackson's 2 articles, I agree with Martina's depictions of women being gifted artists and writers. The talent in my classrooms was staggering. Also, the theme of physical and sexual abuse is one that would resonate with the students I have taught as well. And at the risk of overgeneralizing my students, unlike in the case of Jackson's students, many of the women I taught were not mothers and they did not "revere" their mothers. In fact, I used Jamaica Kincaid's poem Girl in class and learned quickly from that mistake. I had on my first night of teaching 10 out of 12 students crying. Their relationships with their mothers were not happy ones. I should note that the statistics indicate that the majority of incarcerated women are indeed mothers.
Several of them serve time hundreds of miles away from their children with visits being far and few between.

Also Jackson describes her students as "intimidated by the plays, novels, and poetry we consider a part of a standard high school education" and she goes on to discuss that she believes this is in part because her students had less than 10 years of consistent schooling as they were dropping in and out of school. I found that my students weren't "intimidated" by the written word as much as they needed the skills to read the words. After my first year of teaching at a women's jail in NY, I became a certified reading specialist and trained in "diagnosing" LDs because I wanted to be better equipped to deal with the needs of my students.

Unlike Jackson, I have never used films in my class, we weren't allowed to show videos, but I do think this would be an effective technique and would be willing to try it out. Have others of you tried this in your prison classrooms, and how has it worked out for you?

Also, I wanted to recommend to folks Jean Trounstine's book Shakespeare Behind Bars, which is different from the film that Harriet Smith references in her e-mail. Jean's book is about a writing class she conducted at the women's prison in Framingham, MA. I actually had the chance to meet and talk with Jean about her work--quite fascinating.

HS: There is also a 2005 documentary film called Shakespeare Behind Bars, available from Netflix.com. Although it's about male prisoners, it might also be of interest. Here's a summary from a Christian Science Monitor review:

"Filmed over a period of about nine months at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, a medium-security prison in Kentucky, this documentary follows a production of The Tempest as performed by convicts. The up-close interviews with the prisoners, many of whom are in jail for murder, are the heart of the film. One of the men, who is cast as Caliban, says that criminals ought to be natural actors since they are used to disguising their emotions, and yet it is that very quality that makes it so hard for them to act. Director Hank Rogerson casts a sympathetic eye on the proceedings."

I: I work in a county jail where there is a charter school (the only one in the nation) that also has programs for substance abuse. In answer to the question about videos, we show the students videos about themselves, life, the graduation and other inspirational/documentaries of current events. The videos are frequently difficult to find via mainstream media. Just last week I showed the women Bastards of the Party. Since we are in the state of California, and this film was about the Crips and Bloods and the government, the discussion thereafter was quite thoughtful and educational. Finding meaningful view for women prisoners is extremely important to help the women develop an historical analysis to their present day mass incarceration. Teaching incarcerated women is very different than instructing incarcerated males. I have taught both.

Dominique: Someone from the group sent me an e-mail offline letting me know about
The Sun Magazine, which often features prisoners' writings. Do others out there know of periodical resources devoted to the work of prisoners or prison and prisoner issues? I'd be particularly interested in learning more about any magazines, newsletters, journals, etc. that feature prisoners' artwork, creative writing, essays. A few that come to my mind quickly are:

  1. Feminist Studies, Summer 2004 (Volume 30, Number 2), The Prison Issue (contains prisoner's writings)
  2. Focus on Basics, August 2005 (Volume 7, Issue D), Corrections Education Issue
  3. The Journal of Correctional Education (It is aimed more at research, though, so it doesn't focus specifically on prisoner writings).

Any others folks know about?

MM: Women Writing in Prison anthology from Voices from Inside [http://www.voicesfrominside.org/]

Prisoners of a Hard Life - Women & Their Children - a comic prepared by
"Real Cost of Prisons" [http://realcostofprisons.org/comics.html]

and The Change Agent Issue #19 - Women & Literacy and the
**Supplement** have several writings by incarcerated women
[http://www.litwomen.org/tca/index.html]

Also, if you're trying to get books into women in prison, I recommend the Women's Prison Book Project - http://www.prisonactivist.org/wpbp/ these young women do inspiring work.

LS: Before I forget: there is a series of amazing books I have read, by an environmentalist named Derrick Jensen, who teaches English and writing in a prison in California (Pelican Bay?). They are really a difficult read because they are basically tracts against violence--against each other, against whole peoples, against the environment, and against children. Many of them refer to and draw on his experience working with prisoners. It's been a few years, but I will try to remember the titles (maybe someone can help me?):

Endgame
A Language Older than Words
The Culture of Make Believe

One is more or less a history of violence in our society, and in our country. They relate domestic violence, child abuse, genocide, and destruction of the environment, to each other and to a kind of endemic violence in out culture and society. They are all really powerfully written, though quite painful to read. I think there are parts of them that might even be appropriate to read in a setting with incarcerated students, among others--the writing is quite simple, it's the ideas that are difficult. Some are very long, though.

 

5. Funding

SP: Are any of you aware of any major non-profit organizations that try to fund or provide resources for those working within educational correctional settings? I am interested both in after care programs and organizations that support this work and also groups that help support the work on the inside while the women are incarcerated.

My impressions from what I have read so far is that very few incarcerated women are given the opportunity to improve or prepare for their return to the "real world" and rather than receiving the opportunity to be rehabilitated...they often leave even more damaged and discouraged. I am so glad to hear about the positive experiences that those of you working in this field are having. I look forward to reading more.

JG: I work at the Fortune Society in New York City. Fortune provides support and services for people coming home from prison and others involved with the criminal justice system. We also strive to be a voice for change in the criminal justice system. We do, in fact, have a publication, The Fortune News, which is mailed (for free) to prisoners around the country. The Fortune News includes writings by staff here at Fortune as well as articles and letters written by people on the inside. You can request a sample copy (or download PDF files of recent issues) on our website: http://www.fortunesociety.org. (Click on the link to Advocacy and Resources).

Fortune runs a wide range of programs for former prisoners, including education, job readiness, drug treatment, transitional housing, and counseling. In addition, we do HIV prevention and offer health and housing services to people who are HIV positive. We also run a number of Alternative to Incarceration programs. Most of our program staff and a good chunk of our senior leadership were formerly incarcerated.

The education program, where I work, offers reading, writing, and math from basic literacy up through GED and ESOL. We also have a pretty large computer lab, where a lot of interesting stuff goes on. We serve about 300 students per year. The student body is 85% male, 15% female.

I've been at Fortune for about six years. Before coming here, I worked for 16 years at a community based adult literacy program in Brooklyn, The Open Book. While the student body here is somewhat different - younger, more male, perhaps a little more angry, more likely to be homeless or teetering on the edge of homelessness - they really bring the same breadth of spirit, courage, and complexity that you'll find at any adult education program. While working here can be stressful, this is a place where many, many people are in struggling to make profound changes in their lives. Not all of them succeed, but for me it's a privilege to be able to play a small part in that process.

NS: Places to look at for some funding are OSI (in NYC), which supports issues on the inequality of crime. You might contact Ann Jacobs at the Women's Prison Association in NYC also.

NS: For those of you interested, I teach at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and there is a new Prisoner Reentry Institute. You can go to the webpage or contact Debbie Mukamal who is the director at dmukamal at jjay.cuny.edu.

 

6. Research

JB: I am currently a graduate student focusing on adult and correctional education. Before returning to school recently, I taught in ABE/GED courses to incarcerated males at a county correctional facility in Boston for several years.

My academic interest is in identifying characteristics/practices of exceptional correctional educators. I am also interested in evaluating the feasibility/effectiveness of implementing a critical, collaborative pedagogy within correction facilities. I will be conducting field research next fall on some version of the above topic areas.

I am wondering if anyone has recommendations for reputable research studies along similar lines.
I have come across some work through the Journal of Correctional Education and other sources, but any further suggestions/advice is much appreciated.

EP: This isn't exactly what you're looking for, but it may be useful nonetheless. Michelle Fine led a fascinating participatory research project w/ women inmates in a college program. The women were involved in collecting & analyzing data: http://www.changingminds.ws/

AW: Try this: "Maternal Justice, Miriam Van Waters and the Female Reform Tradition."

JG: I would recommend Kathy Boudin's piece in the Harvard Education Review Participatory Literacy behind Bars: AIDS Opens the Door, Kathy Boudin, Harvard Educational Review, Volume 63:2 (Summer 1993). I think this is an important read for anyone teaching in adult education, whether working in a prison or not.

Dominique: I'm really excited to hear that you are doing graduate work in this area. It's not a research study, but I'd recommend you take a look at Schooling in a "Total Institution:" Critical Perspectives on Prison Education, edited by Howard S. Davidson.

And I promised in an earlier e-mail some resources on crime in America, so I'll add those here as I think Jill you'll also find them useful. I imagine that you'll be reading from several literatures to frame your study (e.g., the literature on rehabilitation, the literature on delinquency, the literature on punishment in prisons, literature on corrections, literature on criminal justice, etc.)

Crime and Disrepute by John Hagan
The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America by Samuel Walker, Cassia Spohn, Miriam DeLone [I mentioned this one in another e-mail, here's the full title.]
Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis by Christian Parenti
Search and Destroy: African-American Males in the Criminal Justice System by Jerome G. Miller

And, as you move forward in your work, feel free to e-mail me privately. Even though I'm an asst. professor in TX, I have graduate students (future colleagues) who are doing work in this area and I love hearing their research progress.

NS: If people are looking for good publications on women in prison, I have 2 that might be of interest:

  1. The Criminal Justice System and Women: Offenders, Prisoners, Victims, and Workers, 3rd Ed. (McGraw Hill, 2004) and
  2. Domestic Violence at the Margins: Race, Class, Gender, and Culture. (Rutgers University, 2005).

Of course the first is more directly related to prisons; the second that deals with domestic violence should be made clear that this is so directly connected to the lives of women in prison and the contributors to this book are committed activists for the most part.

WRM: I applaud you for conducting a richly rewarding and informative discussion this week. And the program you are developing for the female learners sounds terrific. Despite the recent maligning of Even Start programs, the potential of prison-based family literacy programs -- to connect incarcerated learners with their children and other loved ones, support literacy learning, build community ties, strengthen family relationships, etc. -- is intuitive, but not well documented. See http://literacy.kent.edu/cra/new.html for my review of the literature on these programs. (Sorry for the self-promotion!)

Hope House DC is another example of an inspired prison-based family literacy program (for fathers) run by Carol Fennelly. In addition to storybook taping programs, Hope House has 'moved mountains' in the Federal Prison System by establishing a video conferencing program in two facilities.

Other initiatives: At Danbury CT, the FBOP is experimenting with using e-mail in a parenting/literacy program to build bridges between incarcerated mothers and their children. Here in Richmond, VCU is collaborating with the Virginia Department of Correctional Education on a grant to establish family literacy programs at one male and one female facility. (I really need to compare notes with you on your program design.)

These efforts are indeed hopeful. But so much more needs to be done to get up to scale, yes?

Dominique: Thanks, for this wealth of information. Last year colleagues and I put in for a large grant that didn't get funded :( As a part of that work, we became familiar with initiatives here in TX, but it's great to see what else is being done in the rest of the country. My GA, Donna, who wrote in earlier this week has actually been amassing materials on programs for children with incarcerated parents nationwide as part of a database she's been working on. We read your literature review, which was very helpful. And I agree that more needs to be done in this area. I think coordinating efforts certainly helps, something I know you and I have discussed in the past.

 

7. Teaching Qualifications

RH: How does one go about getting a job teaching in prisons? Are there particular qualifications one must have? If so, do these qualifications differ by state? And, are there different qualifications needed for teaching in youth detention centers versus prisons?

HS: [Qualifications for teaching in prisons] will vary by state, and even within a state, will vary by prison system.

In Texas, for example, The Windham School District provides academic, as well as career and technology education, to eligible offenders incarcerated within the state's criminal justice system. The Windham School District requires state board of education certification, and their website (http://windhamschooldistrict.org/) has an employment section listing job openings.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is a different matter, but you can find information about teaching positions by exploring their website (http://www.bop.gov/).

Dominique: There is a professional organization that this person might find helpful the
Correctional Education Association: www.ceanational.org.

Also, one qualification that is often required is K-12 teaching certification. This sometimes surprises folks because they are going to be working with adults.

GL: …I have taught for many years in a state penitentiary for men in the State of
Nebraska. Here in Nebraska, you need no special qualifications to work as a correctional
educator. But all the correctional education is handled by Metro Community College, so we
all are instructors (education specialists) for the college. Some of us have advanced degrees
and teaching certificates, while others don't even have a BA degree (we all get paid the same
regardless of educational training). Other states have more rigid qualifications

 

8. Graduate Programs

RH: Are there graduate programs that focus on corrections education and, if so, where are they located?

Dominique: I'm cutting and pasting this info from the CEA website:

"The Correctional Education Association (CEA) is proud to partner with California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB http://www.csusb.edu/) to offer the first Highly Qualified Correctional Educator Curriculum Certificate program. This unique program, offered completely online, prepares participants as highly qualified correctional educators to work in prisons and alternative institutional settings."

I attended the CEA conference the year they began developing this program, and I think it sounds great. Also CSUSB has a center directed by Tom Gehring and Carolyn Eggleston that is devoted to correctional education: The Center for the Study of Correctional Education. Here's the link to their website: http://www.csusb.edu/coe/cg/csce/index.html
On the Center's website, there is also information about an MA in Correctional and Alternative Education.

Coppin State University also offers a program: http://www.coppin.edu/gradcriminal/correctional.asp

There are databases like http://www.graduateschool.com that might yield even more programs.

GL: I'm currently taking graduate level on-line classes through the University of San
Bernadino in the field of Correctional Education. They offer a Professional Correctional Educator certification for taking 3 on-line courses. They also offer Master's degrees in Correctional Education and are in the process of trying to develop a Ph.D. program as well.

There is also a school in Florida that offers Doctorate degrees in Correctional Education. All the details of the above information can be obtained by visiting the CEA (Correctional Educators Association) website at http://www.ceanational.org

 

9. Differing Perspectives

KL: I commend your literacy work with female prisoners. As one who does not subscribe to feminist theory, however, I am struggling to comprehend some of your claims regarding your student population. Please help me understand what you mean for example when you say, "in the name of maintaining dominant social order, certain resources and privileges are concentrated in some groups, which marginalize and criminalize others."

Which resources are being wrongly withheld from whom, and by whom?
Given the notion that prison is indeed punishment, which warranted privileges are being unjustly denied to whom, and again, by whom?
Who is marginalizing whom, and what is the nature of this marginalization?
Also, given that criminals make their own bed, that is, by definition it is they who have broken the law, how is it possible that they were "criminalized" by anyone other than themselves?

Finally, when teaching and motivating inmate learners, how do you reconcile the personal responsibility element inherent in any successful self-improvement program (which, by my way of thinking includes literacy programs) with the society-blaming elements that inform feminist theory?

I am genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts on these specifics, so that I might better understand what motivates you, contrasted with what motivates me in my work, as a fellow literacy practitioner (who's not a feminist!)

EP: The important point is that individuals' actions must be viewed in light of broader patterns. Recent data from the New York police department show that Latinos and African Americans are disproportionately likely to be stopped and searched. There's also abundant evidence that an African American who commits the same crime as a White person is far more likely to go to jail and to receive a longer sentence, particularly in murder cases where the victim is White. Possession of crack cocaine receives a longer jail sentence (average = 118 months) than possession of powder cocaine (average = 74 months). Why? Power cocaine is more commonly used by wealthier, White individuals. NPR recently reported a study finding that non-white juvenile offenders are more likely than their White counterparts to be incarcerated and removed from their families for committing the exact same crime. Poor people who are accused of crimes rarely have access to competent lawyers, in part b/c public defenders are paid so little that they can't prepare an adequate defense. And the list goes on. So it's not just the objective action or crime, but the way it is interpreted and prosecuted in a legal system that does not treat all individuals equally.

DSM: I am currently a graduate assistant working with Dr. Dominique Chlup at TCALL. I, also, have taught incarcerated women at the Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas. Like most others, I had the mindset that all prisoners were criminals and guilty as charged; they should be punished for their crimes. However, once I stepped foot on the grounds of the prison I found women who were from all races, ethnicities, classes, and education levels.

Many of these women were incarcerated because they had allowed someone to use their telephone (both home and cell) to make their drug connections. Even when these women had no idea why they were arrested when they did not know any of this was actually going on. They were arrested for conspiracy in these cases.

As Dominique stated before, we (as instructors) were not allowed to ask or discuss the reasons for the women being incarcerated. Of course, many of them wrote about their circumstances in their writing assignments. During breaks, I overheard several women discussing their charges and the appeals process, etc. Many of these women were kicked out of their homes when they were teenagers and became prostitutes, exotic dancers, and/or drug dealing to make ends meet. I can truly say that there is a feeling of empowerment which exudes during the course of a semester. They are now able to compete at some chance of getting a "legitimate" job they can survive on.

I will say that my experience in teaching at the women's prison is what stirred the passion in me to teach and to continue a graduate education.

JI: Thanks very much for this information. In addition to the facts you state is the fact that when a person is incarcerated, there are, inevitably other people in her/his network/life/circle whose lives are also impacted by that incarceration.

When thinking about women, we need to think about their children, partners and other family members affected by their incarceration. Other contributors have already touched on many of the elements we need to consider in looking at women's education in prison. Not surprisingly, this would include consideration of the impacts of trauma and violence on learning. For some women this means 'telling' their experiences; for others, not so much.

I think whether or not one subscribes to feminist theory (in whatever ways that may be defined), it is not unreasonable for adult educators to be aware of the whole adult, and the context in which that adult undertakes learning. This context also includes rates of incarceration for different populations, as well as access to education, employment, housing and other related issues.

Dominique: Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your very thought-provoking questions. Since I suspect we have very different philosophical viewpoints on working with incarcerated populations, I am happy to see that you are genuinely open to dialoguing with me. And I thank other individuals who have already been very articulate in providing some specific examples to your questions.

I'll admit that until I actually started teaching in a prison, I, too, might have subscribed to the "criminals make their own bed" theory. Only now I have first-hand accounts not only from the women themselves, but from my friends who are lawyers that make me question that theory. I also might have believed that prison was supposed to be about punishment as you suggest, but I no longer prescribe to that theory. There used to be a prevailing concept in this country that prison was about rehabilitation. Sentencing was the punishment, not your day-to-day existence in prison. You were sentenced to a certain amount of time away from the "free" world. You were supposed to spend time in prison working toward rehabilitation. You were disenfranchised while imprisoned, but once you returned to society the right to vote was restored to you (this isn't always the case now). You were not to be denied medical treatment and preventative care. These are rights that many women do not possess once they are incarcerated. The reformatory movement for women in this country began in 1869 (this is when the first statutory provision for separate prisons for men and women were passed prior to that time they were housed together) and was premised on the fact that prison was not supposed to be a "hell above ground" as once described by a chaplain visiting a women's prison. Nor was it supposed to be a "tour of hell" as former Massachusetts Bill Weldon once expressed in the 1990s that he wanted prisons under his watch to be. This is how "punishment" often gets played out in women's prisons, and since I know that these women will return to society and be my next door neighbors, I would prefer that the emphasis not be a punitive one.

To address some of the specific question you pose, I think I'll try to do that by sharing with you a concrete example of a woman inmate who I tutored one on one, so I was very familiar with her case. I've written about Lily (a pseudonym) elsewhere, so I know she is okay with me sharing her story. Lily has spent her entire adult life in prison. She was arrested at 16 and convicted on the day before her 18th birthday, which meant she was treated as an adult during her sentencing. The judge in her case took seriously the words her mother used to describe her "unladylike, uncontrollable behavior". The only problem is that Lily's mom had not seen her daughter in 7 years. When Lily was 11 her mother left her with her grandmother. She hadn't seen her since. Lily's grandmother was too sick to testify on Lily's behavior and in fact, she died the week that Lily began her prison sentence. Lily's crime, she was in the car when her boyfriend entered a house and murdered someone they both knew. She was seen as an accessory to the murder. At first, no one knew Lily had been in the car; her boyfriend turned her in to shave years off his own sentence. And he will actually get released before she does. Now, you might expect that Lily would be angry and take no responsibility for her actions (I'm not sure I would have), but she actually does take responsibility for making the choice to date someone like her boyfriend who she knew was violent and abusive. She takes responsibility for being there that day. She takes responsibility for not doing more when she heard her boyfriend joking about potentially killing someone some day. And when I met her she was participating in the restorative justice programs offered through her prison.

Just briefly, restorative justice programs are designed for offenders to demonstrate remorse for their actions, accept responsibility for their actions, and this is accomplished by actually meeting with their victims or their victims' families. To quote the Restorative Justice Online Website: "The emphasis is on restoration: restoration of the offender in terms of his or her self-respect, restoration of the relationship between offender and victims, as well as restoration of both offenders and victims within the community." This is a rehabilitative, restorative approach, as opposed to a punitive approach, and I am an advocate of it. … if you aren't familiar with restorative justice as a concept, I think it might get at your question regarding personal responsibility and self-improvement as it is designed not just for offender self-improvement but for victim and community improvement.

You might feel differently than I do about Lily's case, and that's fine I can respect that, but I feel this is a woman who will spend most of her adult life in prison because of mandatory sentencing laws and because with these laws mitigating circumstances are not allowed. These are laws that have been enacted in the last 20 years and have resulted in large jumps in incarceration rates for women: 8 per 100,000 in 1975 to 59 per 100,000 in 2001 (Sheldon and Brown, 2003). I think Lily's actions were criminalized by a mother who didn't know her and a judicial process that didn't want to get to know her. (Lily was a straight A high school student, and after getting her GED in prison she began working on a college degree, a degree that she raised money and helped pay for herself). I think she was working with a judicial system that marginalized her by the fact that she had a judge that refused to let it be entered into evidence that Lily hadn't seen her mother in 7 years. Lily had no money for a lawyer, so she had a court appointed lawyer who had very little experience and only met with Lily once before her trial began (resources being withheld-her middle-upper class counterparts would have been able to get the best lawyer money could buy).

I wish I could say that Lily was an exception, but I have worked with inmates in NY, MA, and I am now getting ready to do so here in TX, and I've seen several of these types of cases. I would really recommend the book the Color of Justice for the research that demonstrates how certain races and ethnicities, mainly African Americans and Latinos are routinely given longer sentences than their white counterparts. I have a longer list of book resources that deal specifically with how race, poverty levels, educational attainment, and gender do make a difference when it comes to the justice system. If I can find that list, I will post it.

I also want to remind folks that there was a time in the U.S. history (as late as the 1960s) when women were arrested and sentenced for pre-marital sex, having a baby out of wedlock, even being out after dark if it suggested promiscuity (lewd and lascivious carriage). All of these were criminal offenses, but it is interesting to note that their male counterparts were not sentenced to serve time. Arrested, sometimes, but seldom convicted. Women were expected to stay at home and be good wives (a prevailing dominant social order during that time period), but instead their actions were criminalized. So I think it is knowing that history and knowing how it is still informing contemporary practice that motivates me to do the work that I do. I'm not trying to excuse anyone's actions, but I do want to show the ways in which the system is more complicated and nuanced than it might first appear. I approach that from a feminist perspective because for me feminism isn't about "society-blaming" but rather about equity and parity for all individuals. I'd recommend bell hooks' Feminism is for Everybody to get a sense of where I am coming from with my feminist approach. And for what it is worth, my boyfriend (whom I refer to as my partner and he dislikes that) said I should be honest and let everyone know that I'm not really about equality, but rather that I prescribe to female superiority. I hope that made you laugh rather than cringe! I hope it made everyone laugh.

Anyway, thanks again for asking the tough questions and being open to my responses. You really got me thinking this morning. And I would love to know, what does motivate you to do the important work that you do with your adult literacy learners?

KL: It is apparent that you have been touched by Lily's account of the circumstances surrounding her case. As an outsider, though, I see elements of her story that preclude me taking such a sympathetic stance. For instance, it is difficult for me to believe that a jury found her guilty of Accessory to Murder for merely being in the car. That is not a crime. What is a crime is the failure to report a murder. Or hiding a weapon. Or discarding evidence. Or lying to the police during the investigation. As you mention, no one even knew she was in the car. How could they have known, if, as you say, she didn't report what she saw or heard? Perhaps her charge was reduced from obstructing justice to a lesser charge of A to M. Also, what is her motivation for participating in the restorative justice program if indeed all she was guilty of was "sitting in the car?" What had she to feel guilty about? What was there to confess to the victim's family? What exactly would be in her power to restore? What I am ultimately suggesting is that because of your proximity to her, and because of your teacher's heart, you may have fallen under the spell of the imprisoned. That the jailer's sarcasm, "I know, I know, there aren't any guilty people in prison" has become more true than most people think. I don't mean to insult you here, because I am sure you have reflected on how your relationship with her may have influenced your judgment, but to me this seems to be a real possibility. Do you wonder what your opinion of her would be if you spent an equal amount and quality of time with her boyfriend? With the victim's family? With others who knew her well at age16?

However, Dominique, in the end even though I do not see her case through the same lens as you, I don't think it even matters. That is, I still see the need to provide her literacy training as part of her rehabilitation during her incarceration. I'm one who desires prison to be an unpleasant place, yet a place where one can grow and depart it being stronger for the experience.

And this brings me to answering your question about what motivates me in the literacy field. In the broadest terms, as an ESOL teacher, I simply want to help people who want to be helped. I want to help them become proficient in English so that they may improve their chances of realizing their goals, so that they may more fully participate in American society and reap every reward they can. I view their learning in personal terms of self-confidence, accomplishment, freedom, and assimilation. And I want them to benefit themselves and others in a public way; I want my society to benefit from their participation, which happens more fully as they become more fluent.

JI: "the spell of the imprisoned"?

I find it amazing that you feel capable of speaking to the veracity/accuracy of a verdict about which you know absolutely nothing. Why is it not sufficient to accept Dominique's account of the verdict.

I appreciate that you bring a particular point of view to the list, and good for you for engaging in discussion. What feels far less engaging, though, is your dismissal of Dominique's account of the verdict, and your subsequent dismissive analysis of restorative justice and the inmate's own reasons for participating in it.

KL: All I know about the case is what Dominique has related to us. I am not speaking to the justice of the verdict, nor am I defending it. What I am questioning is Dominique's objectivity of the case owing to her proximity to the defendant. Is this not relevant, and feasible?

JI: What I'm trying to get at is the fact that Dominique knows the details of the case in question. Clearly, she can speak for herself and speak to the question at hand, but my point is that I don't see how her proximity to the defendant has any bearing on the accuracy of her statements.

I would posit that none of us are completely objective, but I would also suggest that we are very capable of relating facts and differentiating them from analysis and opinion.

KL: First, I am assuming that when Dominique related Lily's tale to us that she put her best foot forward. That is, seeing that she is attempting to persuade me, she wrote her post in a way that was most favorable to her larger point about the injustices she perceives among the incarcerated. Second, I don't know what details Dominique knows about the case, but according to her post, most, if not everything she knows about Lily's case was obtained from Lily. Lily is not an objective source of information about her own case. Third, Dominique herself told us in her original post that her attitudes toward the incarcerated changed once she got to know them. In other words, her relationships influenced her reasoning. Fourth, Dominique sees the world through a feminist lens. Together, these factors lead me to conclude that I should treat the evidence presented with due diligence. It would be unreasonable for me to do otherwise.

This is not a case of me confusing the facts with opinion, as you seem to suggest. Rather, this is a case of me assigning varying weights to the evidence and its source, especially where only one version and one source have been heard from.

Dominique: I started to go into a long explanation about how Lily was technically arrested for being an accessory to murder after the fact (she didn't report the murder). And then describing how Lily's defense was that her boyfriend had not told her that she murdered someone, so technically how could she be an accessory if she didn't know the crime was committed. Hence that's why I wrote her crime was sitting in the car. And that he involved Lily in the case only when police during their interrogation of him told him that disclosing others involved in the crime would give him a shorter sentence. Then I realized the longer my narrative got that it isn't my job to defend the veracity of the case and the facts as I have read them and interviewed folks about them at least not in this space. At some point, you take all of the facts you have and come to a conclusion regarding them regardless of your relationship to the subject or subject matter--the defendant in this case. I'm a University researcher and I've been trained in how to do so, but I completely agree with Janet that none of us can ever be entirely objective. And I'll admit that regardless of the amount of training I might have received to do so that I'm not entirely objective, but I don't think that it bears on my conclusions of the case.

Besides, I believe we will always just have differing viewpoints when it comes to this case, and possibly the hundreds out there like it. Again, I'm okay with that. I respect someone's right to disagree with me and view the worldly differently than I do. What I do want to celebrate is where we do agree. I think you really captured a shared spirit when you wrote: "However, Dominique, in the end even though I do not see her case through the same lens as you, I don't think it even matters. That is, I still see the need to provide her literacy training as part of her rehabilitation during her incarceration. I'm one who desires prison to be an unpleasant place, yet a place where one can grow and depart it being stronger for the experience." [emphasis mine] Thanks for sharing those words.

I was also quite moved when you shared the motivation for doing the work that you do. My favorite part was when you wrote: "I view their learning in personal terms of self-confidence, accomplishment, freedom, and assimilation. And I want them to benefit themselves and others in a public way; I want my society to benefit from their participation..." I found that very powerful. Thanks again for sharing it.

Dominique: Just to clarify quickly. Lily wasn't my only source of information. And I'll admit I didn't speak to Lily's boyfriend who was in jail at the time. One of the victim's family members didn't think Lily was guilty. Not sure if that changes things for you though.

LS: I would just like to comment that I was unaware till now that Lily was being tried as if in a court of law by the adult literacy community. Why are some of us presuming to judge her guilt or innocence, anyway? This is not at all what adult literacy is about, and it disturbs me to see the conversation turn to judging and weighing "evidence." In addition, we all form our opinions and adjudicate the facts based on our own prejudices, assumptions, and experience. I assume Mr. Lykins is not immune to this, either.

HS: My mother corresponds with a woman on death row in Gatesville, Texas, who will soon be moved to Huntsville as her April execution date approaches. Cathy Henderson's story is a tragic but not unusual example of how the legal system so often marginalizes defendants from poverty. Had Cathy or her family possessed the financial resources for a competent defense, it is unlikely she would be headed for the execution chamber, even in death-penalty-addicted Texas. If you are interested in details of Cathy's story, you can visit this website: http://savecathyhenderson.org/

10. Final Remarks from Dominique

In way of wrapping up our discussion, first, I want to thank Daphne for asking me to be this week's guest discussant. Second, I want to thank everyone who participated both actively and those who participated simply by reading my words and the words of others. In other words, hello to all of my fellow "lurkers". After this week, though, I don't think I will ever be able to go back to my role of lurker. You have all engaged with my thoughts, made me think harder, reminded me of why it is that I do the work that I do, and immensely expanded my knowledge of both what is happening in the field and all of the resources out there. Thank you all for that.

I also think our discussions about Lily's case was a beautiful reminder to me of exactly the bars, barriers, and boundaries I face in researching and working with women student-inmates. While to me they will always be women and students, to others they will always be viewed first as inmates regardless of whether or not they are guilty of their alleged crimes. I fear it is easier to stigmatize those who stand accused rather than to believe that a system designed to protect us and be just could ever actually be unjust. I think it is a myth (or maybe it too is a spell) to believe that the system or process of "truth, justice for all" is currently operating here in the U.S. Although, I do think it is an ideal worth continuing to strive for.

I wish everyone well in their continued work. I think we all agree that this is such important work, and I'm so glad to know that there are colleagues out there who are on this fabulous rollercoaster along with me. I look forward to the continued discussions on this listserv.

Warmly and respectfully,

Dominique

I choose to identify with the underprivileged.

I choose to identify with the poor.

I choose to give my life for the hungry.

I choose to give my life for those who have been
left out of the sunlight of opportunity.

I choose to live for those who find themselves seeing
life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign.

This is the way I'm going.

If it means suffering a little bit, I'm going that way.

If it means sacrificing for them, I'm going that way.

If it means dying for them, I'm going that way, because I heard a voice saying, 'Do something for others.'

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

"True, the court punished you when you were sent here. But that is in the past. What matters now is education for the future. Here you are a student, not a prisoner. If you will, you can help to make this a better place. In making your contribution to help others who are sharing this experience with you, you will find this time worthwhile. You have our good wishes."

--Handbook for the Newcomer to Framingham--distributed to women inmates upon arriving at the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham. The Handbook was in use during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

"According to its ideal, a democracy wishes to save every human being. There is to be no scrap heap. No one is to be cast aside; no one is to be defeated."

--a very wise student inmate writing in 1940 while she was imprisoned at the Reformatory for Women in Framingham, Massachusetts.

 

11. Thank you from Daphne

I would like to extend a very, very warm thank you to Dominique for leading and guiding us through this very thought provoking discussion. I know that I speak on behalf of other listserv members when I say that we appreciated your openness, honesty, and sincerity in sharing with us your world, your experiences, your thoughts and your beliefs. We have learned from your examples and have had our minds expanded.

I would also like to thank all the active participators who shared their beliefs, questions, agreements, disagreements, and resources with us. And, thank you to the lurkers who read and thought and benefited from the discussion.

Daphne Greenberg

PovertyRaceWomen and Literacy List Facilitator




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