Generativity or ‘giving back’ is regarded as a common life stage, occurring for many around middle age. For the first time, this book offers qualitative research on the lives and social relationships of older imprisoned women. In-depth interviews with 29 female prisoners in the south-eastern United States show that older women both engage in generative behaviours in prison and also wish to do so upon their release.
As prisoners continue to age, the US finds itself at a crossroads on prison reform, with potential decarceration beginning with older prisoners. The COVID-19 pandemic has led many to consider how to thrive under difficult circumstances and in stressing the resilience of older incarcerated women, this book envisions what this could look like.
This chapter introduces the book, canvassing the issue of women ageing in prison and their generative aims and actions. Against a negative picture drawn in most research of ageing and imprisonment, the chapter cues the possibilities of making meaning from behind bars. The layout of the book and the themes of its chapters are also described.
This chapter investigates theory and research on the prison experience for men and women. It reviews classic studies of prisonization and coping with the pains of imprisonment. It then attends to studies from feminist perspectives on the circumstances and concerns of women in prison and their strategies for coping. Women’s past domestic violence victimization, drug addiction, and current family responsibilities complicate ‘prison experience’. The latter cannot be understood in a gender-neutral fashion.
This chapter examines the challenges that imprisonment poses to health, mental well-being, and relationships with family and friends, according to prior research. It compares such challenges for men and women. The chapter begins by reporting on problems wrought by ageing, then describes how such problems vary by gender, before turning to research on ageing in prison specifically.
This chapter examines the concept of generativity, first advanced by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, more closely. Generativity relates to action as well as narrative; maturing individuals situate generativity within their life stories. The chapter considers generative outlets for people who are incarcerated and ways in which prisons impede, permit, or facilitate generativity. It also describes the methods with which the author’s prison-based, qualitative research was conducted.
This chapter is the first of three in the book to report study findings. It brings to light accounts of parenting from prison. Twenty-seven of the 29 women interviewed were mothers; the majority were mothers of adult children living on their own. They described rather different relationships with their children, captured as four types of mothers: the remorseful mother, the contented mother, the uneasy mother, and the abandoned mother. Most remained optimistic about family life, including grandparenting, when they returned home.
This chapter describes what the women shared about ageing in prison as well as the connections they drew between ageing and acceptance. The older women suffered health problems exacerbated by imprisonment, and psychological difficulties including staff disrespect and a felt shame of ageing in prison. Acceptance was achieved on three levels: acceptance of incarceration, acceptance of responsibility, and acceptance of self.
This chapter discusses what the women shared concerning generativity – both action and desires. The chapter expounds on the concept of generativity, which encompasses teaching, mentoring, and encouraging the next generation. It offers a critique of the concept of generativity as based on a conception of individuals in the free world. In particular, the desire to care for and encourage younger people in prison does not continue a positive pattern but rather is an attempt to correct a negative one.
This chapter draws the book to a close with insights on what remains to be done in public/prison policy and research domains. Policy should increase the availability of generative opportunities, such as in the form of programming. Analysts should also study programme impacts. Life course criminology might continue to explore generativity, a main task of later life stages, as promoting prosocial behaviour. The latter should not be understood as merely a negation of crime or a means to recidivism reduction. More generally, the generative actions and plans of people in prison strike against the harmfulness of the carceral regime.