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The Story Within Us

The Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading

Edited by Megan Sweeney
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Story Within Us
    Book Description:

    The Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading 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_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09425-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: “All us women have a story within us”
    (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 sharp contrast to the picture of reading that emerges in contemporary women’s prisons. Currently incarcerated women tend to circulate popular reading materials such as evangelical Christian self-help books, narratives of victimization, and African American urban fiction with titles such as Forever a Hustler’s Wife and Thugs and...

  5. 1 Mildred
    (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 school, I had a baby.

    Family life was complicated. It was some abuse, not with my father but with my father’s brother and my own brother. And it was some abuse in...

  6. 2 Sissy
    (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 know, you stick together with your family. We had a lot of family values. No matter what’s going on, your family’s always supposed to stick together. I was a middle child. And I basically raised myself because my oldest sister, she was over the...

  7. 3 Olivia
    (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. And we was on welfare. You know, wasn’t money for lunches, so we had special lunch tickets and school clothes and all that. It was tight with money, so growing up like that makes a lot of pressures in...

  8. 4 Denise
    (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 children in this little town. Still kind of racist a little bit. . . . Actually, it’s the town, some years ago, back in I think it was ’96, an Imperial chicken factory exploded there and killed a lot of people in there....

  9. 5 Bobbie
    (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 my real dad. I mean, he never treated me any different than he treated the rest of the kids. In fact, sometimes he treated me better. So I guess he was a good relationship.

    Then by the time...

  10. 6 Melissa
    (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 dad, so on my birth certificate, their dad is my dad but he’s really not my dad. ’Cause my mama was messing with this guy, he was a preacher, and he was also married, so it was kind of a big scandal back...

  11. 7 Valhalla
    (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, who basically raised me until I was twelve. When I was twelve, we moved to [a small town in] Ohio. My dad basically was gone from six in the morning until ten at night. He was a very heavy drinker. Me and my brother,...

  12. 8 Jacqueline
    (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 my father living with us. My mother remarried when I was twelve or thirteen.

    I was the oldest, and I never felt like I was a child. My mother put a lot of responsibilities on me very young. I’ve been cooking and cleaning...

  13. 9 Audrey
    (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.

    [When I was in school,] about eighth grade, I think, I started messing up pretty good ’cause I was into boys. Oh he’s cute, and this and that. And my mom put me in a girls’ home,...

  14. 10 Deven
    (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 guess, if you want to label it as normal. You know, we visited the grandparents. Had the big holiday sit-down dinners. My mom was in insurance, and my dad was a banker. . . . My...

  15. 11 Solo
    (pp. 197-226)

    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 [Solo]. I’m named after her. I stayed there one year, so at the age of seven, I was boarded on the train again by myself to go to Cleveland, where I remained ever since. My two brothers were with my mother in...

  16. AFTERWORD: True Stories about Prison
    (pp. 227-240)

    “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 incarcerated in the United States. Read together, their individual narratives tell a different kind of story about women in prison.

    In these true stories, incarcerated women urgently seek to make meaning from their experiences and to situate them within broader contexts. As they reflect on their simultaneous roles as women,...

  17. APPENDIX: Study-Related Materials
    (pp. 241-248)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 249-258)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-262)
  20. Index
    (pp. 263-274)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-277)