Academic journal article Theory in Action

A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women, 2nd Edition

Academic journal article Theory in Action

A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women, 2nd Edition

Article excerpt

Book Review: Erin George, A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women, 2nd Edition. Edited by Robert Johnson and Alison B. Martin. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780199935888 (Paperback). 272 Pages. $34.95.

[Article copies available for a fee from The Transformative Studies Institute. E-mail address: journal@transformativestudies.org Website: http://www.transformativestudies.org ©2015 by The Transformative Studies Institute. All rights reserved.]

In the book, A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women, Erin George, an inmate serving a 603-year sentence at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, candidly reflects upon her incarceration experiences. While the vast majority of the book is written by George in her own words, it has the benefit of being edited by Robert Johnson and Alison B. Martin, both of whom are well-regarded criminologists. Professor Johnson, in particular, is known within the criminal justice discipline as one of the leading critics of mass incarceration. In addition to having published numerous books and scholarly articles which pertain to institutional corrections, Johnson received the coveted Outstanding Book Award in 1992 from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences for Death Work, a scathing indictment of capital punishment and a modem day classic. Given all of the expertise and experience of both editors, and particularly Johnson, it is no surprise that Erin George's book proves to be a fascinating exploration of imprisonment through the lens of a female inmate. It has the benefit of being written in a manner that is often gritty and raw yet sufficiently rigorous and theoretical.

The author begins her story by briefly delving into the circumstances that led to her arrest, adjudication, and ultimately life imprisonment. Prior to her incarceration, George was a middle-class suburb mom who was arrested and charged with the murder of her of husband. While she maintains her innocence to this day, the author writes that she consciously made the decision to avoid focusing too much on the details of her case in her book. George reasons that doing so would distract readers from the broader issues associated with female correctional facilities. As Robert Johnson, serving as the lead editor, insightfully explains in the opening paragraph of the book, it is irrelevant whether or not George is innocent or guilty. Johnson maintains that he himself believes in George's innocence, however, it is evident that neither the author nor the editors wish to use A Woman Doing Life as a vehicle to gamer public sympathy for George's case. Rather, it is clear from the very beginning of the book that its primary objective is to give the reader a glimpse into the world of female prisons. In this sense, the book accomplishes its goal and makes for very interesting reading.

In the first chapter of the book, George reflects upon her experiences in jail as a pretrial detainee after she was arrested. The author writes that, upon her arrival to the Rappahannock Regional Jail (RRJ), she was promptly strip-searched and put in a delousing shower. The courts have ruled that even pretrial detainees are subject to these types of intake procedures to ensure the safety and cleanliness of correctional facilities.

Because the author did not have a criminal history, she was eventually bonded out of the jail; however, the bond was rescinded about a month prior to her trial. George writes that many of her fellow inmates told prosecutors that she had admitted to killing her husband. This practice is well-documented in the academic literature; inmates who engage in this malicious behavior are referred to as "jailhouse snitches," and attempt to befriend other prisoners to gain information that can be used to concoct fabricated confessions, which are often traded with prosecutors in exchange for leniency (Bloom, 2002; Cicchini, 2012).

Not surprisingly, the author reports that she learned fairly quickly to be leery and suspicious of other inmates in her facility. …

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