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The Ex-Prisoner's Dilemma

The Ex-Prisoner's Dilemma: How Women Negotiate Competing Narratives of Reentry and Desistance

Andrea M. Leverentz
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Ex-Prisoner's Dilemma
    Book Description:

    When a woman leaves prison, she enters a world of competing messages and conflicting advice. Staff from prison, friends, family members, workers at halfway houses and treatment programs all have something to say about who she is, who she should be, and what she should do.The Ex-Prisoner's Dilemmaoffers an in-depth, firsthand look at how the former prisoner manages messages about returning to the community.Over the course of a year, Andrea Leverentz conducted repeated interviews with forty-nine women as they adjusted to life outside of prison and worked to construct new ideas of themselves as former prisoners and as mothers, daughters, sisters, romantic partners, friends, students, and workers. Listening to these women, along with their family members, friends, and co-workers, Leverentz pieces together the narratives they have created to explain their past records and guide their future behavior. She traces where these narratives came from and how they were shaped by factors such as gender, race, maternal status, age, and experiences in prison, halfway houses, and twelve-step programs-factors that in turn shaped the women's expectations for themselves, and others' expectations of them. The women's stories form a powerful picture of the complex, complicated human experience behind dry statistics and policy statements regarding prisoner reentry into society for women, how the experience is different for men and the influence society plays.With its unique view of how society's mixed messages play out in ex-prisoners' lived realities,The Ex-Prisoner's Dilemmashows the complexity of these women's experiences within the broad context of the war on drugs and mass incarceration in America. It offers invaluable lessons for helping such women successfully rejoin society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6229-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Shorty D¹ was a thirty–eight–year–old African American mother of two. Her younger son was five and living with her mother; the other was nineteen and at a work release center. As a child, Shorty D was involved with school and extracurricular activities. She described her childhood as a good one and herself as having “had dreams” of a career. She was close with her father, who “was an alcoholic, but he wasn’t an abusive alcoholic. You know, he was the type that would take a drink and give you all his money.” In her teen years, she...

  5. Part I Becoming an Ex–Offender

    • Chapter 1 The Mercy Home and the Discourse of Reentry and Desistance
      (pp. 19-39)

      Halfway houses provide a transition between prison and life in the community, to ease reentry challenges and to foster desistance from future offending. They also provide assistance with employment and housing, two issues at the forefront of reentry discussions. As such, halfway houses are sources of tangible support for those returning to the community. In addition, they provide one view of what reentry means and how former prisoners should understand their lives and experiences (Gubrium and Holstein 2000). This chapter describes how the women experienced their time at the Mercy Home, and so provides a context through which to read...

    • Chapter 2 Introducing the Women and Their Pathways to Offending
      (pp. 40-55)

      Although there is considerable diversity in the experiences of women in this study, in important ways they represent those who are most affected by incarceration today. Like male prisoners, female prisoners are disproportionately poor, African American, and from disadvantaged urban communities (Richie 2001). A majority of female prisoners have children, and they often are stigmatized not only because of their offending and incarceration histories but also for being “bad women” and “bad mothers” (Flavin 2001; Greenfield and Snell 1999; Owen 1998). Female prisoners have high rates of drug use and drug addiction, and women have been particularly hard hit by...

    • Chapter 3 A Year in the Life: Evolving Perspectives on Reentry and Desistance
      (pp. 56-78)

      Most contemporary research agrees that desistance is a process, not a single moment in time in which someone switches from being an “offender” to an “ex–offender” or “non–offender.”¹ Becoming a desisting offender often means deciding to go straight, not offending for a period of time, perhaps until hitting a roadblock, followed by a step back into offending, a new resolve to desist, perhaps another setback and a new resolve, and so on until one sustains a more extended period of desistance. In order to take seriously the idea of reentry and desistance as processes, not finite moments or...

  6. Part II The Social Context of Reentry

    • Chapter 4 Family Dynamics in Reentry and Desistance
      (pp. 81-113)

      The women in this study are actively working to re–create their social identities. This includes not only their identity as an ex–offender, prisoner, or drug user, but also their identities as a mother, sister, daughter, girlfriend or wife, and friend. Importantly, these identities often come into conflict with their sense of self as defined through the twelve–step and other self–help messages they learned at the Mercy Home. The majority of the women in this study are from low–income African American communities, in which motherhood and family are highly valued. Most of the women have children,...

    • Chapter 5 Women’s Chosen Relationships and Their Role in Self-Redefinition
      (pp. 114-139)

      Rates of marriage are low in the low-income African American communities from which most of the women in this study came, and marriage is less central to the expectations and sense of self of many (Collins 2000; 2005; Edin and Kefalas 2005). This was evident among these women as well. Marriage was a stated goal of only a few of the women, and many avoided or minimized romantic relationships. Some would have liked to be in a romantic relationship or marriage, but saw this as a distant goal to achieve after they accomplished their goals of self-sufficiency, careers,...

    • Chapter 6 Education, Employment, and a House of One’s Own: Conventional Markers of Success
      (pp. 140-174)

      Two of the most commonly discussed needs of ex-prisoners and pathways to successful desistance are employment and housing. The ideal is for ex-prisoners to find a good job and stable housing in a quiet neighborhood, both of which will contribute to a role in conventional society and a cessation of offending. Former prisoners have learned the same broad cultural narratives of success that permeate U.S. culture: education and hard work lead to employment and financial success. While they are acutely aware of the stigma and barriers associated with their criminal records, many also believe, or hope, that with...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-184)

    The experiences of these women embody desistance as a process. Through starts and stops, progress and setbacks, they actively worked to reconstruct their lives as desisting former offenders and prisoners. They worked to learn what it means to be a desisting offender and drug addict, and how to make this work in the context of their lives. They both learned and expressed this through narratives that integrated their social context and their interpretations of it (McAdams 2006). Their narratives were shaped by their race, gender, age, status as mothers, and how these factors influenced their expectations for themselves and the...

  8. Appendix A: Respondent Characteristics
    (pp. 185-188)
  9. Appendix B: Research Methods
    (pp. 189-200)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 201-204)
  11. References
    (pp. 205-214)
  12. Index
    (pp. 215-232)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-236)