Mothering From the Inside: Incarcerated Women's Relationships With Children

Kathleen J. Ferraro, Arizona State University
Angela Moe Wan, Arizona State University

Incarceration forcibly severs mothers from their children. There are very few prisons, and even fewer jails, which make adequate accommodation for mothering. Based on 32 narratives collected from jailed women, this paper examines the relationships which women continue to maintain despite the lack of support from the jail. Although many jailed women have lost custody of their children, they continue to consider mothering a central aspect of their identities. Other women maintain a parenting role through letters, visits, and phone calls. The identity of mother is the one hopeful aspect of many women's lives, and provides a positive focus for the future. Even women who have lost contact and custody descibe their children as a central aspect of their identities. For women with no hope of ever seeing their children again, depression and alcohol and drug dependency are extremely difficult to overcome. The centrality of mothering to women's identities, the strategies women use to maintain connections to their children, and the complexities of women's experiences as incarcerated mothers are described through narrative data.

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Updated 05/20/2006