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The Story Within Us

Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading

MeganSweeney

Publication Year: 2012

This volume features in-depth, oral interviews with eleven incarcerated women, each of whom offers a narrative of her life and her reading experiences within prison walls. The women share powerful stories about their complex and diverse efforts to negotiate difficult relationships, exercise agency in restrictive circumstances, and find meaning and beauty in the midst of pain. Their shared emphases on abuse, poverty, addiction, and mental illness illuminate the pathways that lead many women to prison and suggest possibilities for addressing the profound social problems that fuel crime. _x000B__x000B_Framing the narratives within an analytic introduction and reflective afterword, Megan Sweeney highlights the crucial intellectual work that the incarcerated women perform despite myriad restrictions on reading and education in U.S. prisons. These women use the limited reading materials available to them as sources of guidance and support and as tools for self-reflection and self-education. Through their creative engagements with books, the women learn to reframe their own life stories, situate their experiences in relation to broader social patterns, deepen their understanding of others, experiment with new ways of being, and maintain a sense of connection with their fellow citizens on both sides of the prison fence._x000B_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

In 2008, I was in the midst of writing a book about the reading practices of women in prison. Ninety-four women—from the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, in Raleigh; the Northeast Pre-Release Center, in Cleveland; and the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Pennsylvania—had...

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Introduction: "All us women have a story within us"

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pp. 1-10

During the late 1960s, The Communist Manifesto was one of the most popular books at San Quentin prison. Incarcerated men copied pages of the book by hand and shared them with each other by way of a clothesline strung from cell to cell. This image of male prisoners reading radical literature stands in...

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1. Mildred - Life Narrative: "Society is coming to prison"

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pp. 11-22

I was born in Ohio. I was raised by both parents, even though . . . my father and mother divorced when I was like six or seven. It was six of us kids. My father had four of us and he raised me until I was about twelve. . . . And then my mother raised me ’til I graduated from high school. Then right after high...

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2. Sissy - Life Narrative: "There's a time to be silent, and there's a time not to"

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pp. 23-44

I was born in Ohio, I think. I have a birth certificate saying that. I was raised in Mississippi by my grandmother, my mother’s mother. My one older sister and one younger sister, both are the two that my grandmother raised besides me, but my mother, she had other children also. I learned family values. You...

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3. Olivia - Life Narrative: "It was a bad road that I was on"

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pp. 45-58

I was born in Ohio. I was raised by my mother, mostly my mother. She was single. It was a single home. I have two brothers, one older and one younger. Family life was real hard. Tight with money. Mom wasn’t home a lot, so we basically kind of fended for ourselves and had to make it to school, you know...

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4. Denise - Life Narrative: "I can't even imagine my day without a mall"

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pp. 59-91

I was born in a little town called [X], North Carolina, and we was raised in a farm atmosphere. As a young girl, like from nine to fifteen, I worked in tobacco. I picked tobacco, picked cotton, picked peaches, cucumbers. We did that type of job. Those were the only jobs actually that were available to black...

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5. Bobbie - Life Narrative: "I've been overcoming all my life"

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pp. 92-104

I was born in Cleveland. I was raised by my mom and my stepdad first. [When my parents divorced,] my biological father wanted custody of his kids, but he didn’t want me. . . . He took the oldest kids and left me with [my mom]. And then she got married to my stepdad. . . . I thought he was more...

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6. Melissa - Life Narrative: "They're trying to brainwash me and rebuild me"

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pp. 105-128

I was born in North Carolina. At the time when I was born, my mom was still living with her mom, and she was separated from my brothers’ daddy. My brothers are nine and ten years older than me. Somewhere down the line, my mom had a nervous breakdown, and they had to go live with their...

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7. Valhalla - Life Narrative: "I've been like a ball that someone threw and I've been bouncing around ever since"

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pp. 129-146

I was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1978. My parents were high school sweethearts. I come from a very close extended family. I have one brother. He just turned twenty-eight. My parents raised me ’til I was about six. My parents split up. Then me and my brother and my dad lived with my [paternal] grandmother...

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8. Jacqueline - Life Narrative: "I refuse to be another statistic"

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pp. 147-160

I was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1965. My parents got married, from what I understand, a few hours before I was born. They were teenagers. My mother was sixteen, and I believe my dad was eighteen or nineteen. I had two brothers and a sister that grew up with me. I’m the oldest. I don’t remember...

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9. Audrey - Life Narrative: "That's a chapter that's closed"

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pp. 161-179

I was born and raised in North Carolina. My mother, she had six kids. She raised all six of us by herself, and we was brought up to believe in working for what we got, and we did pretty much like help out around the house until we got old enough to get out and get public jobs. My childhood was all right...

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10. Deven - Life Narrative: "Society, it's a boys' club still"

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pp. 180-196

I was born in Ohio, born and raised there. My mother, my father, my stepmother all raised me. My older sister, she’s seven years older. So there’s a big gap there, and even though they kind of pushed me off on her at times, I pretty much was an only child. Family life was very good. I enjoyed it. Did all the norms, I...

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11. Solo - Life Narrative: "That's a soul that you're stepping on"

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pp. 197-225

I was born in Mississippi. My maternal grandparents raised me until I was six. And then they boarded me on a train. So at the age of six, I was on a train by myself. That’s a very vivid memory. It’s a good memory. And I arrived in Chicago, Illinois, with my great maternal aunt, whose name is...

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Afterword: "True Stories about Prison"

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pp. 227-239

“I haven’t read a book yet that wrote a true story about prison,” says Denise in her reading narrative. Although no single story can capture the diversity of women prisoners’ experiences, the women featured in The Story Within Us create a tapestry of important insights about women who are currently...

Appendix: Study-Related Materials

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pp. 241-247

Notes

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pp. 249-257

Bibliography

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pp. 259-262

Index

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pp. 263-273


E-ISBN-13: 9780252094255
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037146

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Women prisoners -- United States -- Books and reading.
  • Books and reading.
  • African American women -- Books and reading.
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