Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This presentation reports on my research and one-on-one work with incarcerated women in a large North Carolina jail over a 10-year period (2008-2018). In addition to conducting interviews, I was able to build rapport with and learn the environment of women inmates by teaching a single-session “Domestic Violence 101” course to all new inmates as well as an ongoing, weekly domestic violence support group. A primary way in which this group of women is persistently marginalized is through the stigmatizing language of the state that defines these women as “unfit” women and/or mothers. By contrasting the lifestyles of these women (disproportionately young, poor, and of color) with those of middle-class, White “proper” women, resistance and survival strategies are criminalized and stigmatized, thus rationalizing punishment rather than care. My research on incarcerated women’s service and motherhood needs highlights women’s pathways to incarceration and reflects the necessity for care that addresses life-long histories of trauma (particularly interpersonal violence). It thus emphasizes the need for care that addresses these root causes of incarceration. Women, lacking positive coping mechanisms and resources for responding to life-long trauma and abuse, often resort to negative resistance strategies that result in subsequent victimization, trauma, and incarceration. I will discuss essential ways in which community care work can empower women with positive forms of coping and resistance in order to help break the cycle of victimization and incarceration.