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Breaking Women

Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment

Jill A. McCorkel

Publication Year: 2013

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

In January 2009, then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced plans to close a $19.9 billion budget gap in California.1 His proposal to make massive cuts in social services like health care and welfare-to-work programs had all the familiar markings of the Republican Party’s brand of fiscal conservatism— with one radical exception. ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book has been a long time in the making and I am grateful to everyone who has encouraged, inspired, and supported me along the way. My first and largest debt of gratitude belongs to the women incarcerated at East State whose experiences and observations serve as the heart and soul of this book. ...

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Introduction: Searching for Red’s Self

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pp. 1-18

“I’m lost, I’ve had to surrender my self.” As Red says this, she curls her fingers into a loose fist and raps her chest as if to indicate the part of her that has gone missing.1 We are sitting in a shaded corner of the prison’s recreation yard awaiting word on whether her release paperwork will be processed in time for her to return home to celebrate her son’s fourth birthday. ...

Part I: The End of Rehabilitation

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1. Getting Tough on Women: How Punishment Changed

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pp. 21-49

Warden Richardson looked uncomfortable during the press conference. He was a large man with a commanding presence, but today, as he waited to be introduced, he was decidedly unsettled. He alternately shifted his weight forward onto the balls of his feet and then backward onto his heels until he lost his balance and had to be steadied by a correctional officer. ...

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2. Taking Over: The Private Company in the Public Prison

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pp. 50-69

Accountability committee meetings are held once a month in the conference room adjacent to the warden’s office. Attendance is by invitation only and limited to supervisory staff from various units and departments within the prison. All told, there are eleven regular attendees who are “accountable” to the warden, ...

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3. From Good Girls to Real Criminals: Race Made Visible

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pp. 70-94

The warden’s office is nestled in the corner of the prison’s administration wing, which lies to the far right of the prison’s main hallway and is comfortably removed from the noise and bustle that characterizes the rest of the facility. Were it not for the sound of the ponderous metal door that announces the arrival and departure of staff and visitors alike ...

Part II: The Practice of Habilitation

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4. The Eyes Are Watching You: Finding the Real Self

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pp. 97-121

One of the earliest stops for newly sentenced prisoners as they arrive in the prison is the classification committee. Prior to PHW’s arrival, the classification committee’s central tasks were to make housing assignments and to determine whether an inmate was eligible to earn “good time” credits through participation in work, educational, or rehabilitative programs.1 ...

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5. Diseased Women: Crack Whores, Bad Mothers, and Welfare Queens

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pp. 122-152

On any given day, someone passing by the PHW unit may overhear counselors addressing prisoners as “crack hos,” “lowdown addicts,” and “dirty old dogs,” and admonishing them to “tighten the fuck up.” When prisoners recount their initial impressions of PHW, they speak first of language, particularly the use of derogatory names. ...

Part III: Contesting the Boundaries of Self

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6. Rentin’ Out Your Head: Navigating Claims about the Self

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pp. 155-180

For its first five years of operation, PHW held an annual press conference to celebrate the date the program first opened its doors at the prison. Among the guests regularly in attendance were a number of politicians (including a U.S. senator and East State’s governor), local judges, representatives from the Committee, university researchers, ...

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7. Unruly Selves: Forms of Prisoner Resistance

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pp. 181-212

One summer afternoon, a prisoner I did not know passed me a note as I walked down the long corridor to the PHW unit. It turned out that the note was from Meesha, an African American prisoner in her early twenties who had recently been kicked out of the program. ...

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Conclusion: What If the Cure Is Worse Than the Disease?

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pp. 213-228

When I returned to East State Women’s Correctional Institution two years after the conclusion of my original study, I was greeted at the front gate by Lil’ Toya, a prisoner who was still there serving time on her conviction for possession of crack cocaine. “Welcome to hell,” she said. ...


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pp. 229-250


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pp. 251-262


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pp. 263-271

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About the Author

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pp. 272-289

Jill A. McCorkel is Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Villanova University. Her work has appeared in several leading journals, including Social Problems, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, and Social Politics. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814789483
E-ISBN-10: 081478948x
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814761489
Print-ISBN-10: 0814761488

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013