Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States

Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States

Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States

Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States

Synopsis

Interrupted Life is a gripping collection of writings by and about imprisoned women in the United States, a country that jails a larger percentage of its population than any other nation in the world. This eye-opening work brings together scores of voices from both inside and outside the prison system including incarcerated and previously incarcerated women, their advocates and allies, abolitionists, academics, and other analysts. In vivid, often highly personal essays, poems, stories, reports, and manifestos, they offer an unprecedented view of the realities of women's experiences as they try to sustain relations with children and family on the outside, struggle for healthcare, fight to define and achieve basic rights, deal with irrational sentencing systems, remake life after prison; and more. Together, these powerful writings are an intense and visceral examination of life behind bars for women, and, taken together, they underscore the failures of imagination and policy that have too often underwritten our current prison system.

Excerpt

The politics of representing the experiences of incarcerated women play out on a landscape of necessity and violence. To turn away from the need to understand and reveal the mechanisms and circumstances of dehumanization that mark the women’s prison is unconscionable in any political or intellectual sphere that makes a claim to feminism in the twenty-first century. To believe that any of us can fully render this picture for ourselves or for anyone else is equally so. For the past three years, the editors of this volume have been compiling writings that seek to illuminate the environment and experiences of incarcerated women in the United States. The book is necessary but will inevitably fail this mission—substantially. Publishing personal, academic, and artistic testimonies to the tools and intricacies of the prison machine is essential if we are ever to dismantle it, but we must also recognize that we cannot sufficiently know the complex reality of the prison system. In representing and reading the experiences of women-not-ourselves who have been institutionally erased from the category of human beings, we have to know that failure is certain, and we have to try to determine why.

Since 1977, the population of women prisoners in the United States has increased by over 700 percent. These women are without access to proper health care, without their children, whom many of them will lose permanently; they are without. These stark details are obscene in their materiality. They are facts, but they are only a piece of the picture. The picture is impossible. Indeed, the picture is the problem.

If pictures give us “windows” or “inside looks,” if they provide “rare glimpses” into brutal experiences not our own, enabling us to see ourselves “there,” then we recruit them to play central roles in what Saidiya Hartman aptly indicts as “the violence of identification.” If we set out to make—or take with us—these pictures, then . . .

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