6: ‘The World Split Open’: Writing, Teaching and Learning with Women in Prison

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Verity-Fee, Phoenix, Iris and Angel are white, working-class women who are, or who have been, locked out of sight from society in a women’s prison in England. They are just four of the women we have had the privilege of collaborating with over the past five years as part of the work we do delivering a prison education programme called the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Programme1. Our collaborative work and writing in this book is organised into two connected chapters. Chapter 6 is about context. Drawing on our experiences of writing, teaching and learning with women in prison, this chapter outlines the prison-based teaching programme that brought us together and explores our theoretical and conceptual approach. Much of our thinking about the punishment of women and prisons is born out of our many conversations with incarcerated women who have taken part in classes or with whom we have worked over the years. In Chapter 7, we go on to provide a critical reflection of our varied epistemologies on the imprisonment of women. We make no excuses for writing in an emotive way, and, in places, exposing our ‘uncomfortable’ and contradictory perspectives. On the contrary – this is first and foremost a feminist project and as such we celebrate subjectivity and individual experience (Reinharz, 1992), which are particularly impossible to ignore in a prison environment (Liebling, 1999). Chapter 7, is also co-authored with Verity-Fee, Phoenix, Iris and Angel but their names appear before ours in the authorship order, partly because their writings and prison journeys take centre stage.

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