Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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Introduction

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pp. 1-11

When Davida was born, her father, David, was seventeen and serving his first adult sentence on a drug conviction.* A small-time drug dealer in Washington, D.C., he has been in and out of prison for his daughter’s entire life. For all the anger and disappointment that come with having a...

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PART I. WHAT WENT WRONG?

Two elderly women have come to blows. As they shove and wrestle, scuffling across the hard floor of the District government office building, they are yelling at each other. “That’s my grandson you’re talking about! Don’t you talk about my grandson that way!” shouts one. “You love him so much...

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Chapter 1. A Public Debate

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pp. 15-19

This strange public demonstration took place early in my fieldwork and provided a striking introduction to both local city politics and the increasingly complex politics of incarceration. It was followed by five public hearings,1 the last two of which were open for comments from the general public. But even at the first hearing, the divergent perspectives within the community...

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Chapter 2. “It’s a Mess What’s Happened”

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pp. 20-22

Londa lives in the center of Washington, D.C., in a twenty-year-old housing project.* The project is one of the more modern in the District, spreading inhabitants out in a series of squat cement row houses. Her street is a small loop off of a main thoroughfare, and there is no traffic except for the cars of those living in or visiting the project. Kids and the occasional grown man ride bikes...

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Chapter 3. The Creation of the Ghetto

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pp. 23-29

In 1870, as freedmen were participating in their first local elections in the nation’s capital, Frederick Douglass, like many blacks in the District, was celebrating newfound suffrage: “The ideas of progress, of self-dependence, and self-government,” he wrote, “have taken root and are flourishing among our people. Each feels that he is a part of, and has an interest in, the welfare...

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Chapter 4. Incarceration as a Response to Public Disorder

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pp. 30-35

As families living in America’s inner cities began to buckle under the weight of the shifts in policy and the economy, those outside its neighborhoods appeared blithely unaware. What many saw instead were minorities moving in, property values going down, businesses pulling out, and, perhaps most symbolically...

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PART II. KINSHIP

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pp. 37-39

Brenda and her sister, Janet, moved back into their childhood home after their father passed away. It was a large, sprawling house, far too large for their mother alone, with plenty of space for them and their children. Their mother had encouraged the move, saying that she needed their help, but in truth she knew that she was helping them at least as much as they...

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Chapter 5. On the Ropes: Londa & Derek

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pp. 41-64

Brenda’s sister-in-law, Londa, is a mother of three. She broke her ankle a few weeks before we met and, worried about the impression the disarray in her apartment will give, she is quick to apologize about the mess. But, with her ankle broken and her husband, Derek, gone, she has trouble keeping the place as clean...

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Chapter 6. Falling Apart: Thelma & David

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pp. 65-88

Thelma is sixty-two. While she never married, she had five children by a man who, though she doesn’t like to talk about it, had a wife and another family with whom he spent most of his time and on whom he spent nearly all of his money. Although the two families never spoke to one another, their long-term...

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Chapter 7. Pulling Families Apart

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pp. 89-96

When academics talk about families, they often talk about the harm that comes from familial disintegration. Many lament the lack of dedication to family they see in high rates of unwed mothers, absent fathers, and divorce. These debates take on a special tone when black families are the subject. Consider,...

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PART III. EXCHANGE

Accountability, a concept at the heart of get-tough sentencing reforms, has taken on a different meaning for Barbara. She lives in a small apartment in a housing project near the Maryland state line in Northeast Washington, D.C. Her nephew, Davone, violated the terms of his parole for a previous...

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Chapter 8. Arrested: Edwina & Kenny

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pp. 99-112

Edwina grew up in Alabama in the 1940s and 1950s, the daughter of a domestic worker and a factory hand. She recalls herself as a simple girl with simple parents, and most of her family agree, adding only that she hasn’t changed much. She married her high school sweetheart, but, she points out, “we didn’t really meet at school—it was at the church our families attended.” Fairly...

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Chapter 9. Doing Time: Lilly & Arthur

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pp. 113-134

Lilly is fifty-one. She was married with three children by the age of nineteen when her husband left her. A single parent without a high school education and functionally illiterate, she has worked as a beautician, a construction worker, a cook, a daycare provider, and at a host of other odd jobs to support...

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Chapter 10. Cycling through the System: Zelda & Clinton

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pp. 135-153

Clinton is one of thirteen children, although he is in regular contact with only two of his sisters and is close only to the younger, Zelda. He has one daughter, Janet, and is still close to her mother, Pat. Janet recently gave birth to a baby boy,...

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Chapter 11. Material and Social Consequences

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pp. 154-163

Many families of prisoners face significant obstacles in day-to-day life that are not directly related to incarceration. Many of the women I interviewed are, like Zelda, survivors of physical and sexual abuse, struggling against poverty and working hard to raise their children without much help. These are not troubles faced only by families of prisoners, but they are problems...

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PART IV. SILENCE

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pp. 165-167

The preceding chapters have described the difficulties that families of prisoners face. Their experiences are, one would think, more than enough to prompt many to protest a regime of criminal sanctions that punishes them along with criminal offenders. Yet, most told no one outside of the immediate...

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Chapter 12. Missing the Mark: Louisa & Robert

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pp. 169-175

The preceding chapters have described the difficulties that families of prisoners face. Their experiences are, one would think, more than enough to prompt many to protest a regime of criminal sanctions that punishes them along with criminal offenders. Yet, most told no one outside of the immediate...

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Chapter 13. Problems at Home: Constance & Jonathan

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pp. 177-187

Jonathan and Constance Smith have been married twenty years. They have six sons and live in a small house in a working-class section of Anacostia, in Southeast Washington. Anacostia is often described in general and unflattering terms.* Anyone who...

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Chapter 14. Work Worries: Tina & Dante

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pp. 188-194

Tina is raising her two daughters and two of her nieces after their mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She rents a small row house that’s part of a suburban public housing project just outside of the District. She is acutely aware of the value of education...

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Chapter 15. Depression and Isolation: Robin & Aaron

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pp. 195-199

Robin, who is thirty-four and has two daughters and a son, married her husband, Aaron, while he was incarcerated. He has a mandatory release date in four years and will come up for parole once before then. They met in elementary school, but their families knew each other before that. After she finished...

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Chapter 16. Coping: Murielle & Dale

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pp. 200-209

Although many of the family members who were closest to prisoners struggled with stigma, isolation, and depression, most had also developed ways to cope. In many cases, however, their coping repertoires were limited, typically characterized...

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Chapter 17. Faith and Church: Dolores & Lawrence

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pp. 210-218

Dolores’s son Lawrence has been incarcerated for four years, and, as she is quick to tell me, he is the first person in her immediate family to spend time in prison. Although she lives in what is generally considered to be a bad neighborhood near one of the oldest open-air drug markets in the District, her life...

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Chapter 18. Social Silence

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pp. 219-220

One often hears in policy circles that incarceration no longer works because inner-city communities are places where shame has no hold.1 One can only assume that most participants in these discussions have had little direct contact with the families or communities they are discussing. Stigma and incarceration...

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CONCLUSION: LOOKING AHEAD

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pp. 221-224

By employing incarceration—the bluntest of policy instruments—as the primary response to social disorder, policymakers have significantly missed the mark. The very laws intended to punish selfish behavior and to further common social interests have, in practice, strained and eroded the personal relationships...

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Postscript

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pp. 225-226

People are resilient, all the more so when they are part of caring families. The families in this book, for the most part, live on, making the stories I first wrote about them seem like the necessarily dated verbal snapshots they are. I continued to revise the accounts for some time, but finally I had to...

Appendix: Methodology and Data Sources

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pp. 227-230

Acknowledgments

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pp. 231-233

Notes

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pp. 235-265

Index

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pp. 266-274