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preface I did not set out to write about how a halfway house reproduces patriarchal oppression in women’s transition from incarceration to community and how women manage this domination. My research aim was quite different. I wanted to explore how women are able to exploit a criminal labor market despite sexism and other types of exclusion in that setting to make crime profitable. A central assumption in that research was my understanding that even though women involved in criminal and deviant activities may have lived difficult lives characterized by victimization and oppression, they nonetheless maintain a steady attitude of responsibility and determination consistent with the idea of human agency, the ability to act on one’s own behalf. While my research topic changed over the course of my research, my understanding of women’s agency did not. The planned research took me to a halfway house, otherwise known as a residential reentry center, for women leaving incarceration and transitioning back to community life. The house was the same location where several years earlier I had conducted ethnographic research. I was familiar with the physical environment of the house, its management, and the population of women it served, so I knew I would be able to interview women with histories of different types of crimes and deviance. After being welcomed back by administrative staff, I arranged a first visit in the fall of 2010. At this point, things took an unpredicted turn. As I approached the house from the city street, I began to notice things I had not paid attention to before. The building’s stone architecture, strikingly different from the surrounding brick storefronts and inner-­ city row homes, seemed to fit a past time, invoking a sense of seclusion. The tiny front-­ door window reflected my image rather than offered a view inside. I rang a buzzer for entry and announced my name into a door-­ mounted microphone as instructed by a woman ’s voice that came through a nearby speaker. The woman herself, revealed as a “monitor” clad in medical scrubs, instructed me to sign the visitor’s log on a small entryway table. Noting as well the current time and my purpose for visiting, I saw that the last visitor had signed in seven days earlier. This is unusual, I thought, xii preface recalling that criminal justice agencies and institutions are generally frequently visited. A second log, this one for residents to sign in and out, showed that only two women had left the house on this refreshing November day. I thought it odd that so few women were outside for work and activities because halfway houses had been developed years before to facilitate the reintegration of men and women into community living after having served periods of incarceration. After a brief meeting with the administrators of this comparatively small facility , I headed toward the women who lived there—but paused as an intercom sounded a directive: “All residents report to the living room. Ladies, go to the living room for a mandatory class.” The voice over the intercom reminded me of a prison environment; it was impersonal and firm, and oddly formal given that the monitor making the announcement was just steps away from the women and could have easily introduced me personally. As I stepped into the “living room” and through what seemed like an invisible barrier into the women’s space, I noticed five women dressed in loungewear, slouching in old and worn couches and gazing toward a very loud television. I introduced myself as Gail, shook hands with each of the women, then sat on the edge of a chair among them. One of the women started the conversation: “What your class? We gotta take your class?” Some of the other women stiffened up at that question and waited for my response. “No,” I told them. “I’m not here for a class. You don’t have to do anything for me. I don’t work in the [criminal justice] system. I’m a researcher. I write about women’s lives. I spent a lot of time here before with women who lived here. I want to know more about you guys; I want to learn from you. I want to tell your stories.” I explained that I had been here before and spent time with many other women who had shared this space. At this the women seemed to relax and began asking me questions about my prior research; some even...


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MARC Record
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