Title: Home Sweep: The Social and Cultural Consequences of Mass Incarceration for Women with Imprisoned Partners
Name: Megan Lee Comfort
mcomfort@psg.ucsf.edu
Year: 2002
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

This thesis combines ethnographic fieldwork in the visitor-waiting areas at a California state prison and in-depth interviews with fifty women whose husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends are serving time there to analyze how carceral contact transforms women's social relations and intimate lives through the penal regulation of their conduct, physical appearance, personal ties, schedules and agendas, sexual relations and fantasies, and speech both at and away from the correctional facility. Using the concept of "prisonization" developed by Donald Clemmer in his classic work The Prison Community, this research proposes that women with incarcerated partners undergo "secondary prisonization," a less virulent but still potent form of socialization to carceral norms and dictates derivative of and dependent upon the primary prisonization of their male partners. The analysis begins by establishing women's status and role as "quasi-inmates" when they come to the prison as visitors, then maps how the reach of the penitentiary extends into the home through the elaborate rules and regularities governing women's communication with their mates via phone, letters, and packages. Turning to "private" activities enacted within the penal perimeter (eating together, spending the night, getting married), it is shown that secondary prisonization reaches its zenith as the boundaries between "home" and "penitentiary" collapse, making the correctional facility an alternative site for the pursuit of domesticity. Against the backdrop of a weak welfare state, rampant poverty, and mass incarceration, penal confinement paradoxically heightens romantic attachment by interrupting men's destructive behaviors and radically altering their emotional responsiveness. This prompts some women to integrate so fully into the prison culture that they profess pleasure about, and at times even a preference for, their conjugal experiences within the carceral ambit. Cognizant of their status as legally free citizens but forced to rely on the correctional apparatus to address untreated social ills (particularly domestic violence), women express an abiding ambivalence about the penal control that distorts their personal lives but also serves as a blunt instrument for the "taming" of difficult or threatening men.

Bibliography: Comfort, Megan L. Papa's House: The prison as domestic and social satellite. Ethnography 3(4): 467-499.