prison histories

When women prisoners – together with a scholar committed to educational initiatives for the incarcerated – research the history of their own maximum security prison, amazing things can happen.

Recently, a group of women currently incarcerated at the 142-year-old institution (now called the Indiana Women’s Prison) began to pore over documents from the prison’s first 10 years. They had set out on an ambitious project: to write a history of the institution’s founding decade, one that tells quite a different story from the official narrative. What happens when inmates write a history of their own prison? In this case, the perspective that the group brought to the project took what inmate Michelle Jones, writing in the American Historical Association’s magazine Perspectives on History, calls “a feel-good story” about Quaker reformers rescuing women from abuse in men’s prisons and turned it into a darker, more complicated tale.

Without access to the tools available to conventional students – internet and good libraries – these women painstakingly pieced together a complicated history, presenting findings at conferences via video conferencing technology and publishing papers. Now they’re working towards publishing a book. I’m thinking I might share this with my undergrad students in research methods this coming winter…
Want to read more? You can get the whole story here.

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