Sisters Outside

Radical Activists Working for Women Prisoners

By Jodie Michelle Lawston

Subjects: Criminology
Series: SUNY series in Women, Crime, and Criminology
Paperback : 9781438427102, 167 pages, July 2010
Hardcover : 9781438427096, 167 pages, July 2009

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Table of contents

1. Introduction: Struggling for Credibility
2. Ideological Origins of Network for Prisoners: From Reform to Revolution
3. Negotiating Racial Privilege: (Re) Framing Feelings of Illegitimacy
4. “We’re All Sisters”: Bridging the “Gap” between Activists and Prisoners
5. Reconceptualizing Prison and Prisoners: Attempts to Resist “Get Tough on Crime” Discourse
6. Conclusion: Contributions and Reflections
Appendix A: Methodology
Appendix B: Interview Guide for Activists in NP
Appendix C: Interview Guide for Prisoners

Shows how radical women advocate for women in prison while acknowledging the racial and class division between them.


How can radical women activists for women prisoners be a "voice and a presence" for people so different from themselves? The radical activists who envision a postprison society are predominantly white, middle class, and well educated; the prisoners they advocate for are predominantly disenfranchised women of color. While the activists lead lives of relative comfort, conditions in women's prisons may include sexual and emotional abuse and medical neglect. Jodie Michelle Lawston examines the dilemmas that arise as activists attempt to challenge injustices and oppression in these prisons. Activists question their place in leading organizations speaking for incarcerated women of color, and they question whether they will be accepted by these women as legitimate representatives. Knowing that their radical goals are generally not well received by the mainstream public, activists realize they must cast their efforts as a credible social movement when dealing with that public. Lawston maps the discourses that activists from a radical group in California generate in order to overcome these tensions and provides comments from the activists themselves.

Jodie Michelle Lawston is Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at California State University San Marcos.