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Can't Catch a Break

Can't Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility

Susan Starr Sered
Maureen Norton-Hawk
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Can't Catch a Break
    Book Description:

    Based on five years of fieldwork in Boston,Can't Catch a Break documents the day-to-day lives of forty women as they struggle to survive sexual abuse, violent communities, ineffective social and therapeutic programs, discriminatory local and federal policies, criminalization, incarceration, and a broad cultural consensus that views suffering as a consequence of personal flaws and bad choices. Combining hard-hitting policy analysis with an intimate account of how marginalized women navigate an unforgiving world, Susan Sered and Maureen Norton-Hawk shine new light on the deep and complex connections between suffering and social inequality.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95870-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    When Francesca came bursting onto the scene at the drop-in center for poor and homeless women, she brought a spark of energy into the circle of worn-out faces and worn-down bodies, women slumped in armchairs, nodding off while watchingThe Jerry Springer Showand waiting for the shelters to reopen at 4:00. Outspoken, energetic, and full of plans, Francesca declared how terrible it is that Boston’s “Mayor Menino stands by while so many people have to live on the street.” With a few tosses of her long, auburn hair, she shared her dream of opening and running a facility that...

  7. CHAPTER 1 “Joey Spit on Me”: How Gender Inequality and Sexual Violence Make Women Sick
    (pp. 21-38)

    Francesca’s father came to the United States to live the American dream. An Italian sailor, he jumped ship and swam to shore in Massachusetts, where he married a woman from a well-established Italian American family. Francesca describes her father as “a typical macho Italian man.” From the outside, they were a stable and successful blue-collar family. Her parents owned their home; Dad worked at the same job his entire adult life, and Mom stayed home with the children. Francesca’s early memories are of festivals at the local church, her mother’s traditional recipes for Easter lamb and Italian meatballs, and her...

  8. CHAPTER 2 “Nowhere to Go”: Poverty, Homelessness, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility
    (pp. 39-56)

    When one is looking for Elizabeth at any of the facilities and parks frequented by homeless Bostonians, the best bet is to ask for “the pretty blonde woman, about forty years old who is always crying.” During the summer of 2008, Elizabeth spent most of her days in tears while wandering around the drop-in center carrying all of her belongings in an overflowing backpack. The first time we met her, we gave her five dollars so that she could rent a temporary locker at a homeless shelter. When we gave her the money, she wept even harder, choking out, “I...

  9. CHAPTER 3 “The Little Rock of the North”: Race, Gender, Class, and the Consequences of Mass Incarceration
    (pp. 57-70)

    When Anasia walks into the drop-in center, a few of the more timid women show a sudden need to leave for a cigarette, a bathroom run, or a vague appointment. Younger women may jump up to steer her to the most comfortable chair in the room, where she plops down with a thump and a groan. A heavy-set black woman in her late thirties, Anasia walks with a limp, listing to one side like a boat missing a rudder. Known for her street smarts and her quick temper, she is proud to have done whatever she needed to do to...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Suffer the Women: Pain and Perfection in a Medicalized World
    (pp. 71-89)

    Touching her fingertips to her lips and blowing kisses around the room, Ginger made her rounds of the women’s center, greeting friends and acquaintances with a steady stream of “Hello, Gorgeous!” and “Good Morning, Beautiful!” Tottering on high heels, she sighed aloud, “We girls have to suffer to be beautiful.” She then got down to business sorting through the donated clothing in hopes of finding “something that will show off my ass.” Although we had never spoken to her at length, we had seen Ginger at the women’s center nearly every day. Sometimes she napped in an easy chair; sometimes...

  11. CHAPTER 5 “It’s All in My Head”: Suffering, PTSD, and the Triumph of the Therapeutic
    (pp. 90-106)

    “I’m doing better,” Gloria told us; “I realized my issues are all up in my head.” Over a period of weeks preceding this realization she had complained about the “dude” in her rooming house who was stalking her, knocking on her door in the middle of the night, and lurking in the hallway outside her room. She had pointed the man out to us. We had seen him staring at her and making threatening and suggestive gestures, and we had heard him call out the window to her with a demand for sex. Why, we wondered, was Gloria now saying...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Higher Powers: The Unholy Alliance of Religion, Self-Help Ideology, and the State
    (pp. 107-125)

    When we first met Joy, she was so much the model resident of the halfway house for women on parole that we informally pegged her as “most likely to succeed” in the program. Enthusiastic about the counselors, the groups, the classes, and the structure, she shared her optimism that she would stay drug free and return to the middle-class lifestyle of her parents. The staff at the facility was delighted with her “progress,” and she was granted a great deal of freedom to leave the building and see her father and daughter. Joy fluently parroted the staff’s Twelve Step language,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 “Suffer the Children”: Fostering the Caste of the Ill and Afflicted
    (pp. 126-140)

    The christening was a festive event at the local Catholic church. Kahtia and Enrique were dressed to the nines, and Baby Sofie peeked out from the lace and tulle of her christening gown. The extended family of twenty or so buzzed with excitement when the priest called the parents up to the altar. Despite a couple of small glitches because Enrique couldn’t quite understand what the priest asked him in English, the sense of joy was palpable when the baby was officially recognized as a child of God. While no one doubted Kahtia’s maternity—she was enormous throughout the pregnancy...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Gender, Drugs, and Jail: “A System Designed for Us to Fail”
    (pp. 141-156)

    MCI-Framingham, the only Massachusetts state prison for women, is not an easy place to visit. The closest mode of public transportation lets passengers off more than a mile away from the prison. Trains to and from Boston run three times daily; the last train leaves Framingham at 2 p.m. Since visiting hours are from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., anyone coming to visit a mother, daughter, sister, or friend at MCI-Framingham must have a car or a couple hundred dollars to pay for taxis. Most incarcerated women come from poor families, and many...

  15. Conclusion: The Real Questions and a Blueprint for Moving Forward
    (pp. 157-166)

    These are the questions that annoy and confound judges, social workers, doctors, correctional officers, and policy makers: Why are women like Francesca and Kahtia so stuck in their misery despite the enormous amount of resources our society puts into assisting, treating, and punishing them? There are programs out there to help them: job-training programs, battered women’s programs, mental health programs, housing programs, parenting programs, welfare programs, and substance abuse programs. All of the women who participated in this project rely on doctors for medication; all have seen multiple therapists and caseworkers; all have attended numerous Twelve Step meetings; all have...

  16. APPENDIX: Methodology and Project Participant Overview
    (pp. 167-172)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 173-180)
    (pp. 181-202)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 203-216)