Theses Bachelor's

Relationships Behind Bars: Faith, Family, and Other Coping Mechanisms for Women in the Prison System

Levin, Samantha B.

I study the experience of imprisonment and reentry into society through the perspectives of formerly incarcerated women. My central focus is on how women's relationships help them cope with the hardships of imprisonment and reentry. Whether it is a spiritual relationship with God, a life-saving bond with a fellow inmate, or a deep tie to a family member outside of the walls of prison, relationships for incarcerated women and women reentering society are an important part of their narratives. I conducted formal interviews with eleven women who have spent time in jails and prisons and now live in New York City. I went to Rikers Island, the city's main jail complex, and interviewed five women in jail and observed a holiday event in the women's unit. I also did fieldwork with three nonprofit groups that work with women leaving prison. In the body of this thesis, I examine the negative relationships women face prior to their incarceration often tied to drug addictions and domestic violence. I study power dynamics behind bars and women's relationships with prison guards. I look at how women cope by leaning on each other and forming families behind bars. Separation from children and parents on the other side is a significant strain that I also scrutinize. In addition, I examine the ways in which some women use relationships with God and other modes of spirituality to overcome adversities of incarceration. Finally, I study the difficult process of reentry and the barriers women face as they work to turn their lives around and form positive relationships after prison. Through these studies, I question whether the prison system really helps rehabilitate these women and whether the Department of Corrections does enough to prepare women for life after imprisonment.

Geographic Areas


More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Studies
Thesis Advisors
Linn, Meredith
B.A., Barnard College
Published Here
June 21, 2012