New Clear Vision


constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted


Inside This Place

March 09, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Family, Politics, Victoria Law

Oral History Collection Gives Voice to Incarcerated Women

by Victoria Law

The new book Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons (McSweeney’s, 2011), edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, delves into injustices inside women’s prisons through firsthand accounts from the women themselves. These are painful stories. Many are tales of violence and abuse, most often from family and loved ones. Some are stories of parents who, at best, were not emotionally present for their children; at worst, they not only abused their daughters but allowed others to abuse them in exchange for drugs. There are stories of addiction. These stories are intense and, even though I am well-acquainted with prison horror stories, I needed to put the book down, several times. And then there are the stories from within the prison, which often repeats and exacerbates the horrors the women encountered before their arrests.

These stories illustrate the myriad ways that prisons attempt to erase their personhood: One woman entered prison while pregnant; because her due date fell on a holiday weekend, medical staff forced her into a Caesarean section. She was handcuffed throughout the surgery; she held her newborn for the first time while in cuffs. Another woman was given a hysterectomy without her knowledge or consent. Others discuss the lack of medical care, ranging from the lack of a diabetic diet to staff withholding necessary medications. Women’s humanity is assaulted in other ways as well: In 2010, Colorado prison staff instituted a demeaning search procedure known as the “labia lift” (p. 158): “We had to spread our labia and staff would make us cough while they were looking.” (more…)