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one| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | RESIDENTS More than twenty women appear in this book, with a smaller number of them taking center stage. Ranging in age from their early twenties to mid-­sixties, the women’s racial identities are about evenly split Caucasian and African American or Hispanic. As is the case with many women who come into contact with the criminal justice system, they have led difficult lives with much struggle and heartbreak. Sadly, their personal, economic, and social histories prior to coming to the reentry center are those that often characterize the backgrounds of women in trouble with the law. Even so, those whose lives are revealed in this book reflect a diversity of women in the criminal justice system. The majority of the women in this study have suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and victimization that started very early in life and typically in their own homes. Many of their childhoods were marked by parental drug abuse, parental violence in the home, urban poverty, and periods spent as runaways . As a group, the women also share adult experiences of victimization in their criminal activity and in their intimate relationships. They have medical problems, limited education, and weak employment histories. Almost every one reports mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and more serious psychiatric disorders. Substance abuse touches almost every one as well. The women report addictions to heroin, cocaine and crack, “wet” weed, prescription pills, and alcohol. Quite a number are mothers, and some have had little or no involvement in the lives of their children before incarceration. Their substance-­abuse histories and pathways to crime and drugs are similar to profiles reported in the literature about female drug users and women in contact with the criminal justice system.1 26 a halfway house for women Most of the women in this study are those who normally commit low-­ level economic crimes such as sex work (prostitution) and theft, including shoplifting ; female offenders according to literature tend to engage in such crimes as a consequence of the gendered organization of labor in the criminal labor market (Maher, 1997; Steffensmeier and Terry, 1986). Other women in this study report histories of violent crime, namely robbery, and drug dealing as a means to earn money. In terms of their criminal justice involvement, only two of the women had never been in trouble with the law before their participation at Alpha Omega House. The rest report multiple contacts (some have lost count of the number) with the criminal justice system, including incarceration. Some have been homeless or lived in shelters, and about a quarter of the women have spent time in hospitals for psychiatric needs. While they have all lived in the same major city and very often in the very same neighborhoods, rarely did the women have personal connections before they become residents of this house. The following profiles introduce some of the women who participated in this study more personally. To protect their privacy, the women’s names have been changed, as have names of the reentry center staff, neighborhoods, and correctional institutions that are mentioned. Adeline “Angel eyes,” Adeline reads from her journal. “We were in love. He was the love of my life. This is the man I loved. I need help. I grieve for him. I’m a murderer.” Despite years of violence suffered at her lover’s hands, she says, “I look at this poem and don’t see the violence. I loved this man.” Then she whispers, “I’m starting to get worse again. I need help. Everybody I look at looks like him. I need help.” Adeline killed the man she loved in self-­ defense when he hunted her down after being incarcerated for violating a restraining order. Held in jail without bail on a charge of first-­ degree murder, Adeline was facing the possibility of a lifetime behind bars when she was offered a chance at earlier freedom by way of a plea deal. By pleading to voluntary manslaughter—admitting she took the violence against her boyfriend too far—she would serve anywhere from twelve to twenty-­four years in prison. Adeline took the deal, and during sentencing, luck or compassion was on her side because the judge agreed to a technical change to her plea that introduced the possibility of serving much less time. “It was some kind of lawyer crap, I dunno,” Adeline explains; “anywhere up to twelve to twenty-­ four years in prison or as low as work release.” After serving two...


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