Soledad Women: Wives of Prisoners Speak Out

Soledad Women: Wives of Prisoners Speak Out

Soledad Women: Wives of Prisoners Speak Out

Soledad Women: Wives of Prisoners Speak Out


Little attention has been paid to the lives led by families of prisoners. Using a feminist approach, the author explores how the lives of 25 wives of prisoners at Soledad prison are affected by the incarceration of their husbands. Relationships, stigma, coping, finances, children, the prison system, and rehabilitation are explored through in-depth interviews. This study describes the experiences of the wives and seeks to connect their experiences to a conceptual framework that explores the context of sex, race, and class inequalities. The author discusses prison policy recommendations to improve the lot of prisoners' families, emphasizing the ways in which life is organized in families where the husband/father is imprisoned. Several themes emerge in this work. The powerful role of the "wife," women as caretakers, and the subordinate position these women hold in society due to their sex, class, and race, are some examples. Recommendations are made to ease the burden of visiting, and encourage maintenance of family roles.


I leave in the dark of morning, following the routine of the past year that dominates my life, creating at once a predictability and an arbitrariness to which I still cannot adjust. My thoughts wind their way from topic to topic, but the road ahead is straight. I am on Highway 101, heading south, and I am grateful for the simple path. Alone with my thoughts for two hours, I review, relive, and project conversations and situations past and yet to come. When I arrive at my destination, I will be locked up for the next twelve hours in a large, poorly ventilated, concrete-walled room with 200 other people.

We are the families and friends of prisoners at Soledad prison, different from each other in every way -- social status, race, religion, political views, education, and life experience. What we have in common is caring about someone incarcerated in the state prison system. What brings me here draws them as well. When I leave, it will be nighttime, and I will have missed another warm and sunny day, driving home in the dark, alone with my thoughts again, on this straight stretch of Highway 101.

Today I'm wearing something new, a colorful jumpsuit. Clothing is about the only aspect of the visit that can vary, for the prisoners and the visiting room look the same day after day. I am conscious of the fact that the way I dress is a way for my husband to show me off, to be proud of something in his life in an environment with few other opportunities for pride. I can carry in only a small, plastic, see-through purse with some money for the vending machines (20 dollars maximum), a comb, and some photographs. Depending on the officers processing us, we may or may not bring in blank paper and a pen. No books other than Bibles, no magazines, no games to help pass the time. I hear that in some prison visiting rooms they have board games and card games available, but not here at Soledad. So the real variety is in what I wear and what we can think of to say in our hours together.

Of course, there are rules about visitors' clothing. We can't wear blue denim . . .

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