Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison

Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison

Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison

Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison


By quadrupling the number of people behind bars in two decades, the United States has become the world leader in incarceration. Much has been written on the men who make up the vast majority of the nation's two million inmates. But what of the women they leave behind? Doing Time Together vividly details the ways that prisons shape and infiltrate the lives of women with husbands, fiancés, and boyfriends on the inside.

Megan Comfort spent years getting to know women visiting men at San Quentin State Prison, observing how their romantic relationships drew them into contact with the penitentiary. Tangling with the prison's intrusive scrutiny and rigid rules turns these women into "quasi-inmates," eroding the boundary between home and prison and altering their sense of intimacy, love, and justice. Yet Comfort also finds that with social welfare weakened, prisons are the most powerful public institutions available to women struggling to overcome untreated social ills and sustain relationships with marginalized men. As a result, they express great ambivalence about the prison and the control it exerts over their daily lives.

An illuminating analysis of women caught in the shadow of America's massive prison system, Comfort's book will be essential for anyone concerned with the consequences of our punitive culture.


Toward the end of visiting hours today, Grace, who is mar
ried to a man serving a life sentence, came out of the prison
I've seen Grace visiting at San Quentin since 1995. She always
greets me warmly but has never really opened up to me about
her personal life—so I was particularly intrigued when she said
excitedly, “I have a present in the gift shop! Come on, you can
come get it with me.” The gift shop (or “hobby shop,” as it is
officially called by the San Quentin authorities) is located just
outside the main gate of the prison and is staffed by one highly
trusted inmate decked out in a blindingly bright yellow jump
suit (an outfit mandated after a hobby shop worker wearing
the customary prison attire of a chambray shirt and blue jeans
walked away from his post and into the “free” world unnoticed).
This peculiar store consists of a dimly lit sallow room with three
long display cases arranged like a horseshoe. Inside the cases
and hanging on the walls are hundreds of objects crafted by
prisoners, available for purchase by anyone who takes a fancy
to them: paintings, drawings, earrings, note cards, clocks, and
other trinkets produced by those inmates lucky enough to be
permitted to engage in such “hobbies” behind the walls

As we strolled the short distance to the shop, Grace ex
plained that her wedding anniversary was this week and her
husband had made a gift for her that she could now retrieve.
Before I could ask any questions we reached the front of the
shop and came upon the prisoner-worker standing outside the
door, smoking. Visibly eager to claim her present, Grace told
the worker that she had a gift to collect but added kindly, “You

1. Grace is a pseudonym, as are the names of all the participants.

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