Women at the Wall

A Study of Prisoners' Wives Doing Time on the Outside

By Laura T. Fishman

Subjects: Criminology
Series: SUNY series in Critical Issues in Criminal Justice
Paperback : 9780791400593, 352 pages, May 1990
Hardcover : 9780791400586, 352 pages, May 1990

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Table of contents


Chapter I


Chapter II

Women's Interpretations of Criminality before Marriage

Chapter III

Before Arrest: Domestic Life, Male Criminality, and Fast Living

Chapter IV

Before Arrest: Explaining and Accommodating to Male Criminality and Fast Living

Chapter V

Arrests, Lawyers, Courts, and Sentencing

Chapter VI

Stigmatization and Prisoners' Wives' Feelings of Shame

Chapter VII

Marital Relationships Inside: Visiting at the Prison

Chapter VIII

Living Alone

Chapter IX

Repeating the Cycle: Wives' Accommodations to Husbands' Re-Entry

Chapter X

The World of Prisoners' Wives: Conclusions

Appendix A

The Literature

Appendix B

Notes on Research Methodology





Women at the Wall is the first ethnographic study of how the arrest, trial, imprisonment, and release of male criminals affects their families, particularly their wives. It relies on first-person accounts by prisoners' wives, providing details about the changing texture of their marital relationships and the accompanying stigmatization.

From this book we learn about the effects of enforced spousal separation, and the control husbands maintain even during incarceration. We also learn that wives devise ingenious interpretations and explanations regarding their husbands' criminality, and how they attempt to establish stable, conventional lives for themselves while supporting their husbands through the various stages of the criminal justice system.

These women reveal not only their hardships and losses, but also their resourcefulness in coping with their husbands' criminality, their families and friends, and the prison system itself.

Laura T. Fishman is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont.