Writing their way through motherhood : an investigation of writing's role in the methods incarcerated mothers use to mother while behind bars




Wells, Jazmine Ja'Nicole

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According to those in the fields of sociology, criminal justice, and law, incarcerated mothers utilize the following common methods to mother while behind bars: establishing an identity as mother (Berry and Eigenberg 2003); participating in the placement of their children (Enos 2001); maintaining contact with their children (Berry and Smith-Mahdi 2006); and communicating with caseworkers and caretakers (Administration for Children Services). While reading texts written by incarcerated mothers, I made two noteworthy observations, which are especially significant to the field of rhetoric. One, incarcerated mothers did report utilizing the methods listed; however, they also referenced problems with parenting behind bars that caused them to create additional mothering techniques. Two, writing is notably salient in all of the methods incarcerated mothers use to mother while behind bars. Therefore, this project performs two major tasks: I explain each method for mothering behind bars, grouping them into four, more encompassing categories: Identity (re)construction, Contact, Planning, and Activism; and I explicitly draw attention to writing’s role in initiating and completing each of these tasks. In sum, this project maps out the necessity of writing in performing motherhood behind bars. To illustrate how women in prison mother and to articulate how pervasive in and essential writing is to incarcerated motherhood, this project analyzes 36 memoirs, narratives, poems, anecdotes, essays, and letters written by incarcerated mothers. In doing so, this project helps rhetoric scholars expand their understating of the performativity of writing. Additionally, this project also presents implications for the fields of literacy and motherhood.



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