MOTHERING AFTER INCARCERATION: REENTRY AND RENEGOTIATING MOTHERHOOD
Hall, Casey Lauren
Freidenberg, Judith Noemi
Butler, Mary Odell
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In the wake of mass incarceration, there has been an unprecedented increase in the incarceration of women in the United States. The majority of incarcerated women are mothers, whose absence causes a significant disruption in family life. While research has demonstrated the negative impact of maternal incarceration on women and their children, much remains to be learned about women’s return to the community and in to family life upon reentry. The purpose of the research, conducted in the District of Columbia (2015-2016), was to explore the lived experience of mothering after incarceration, the role of motherhood on women’s experiences of prison to community reentry, and the impact of incarceration and reentry on women’s roles as mothers. Sources of data for this study include life history interviews with formerly incarcerate mothers, interviews with community stakeholders such as community service providers and criminal justice professionals, participant observation at relevant service organizations and community events, and archival data. This research design allowed for an examination of the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated mothers, as well as the social and structural context within which they mother their children, and in which they attempt to gain access to resources to rebuild their lives after incarceration. The research produced case studies that highlight the structural, institutional, and social factors that shape the lives of incarcerated women, including their sense of motherhood and how these factors affect the practice of mothering for women who become involved in the criminal justice system. The findings reveal the ways women attempt to mother their children as they struggle within and against difficult social positions, and how kinship ties are challenged, made, and remade as a result of a mother’s incarceration. The findings contribute to the anthropology of mothering, and underscore emergent roles of kinship, both biological and fictive, in the practice of mothering and experiences of prison and reentry for women who become involved in the criminal justice system. The experiences of formerly incarcerated mothers has implications for broader understandings of motherhood and mothering as dynamic, contextual processes, structured by the conditions in which women mother their children.