The Vermont Women’s Prison Project
Mary Field Belenky
How Women Grow and Develop While Incarcerated
The work of this project is in an innovative prison for women in VT, with unusual resources, structure, and leadership. Originally intended to house all the women prisoners in VT, the Dale Correctional Facility currently houses only 45 of the 150 women incarcerated in the state. This is due to the tremendous increase in the numbers of women incarcerated, and the limited space available at this relatively new facility. The approximately 100 women left in the original prison for women, which is a wing of one of the prisons for men, are detainees, women on sanction, or women who are deemed to need solitary confinement. Thus, the population at Dale is quite small, with a relatively stable population, and has more programming and staff resources. Perhaps equally important is the explicit orientation of the prison administration to the needs and resources of women prisoners, and to their growth and development.
The VT Women’s Prison Project (a small group of volunteer women) has interviewed and video-taped over 25 incarcerated women in depth about their lives, with the goal of gathering their stories, with an emphasis on their strengths, resources and skills, as well as the constraints and difficulties of the past and present contexts of their lives. One of the things that stood out to us in these interviews was the number of women who commented that their feelings and views about other women had shifted while they were in prison, from general distrust to appreciation. They began to see the other women prisoners in a more complex way, with greater understanding. We were also struck by the number of women who said that being in prison was a constructive event in their lives, in spite of the inherent frustrations, difficulties, pain and suffering they all experienced from being locked up. Many women said they were turning their lives around, and had new hope for themselves. Putting these two observations together, we wanted to know more about how these women supported each other while incarcerated, and how they were encouraging growth and development in each other, under difficult circumstances.
We met with a volunteer group of five women for a couple of hours, asking them for examples of times when another resident helped them move forward in some way, times when they themselves had helped another resident, and what they needed in the way of support from each other. The second session included a review of the transcript of the first session, in which some additions and clarifications were made. The final session was a problem-solving one focused on ways women could support each other even more. All the women reviewed the drafts of the chapter, and helped put it together.
At the same time, we were invited by the superintendent of the prison to explore the ways in which Correctional Officers helped women move forward in their lives. We gathered names of a few women from the superintendent and from the head of security that they viewed as having grown and developed while incarcerated, and then asked these women to suggest other women in this category. We interviewed these (dozen??) residents about the officers who had helped them move forward, and gathered examples of specific incidents they viewed as helpful. We then interviewed several of these officers about how they saw their work with the women, and how they thought Correctional Officers could help women grow and develop in prison.
Thus, the voices described within this article are those of women who either came forward to talk about support among women in the prison, and/or were women identified by the administration and each other as making significant changes in their lives while imprisoned. Unknown is the extent to which their experiences are unique or representative in relation to the larger population of incarcerated women in VT. The officers were defined by the women as successful in their work.
Changes Women Made while Incarcerated
Nowhere to hide: Bringing down the walls
When we asked the women to tell us about how they saw themselves changing while incarcerated, they described a process of gradually letting walls of distrust and self-protection down, and letting themselves be seen a little more.
we have these facades we put on - a lot of it is useless - after you’ve been here for a while…you realize it’s not gonna work. We have a lot of defenses because of family and other things that’s what I was used to, what I knew.
I was completely isolated, no one really knew me. I was fearful about everything. I had a false image I put out…. when I got to prison; there was nowhere to hide. I constantly ran from problems…I was behind a wall and couldn’t get out. I was trapped, I didn’t know myself…. I was hurt, and felt a lot of rage, anger, and pain. I thought if anyone saw the pain they’d see me. My false image where things look good, brand new…instead of spider webs, dirt, dust - I didn’t want anyone to see all that - I was very fearful, a people-pleaser. I was completely isolated, I lied about everything. Before, I didn’t know how to express my feelings; now I’m not going to hide behind this wall - walls protect you but block a lot of things that would really help.
Part of the process of letting go of the facades was realizing that the other residents didn’t buy their constructed images, and saw through them, to something valuable underneath, and appreciated them just as they were. Women frequently expressed surprise, relief, and an enhanced sense of themselves upon being seen:
It’s disarming in a way to hear what you’ve tried so hard to hide, to cover up, to know that you’re being seen and not like from a camera where people are watching you but seeing you with caring and with love.
I have lots of trust issues, it was very hard for me to be friends with women due to past experience; but these women could see right through my toughness - I could be myself - I could go off, and they would listen anyway. They let me know I wasn’t such a bad person.
More thoughtful behavior
Beginning to let down walls of defense, slowly letting themselves be seen by the other women and being accepted by them, perhaps made it easier for these women to begin to look at some of their painful feelings with a little less fear, and to see that some of their desperate ways of dealing with this pain were harmful to themselves and to those around them. Perhaps the realization that lying to others was neither effective nor necessary enabled them to stop lying to themselves; this end of denial can lead to self-acceptance, including accepting the responsibility for their own conduct and misconduct.
One way this is expressed by several women is in ashift from impulsive, fear-driven behavior to more thoughtful ways of being. Darlene tells us that she tries
.... to think things through now before I act on them. I used to have emotions but I didn’t want to have them, so I would drink to stuff them, and as a result it would enhance them, and I would act out.
Other women put it this way:
I was into a lot of argumentative drama…and outbursts, you know, about nothing. I’ve stopped smashing the wall and just go to my room and swear and holler in there and just leave it at that.
I’m able to express how I feel by talking, instead of with actions.
Donna has been thinking about who she is, who she wants to be, and what kind of life she wants to lead, and illustrates a shift to a more self-directed way of being in the world:
I know I am different. I feel different. With all the different things I’ve done here, I feel more comfortable in my skin. I know myself better. I know my strengths and weaknesses now…. I also know how to make changes. And I’ve come to recognize how to keep a balance in my life so that I’m comfortable.
These women are learning to see themselves in new light - a more hopeful, positive light - through an increasing ability to reflect on themselves and their behavior. The growing sense of connection and care with one’s own self seems to go hand in hand with an increased sense of care and connection with others; one of the most vivid ways this was expressed in the interviews was the descriptions of the process of learning to accept help from others.
Caring for others but not the self is a classic issue for many women. Women are supposed to be the caregivers. They are expected to take care of everyone else, while caring for the self, or accepting help from others, is often seen as selfish. To include herself as a person worthy of her own care, and care from others, is a big shift in a woman’s life. Janet, a woman in her thirties who is midway through a 4-year sentence, expresses this shift most vividly:
A big part of my identity before (prison) was being a mother - to come here, suddenly have no children, no husband, no friends, not know what to do - I didn’t know who I was, didn’t know how I should act, didn’t know anything…. I couldn’t accept other people’s help at the time, when I was first here - from how I grew up, it was, I have to do things on my own, I didn’t seek out other people, I never had any close friends, so when I came here and people were trying to be nice just because of who they were, because they wanted to be helpful, I couldn’t accept that - it wasn’t my way. So I was pretty much a loner for close to the 1st year here, and then as I started learning and as I became able to accept someone else into my life as a friend, that’s when it started to change, and then I could accept other people’s help…it took months to realize that it was okay to get help once in a while and to be needy once in a while…realizing that it’s ok to say I’m lonely, it’s ok to say, I’m having a bad day - I need something - can you help me? There were always people willing to help - I wasn’t willing to accept it. Finally, it became much easier for me here.
Other women describe themselves as unwilling to accept help from others because of a “tough chick” facade; Jess says:
I wouldn’t accept anybody’s help; I didn’t want it, I didn’t need it - I thought, I can take care of myself. I learned that it’s okay to accept help because they want to help.
Dana, an ordinarily articulate woman, who can eloquently tell us about her extensive gifts of humor, appreciation, and confrontation with compassion to others, gropes for words to describe her strangled efforts to smile and accept some needed clothing from a former prison roommate:
...there were hands around my throat because I didn’t want to accept it…. I had to move away from ‘take care of me.’ I learned that it’s okay to accept help because it makes me feel good to feel helpful, and other women probably feel the same…. A lot of us are pretty good at giving to other people but not so good at accepting.
And finally, Tess insightfully illustrates how being a tough chick got in the way of her growth, and in fact, caused her trouble:
.... a lot of anger would build up from trying to deal with situations on my own and not having people to help me…things would just be stopped down, and eventually, like a volcano, it would just erupt. Now I’m able to go to people and say, look, can I talk to you a minute? for me it was my pride, having to admit that I was powerless….
Accepting help from others opened a lot of these women to feeling more connected to those around them, and to becoming a more caring and connected person. Women share emotional needs but often see themselves as separate or alone in their struggles. These women spoke about their transitions from feeling alone to feeling like part of a larger community.
Getting to know people and letting them get to know me a little was very helpful…What was I? just a convict, a nobody. When I started to let women into my life and go back and forth and trusting a friendly relationship, I was able to actually give in that way as a friend.
I am now a part of life. Before, it was me against the world; now I am a part of the world, I am a part of my family…. the wall is gone.
I’ve become a very caring, compassionate person…the AA program teaches me that if I take myself out of myself and take a look at other people, then I learn the good qualities about myself just by helping people and being a part of the whole.
The voices of these women clearly communicate a shift from “self-centered fear,” as Darlene describes it, to letting oneself be seen, being able to take a thoughtful look at themselves without so much judgment, and then to accepting help from others, and finally, feeling connected to both themselves as women with hope, and with those around them.
How have these changes come about? what has helped women grow in prison?
Confrontation with care
Allowing themselves to be seen by others was reported as one of the biggest changes experienced during incarceration; a related process, that of being confronted by another resident in a caring way was seen as one of the first steps along a new path for many of these women. These women describe others seeing more than their facade, a wall, their toughness, more than “just an inmate.” They were being seen in terms of who they could be, aspects of each other that were just coming into being.
Lori initially rejected a job offered to her in the prison as “very demeaning…. I just wasn’t going to take it.” Another resident gently told her she was “biting off your nose to spite your face,” and encouraged her to take the job. What Lori found compelling in this situation was the other woman’s way of talking with her:
She was honest with a compassionate demeanor about her…. she was very caring…she made me feel comfortable with being honest about it… It made me feel good that she cared enough for that couple of moments to care about my life and wanted to be invested in the decision I was making that could affect my life.
Jess felt a similar reluctance to take part in a course offered by New England Tradeswomen in Information Technology, and a gentle confrontation by another resident about the direction her life seemed to be taking affected her this way:
I wasn’t too keen on going…I just wanted to get out…she just kinda made me see what my life was, and that unless I did something with my time here and my life, nothing would change and I’d just be in the revolving door…It was just her being my friend - I know she cares about me and wants to see me do well: ‘look, your life’s not getting any better, so do this - let’s do it together.’
In addition to being able to see her life’s direction more clearly, through a friend’s eyes, and now to having the promise and hope of job skills, there was the benefit of deepening the two women’s friendship. Not only were they bonded, but they raised it to a level where Jess and her friend could see each other in a new way, as happier, more productive people, and in doing so, mirror and role model new behaviors for each other.
Another critically important factor in their growth and development, mentioned by nearly every woman we interviewed, was described as respect; this took many forms, not the least of which was respect for their being able to be themselves without being judged. Dana put it this way:
How I felt supported was I had the space to do what I wanted to do - to be a mess, a wreck, and not worry about feeling judged about that…[this made me feel] cared for in a way I wasn’t used to…. It’s partly comfort level, familiarity…understanding what I need without having to spell it out.
Another way they express respect for each other is by letting each other alone at the right times; woman after woman described the importance of others signaling to them their concern, their care, through smiles, pats on the back, a hug - without demanding explanations, and above all, without demanding that they not be in that painful place. Advice at certain times is also unwelcome. Lori expresses what she values from others eloquently:
Please just listen; I don’t want you to fix it, I don’t want you to make it go away, I just want you to listen to how I’m feeling even if you agree or if you don’t….
Janet says the kind of help she values from a special friend in prison is
comfort…a sounding board, a sister! This person is like a sister - it’s really cool - I can joke, I can be stupid, I can say things I’d never say to anyone else - and she still accepts me as an ok person…. she’s very non-judgmental.
Humor and Play
An often over-looked but significant way women have of expressing support and respect for each other is throughhumor and play. The almost familial intimacy - teasing, jibes, private jokes - show how finding humor in day to day life even in jail is both an effective coping skill and a way for women to include and feel included. Each woman present seemed to take her prison sentence seriously, but not herself so much.
We know we’re all here for a reason and that none of us want to be here but here we sit and with that acceptance of our situation there arises a choice, either consciously or unconsciously, and that is: make something of your time or don’t. Either way you’re doing the time. Smile or cry, the amount of effort is the same.
Play was in abundance during the interviews of the 5 women about sisterhood in prison as well as in events they described. There were vivid examples of affection and connection; teasing seemed to be a way of reflecting what they see and accept in each other. It was a source of affectionate acknowledgement of each other - a strong basis for connection.
Many of the examples they reported are centered in the kitchen (two of the interviewees present were part of the kitchen crew). A caseworker once asked if people interviewed for kitchen positions or whether they auditioned.
Kelly - who’s not gonna smile when you go to the disco diner…
Jess - or the retro lunch. You (interviewer) should come to our lunch sometime…dinner or breakfast - it’s too comical - she (Kelly) is famous for weird voices, saying names in different accents…I know in the morning, they’re wide awake, I’m like ohhhh….‘hair plastered, in our pajamas….
Dana (part of the crew) and we start singing, “you are sooo beautiful…”
Kelly (also crew) And believe me, they’re NOT when they come through….
Dana goes on to say that the crew may bitch and kvetch before and after meals, but “...during the meal, it’s ShowTime!!” Her understanding of the importance of this “show” is that the kitchen is the one time and place when all the women are together (other than for what are sometimes characterized as complaint-oriented community meetings), and that it is a central place for the women in a way that the kitchen was for them at home.
Explicit validation and appreciation was mentioned several times, from small things like saying each other’s names, remembering each others’ children’s names, looking at photos of each other’s family, and asking about family events. One woman made little cards of appreciation for each of the 16 women in her living unit at a time when the unit was having a hard time joining together. She wrote something positive about the woman on one side, the recipient’s name on the other, and laid it secretly on her pillow.
I still see people have them stuck on their armoire; one woman tells me that she looks at the card all the time. People can feel alone, like nobody notices them. The feedback I got from this was like, ‘wow, I can’t believe you saw me, you saw this about me….’
Another form of validation and appreciation comes through empathic understanding, frequently based on shared common experiences. Some of the most powerful of these among the women are similar backgrounds of abuse, addiction. In the course of the interviews with five women, one very recently “clean” newcomer expressed reluctance to open up to anyone about her history of mental illness and addiction; the other four women gently talked with her about how they felt when they first arrived, and then offered understanding and encouragement:
We all have something…and a lot of us understand because we all have it - whether it’s mental addiction or whatever, we all have it…or somebody in our family has gone through it so we know and understand.
This third time visitor to the prison went on to offer gentle encouragement about the number of sister residents who have cared for her throughout her struggles with addiction and incarceration. Jess tells Lori that most of the women are not only trustworthy, but have much to offer:
I had my hard times with trust, but being in and out, I found some great women that I could go to about anything, even if it was stupid: ‘Look (with mock anguish), my shoe’s ripped….’ and they’d be like, ‘I see, your shoe is ripped, let’s see what we can do about that.’ ...You’re going to come to a point - this is not your lowest point, we’ve all had lower ones - you’re gonna come to your lowest point and there’s gonna be one person…. who might just come up and say, ‘hey, are you ok?’ and not say anything more and you’ll be like ‘get the hell away from me,’ and they’ll be like, ‘ok, you know where to find me.’
Another powerful shared experience is mothering from prison, described by one resident as “.... a huge stepping stone for women to become closer.”
[These shared experiences]...bond you to other people - we all know the common feelings that go with that - and that understanding of how much we miss our kids, the horror of acknowledging how much our kids miss us, which is 10 times worse.
Women with longer sentences help new women figure out programs and how to parent from jail. One newcomer to the prison life described a time when her 12 year old daughter was having problems in school, and that she, her mother was “barking at her” to work harder. The more she barked, the worse the relationship got. A longer-term resident suggested a more compassionate approach, based on her own experience with her 14 year old. The newcomer was able to recognize through their conversation that her “barking” had to do with her fears of not being present to watch over her daughter, and then was able to relax more with her daughter.
All women, no men
Another potentially bonding shared experience is having no men around; some felt that this made it easier for them to connect with other women through being released from many of the societal norms associated with catering to and spending energy attracting men. Jess says simply, “when there aren’t guys around, I’m more honest with myself. I’m honest about everything, I’m just more relaxed. .... it’s all women so we’re just able to be ourselves.” Her apparent ease with herself allows the opening for better choices to be made when she isn’t thinking about or worrying about boys or other romantic entanglements.
What these women tell us is that they have moved from a place of fear, distrust, and isolation, to being able to make connections with themselves, and with other women, through being seen and validated as much more than a prisoner, an addict, or as mentally ill. They describe seeing each other at their most vulnerable and in the most difficult of circumstances with respect, affection, and humor. They draw upon shared experiences of abuse and addiction, of having “nowhere to hide” in prison, of being without men, of mothering from behind walls, and more recently during incarceration, shared experiences of struggle and support.
Correctional Officers are ever-present in prison life, and their spirit and ways of being with the women have a significant effect on daily life, and on the ability of the women residents to grow and develop while incarcerated. In the words of Dr. Kiran Bedi, a police officer and director general of Delhi prisons, who was instrumental in bringing meditation into many prisons around the world:
As a prison administrator, you can create an enabling environment…It is my belief that prison per se is punishment, but if you don’t work on reforms and if you don’t work on corrections enabling the individuals to learn and change, then you actually are punishing doubly. When you punish a person doubly, you end up with an individual who, on release, is ready to hurt society; so you are hurting society in the end.
Not surprisingly, when women identified by the administration and by each other as having made progress in moving forward talked about how officers (both male and female) supported their growth, they described many of the same attitudes and behaviors in officers that they valued so highly from other residents.
Every one of the women interviewed specifically about officer behavior noted the importance of their accessibility, and their willingness to listen.
They (the most helpful officers) all were able to talk to me…some officers don’t really talk to us unless we do something wrong or unless they have to tell us we have to go someplace…. but [the special ones] are people that no matter what I was going through, or what I was feeling, I could stop them at whatever they were doing and they could listen to me…[they were] able to talk to me and share, maybe they had gone through a similar situation, and being able to share that with me and how they handled it. They just talked to me, like anybody on the street that could have come up to me and made me aware of my actions and what I was doing.
There is no doubt that articulating one’s thoughts and thinking things through is enormously helpful for anyone. For people who usually act impulsively, it can be life changing. Good questions draw people out and gets them thinking. Stating the problem enables people to begin searching for workable solutions.
I’d start blowing off steam…then they would really draw me out and get me to talk about what the real problem was. Like maybe I had a personal issue but I didn’t know how to talk about those things…so the officer would take me aside and say, ‘okay, why don’t we talk about this. What’s the problem? Why are you feeling this way?’ So they basically got me to talk. And they gave me insight so I could deal with it. They would draw me out, ask good questions, and get me thinking about how to solve my problems.
This kind of interaction with officers seems similar to the caring confrontation the women value in each other. When a sister resident, or an officer, can reflect back to a woman what they see in her behavior, or ask her questions which allow her to look at herself, more thoughtful, self-reflective behavior becomes possible, which in turn enables more empathic understanding of each other. One woman describes such an interaction this way:
He asked me why I was so upset. Why did her situation make me so angry? I could see I was treating her the same way she treated me. I became more conscious of my own stuff from then on. When I became more aware of what I was doing then I finally learned how to step out of my shoes and step into the shoes of the other person and see things from her point of view.
Respect from officers was experienced as a significant factor in helping the women regain some self-respect, just as it is among the women themselves. Experiencing the officers treating them as human beings who have committed criminal acts, not as ‘just criminals,’ brings a sense of mutuality to the interactions, a sense of common human experiences, that is an unusual experience for most of these women, especially with people in authority:
Sometimes I forgot I was a real human being. When you’re incarcerated you become institutionalized. [[Two helpful officers] both said that they have done things in their lives that could have put them in the same situation that I was in. That showed me that they were honest and humble enough to admit they made mistakes. I felt no judgment from them at all. They didn’t feel sorry for us or anything like that.
When Tess, who describes herself as “never crying,” was once fighting back tears over something, an officer took her aside, and said, “.... even tough girls need to cry.” So she even got me laughing in the middle of my crying…. she related to me. She goes, ‘don’t worry, I feel this way, too. This happens to me, too.’ I felt very equal to her at that point. I didn’t feel like she was trying to patronize me by saying, ‘oh, it’s all going to be okay.’
It is interesting to note that all of the examples the women give of officers sharing their personal experiences are about the problems they confronted and solved. They present themselves as a model of and guide for effective problem solving, rather than as buddies or friends. Many of the women noted the importance to them of officers maintaining a professional role, while recognizing their common ground as vulnerable human beings.
One way of making women prisoners feel respected is grounded in an understanding of women’s need for conversation. Many incarcerated women are used to authorities that imposed arbitrary, capricious, unexplained rules and commands that were experience as abusive and destructive. An officer taking the time to provide careful explanations can help women shift their perspective from blindly pushing against rules to taking a more thoughtful problem-solving approach, and to a more self-directed life. This woman expresses her feelings clearly about wanting to understand so that she can do the right thing:
We like to know what the reasons are [if there’s a rule]. We’re women and we want to know. And if you’re just told, ‘because I said so,’ that’s being treated like a child, and you don’t deserve the respect of an equal understanding and working. You can take ownership if you’re part of something you understand the reason for, and back it fully.
Most people in corrections say that women’s need for dialogue is the major difference between men and women in the prison setting. One correctional officer’s response to a question about sex differences is typical:
I think the main thing for me is with men you can kind of give them an answer and they’ll go with it. They might not be happy about your answer, but they’ll accept it. But for the females, you can give them the answer, but they need to know the reason why and…. they want to talk…. At first, I thought that once I gave them an order or a decision that they were trying to work me through something. But later I learned that wasn’t the case. It was – just generally the female population is like that, where they just need to know more behind that decision. It makes them feel comfortable, also, to know more.
One of the most respected officers among the women we spoke with describes how important he believes it is to women to have clear explanations for rules and sanctions through this very specific example:
The ladies upstairs tend to explode, they tend to be very verbal. After I locked one of them in, I went back to this lady and she said, “Why are you punishing me?” I said, “I’m not punishing you.” “You locked me in, you punished me.” No, I’m not punishing you—your room is a place for you to be safe. I sent you to your room so you could calm down, so you wouldn’t hurt yourself or somebody else. In no way was I slapping you by sending you to your room. Your room is your place for privacy. Your room is where you can calm down, where you can think, where you can have a little bit of peace, where I’m not standing there yelling at you.
This officer’s explanation helps the woman reframe the situation in her mind. He wants her to understand that the procedure (going to her room) will help her calm down and think more carefully about her actions. The explanation helps him maintain a caring relationship with the woman while following protocols that could be viewed as highly punitive. His explanations give her good reasons why she should choose to follow the rules. He wants her to comply because she has thought things through and sees that it is a good and reasonable thing to do. He does not want her to follow orders blindly. He does not want her to go along with the rules just to avoid punishment. This kind of treatment gives women the opportunity to learn to think things through for themselves, and move along the path to more self-directed behavior.
Another officer provides a moving and clear account of how he approaches the women as whole human beings, how he quietly pays attention to the details of their lives which affect how they are behaving. He illustrates a great deal of understanding about the difficulties many of the women face in being supervised by male authority, and the ways in which he can help them through these difficulties so that they can move on:
.... you need to know each and every person as closely as you can, without becoming personally involved . . .. You’ve got to keep it on a professional level, but you’ve got to know that Dana’s kid is seeing a psychologist because he’s having problems because his mom is in jail. That Janet’s son has just lost his two front teeth. You need to know that Carey had a bad time in the Cognitive Self-Change class, was kicked out, and why. You need to know that Miss Quindell had a wonderful day at class, got an A on her paper. And you do that by just simply going around. And I make it a purpose, it’s a point to me, and I go through every day and speak to every resident and ask them how their day’s going and bring up a little point about how’s your son feeling today, yesterday you told me he was sick. By doing that you develop a relationship with them that is not only valued but trusted. . . . . Trust is a very important thing, especially with women, because a lot of them have been abused, and they do not trust men. So as a male correction officer you have to jump two hurdles. First of all, you’re wearing a badge, and the badge is what got them here, so you’ve got to overcome that hurdle. Second of all, you have to come over the hurdle that you’re a male, and that takes a course of time to do.
These officers we interviewed, who had been named by the women as helping them move forward in their lives, expressed a deep conviction that the women could develop themselves and realize their goals if they worked hard and got the kind of support they needed. They saw their job as an officer as providing that support. One of the supervising officers (male) says that promoting residents’ development must be an officer’s central commitment.
Everybody has an opportunity to grow, and we as correctional professionals need to somehow or another come up with a way of making sure that we support that….
This assumption on the part of the supervising officer is critically important in how the other officers see their task; another male officer put it this way:
We here are devoted to rehabilitation. You cannot - and I can’t stress this enough - you cannot just be t the mean old guard who wears the badge and doesn’t care. If you’re doing that, you’re doing yourself an injustice and you’re doing the residents an injustice. And I’ll tell you, when you’re out there in society and one of those residents walks up to you that you’ve supervised in the past and says, ‘hey, thank you,’ it’s worth it…. I don’t care what your crime is - you’re a person who’s made a mistake, who is now paying the penalty for society, and I’m here to help you get back in that whole social environment, back out there and be a productive member of our community.
If it’s so great in this prison, why don’t we lock everybody up for a while? It may seem that it’s just what these women needed. In a way, that’s exactly right; but what these women need are things that aren’t contingent upon being locked up. What is valuable in helping them to move forward and turn their lives around is a context that fosters the development of trust in others, based on respect and caring, and the subsequent enhanced sense of connection with themselves and others.