Loss of Self: A Fundamental 'Pain of Imprisonment' for Women?

Catrin Smith, University of Wales Bangor

In prison, women are subject to a regime not only directed at behavioural practices but also at the very constitution of the self. Here, personalities, subjectivities and relationships with others are governed so that even aspects of the self deemed intimate are severely challenged. Experiencing imprisonment thus poses questions about, as well as an asssault upon, the self. This paper, based on data drawn from a qualitative study of three women's prisons in England, explores the main deprivations and sources of suffering for women in prison. As a consequence of imprisonment, these individuals suffer from (1) leading a regulated and restricted life, (2) experiencing isolation and (3) encountering social discreditation. Each of these three sources of suffering is analysed in relation to its impact on women's sense of self. it is argued that a fundamental 'pain of imprisonment' is the loss of self in women who observe their former identities and self-images crumbling away, often without the simultaneous development of equally valued new ones.

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Updated 05/20/2006