Women Doing Life

Gender, Punishment and the Struggle for Identity

320 pages

February, 2016

ISBN: 9781479827053

$27

Paper

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Author

Lora Bex Lempert is Professor Emerita at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. For twelve years, she was a co-sponsor of the National Lifers of America chapter at a women’s correctional facility and the coordinator of college level courses offered at that facility. She also offered the first Inside Out Prison Exchange class in Michigan.

All books by Lora Bex Lempert

The carceral experiences of women serving life sentences. 
 
2017 Michigan Notable Book Selection presented by The Detroit Free Press

How do women – mothers, daughters, aunts, nieces and grandmothers – make sense of judgment to a lifetime behind bars? In Women Doing Life, Lora Bex Lempert presents a typology of the ways that life-sentenced women grow and self-actualize, resist prison definitions, reflect on and “own” their criminal acts, and ultimately create meaningful lives behind prison walls. Looking beyond the explosive headlines that often characterize these women as monsters, Lempert offers rare insight into this vulnerable, little studied population.  Her gendered analysis considers the ways that women “do crime” differently than men and how they have qualitatively different experiences of imprisonment than their male counterparts. Through in-depth interviews with 72 women serving life sentences in Michigan, Lempert brings these women back into the public arena, drawing analytical attention to their complicated, contradictory, and yet compelling lives.
 
Women Doing Life focuses particular attention on how women cope with their no-exit sentences and explores how their lifetime imprisonment catalyzes personal reflection, accountability for choices, reconstruction of their stigmatized identities, and rebuilding of social bonds. Most of the women in her study reported childhoods in environments where violence and disorder were common; many were victims before they were offenders. Lempert vividly illustrates how, behind the prison gates, life-serving women can develop lives that are meaningful, capable and, oftentimes, even ordinary. Women Doing Life shows both the scope and the limit of human possibility available to women incarcerated for life. 


Reviews

  • “You will not be able to put this book down. Lempert intersperses the active voices of women serving life with the personal and social forces that lead them to prison. She challenges the many stereotypes of women serving life without possibility of parole. And she clarifies the different ways the women create new, positive definitions of self within the corrosive environment of life in prison. Your students will be well served by considering the experiences of the women and will be challenged by Lempert's interpretation of the ethnographic data.”

    —Natalie J. Sokoloff, co-editor of The Criminal Justice System and Women

  • “Lora Lempert has written about the tragic failure of our penal system, but at the same time about the heroic way women who are incarcerated survive it. If you are looking for stories of courage and pride among people who society would like to forget, this book is a compelling archive.”

    —Todd R. Clear, co-author of The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration