A History of Unequal Care

In 1972 the radical, feminist group the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union created a project dedicated to bettering the lives of incarcerated women within Chicago. After using militant dedication to be welcome into Dwight Correctional Facility, the prison project witnessed the conditions first hand. Upon entering the prison it became clear that women’s prison has been long forgotten by the public, legislatures, and even the administrators running Dwight. The Prison Project’s understanding of the women’s struggles and their program implementation shows that they were ahead of their time and the criminal justice system. The activist implemented the Dwight Task force to work within the political arena, a health class, re-entry assistance, and the most successful, the law class. Even though the Prison Project had struggles relating with the inmates and understanding their needs, the law class actually connected with prisoners so well that it culminated in inspiring a student to be the jailhouse lawyer and to continue the Prison Project’s work behind bars. However, the department of corrections was not appreciative of vocal, feminist consciousness so they locked the jailhouse lawyer, Maxine Smith in solitary for over a year without reprieve. The law class immediatly went to work to bring Smith’s case to the courts and free her from solitary. When Smith was granted her freedom it became the Prison Projects last stand with the DOC. Their story, both the successes and the failures stand as an example for future activists.

 

 

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A poster from a community organizing pamphlet for Feminist Prison Reform, 1977 from the Freedom Archives 

 

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Revisions

It’s paper revision time! As excited as I was to finish the draft I did not prepare mentally for actually fixing the draft. So now I am trying to slowly review the paper and not freak out over all the thing I want to improve.

Receiving feedback was super helpful because 1.) I am terrible at proof-reading and 2.) my mess of an intro was in dire need of some outside help. Now the trouble is where to begin in rebuilding the paper. So far I have only done small things like fixing grammatical errors and moving some paragraphs around. I have vowed to begin this week the larger project of rewriting and clarifying my argument.

This past week I have been re-reading some secondary sources and also meeting with some professionals in the field to ensure I am writing as accurately as possible. So far I have met with Dr. Rachel Boyle, who had just finished defending her dissertation on female criminality. Her insight was incredibly helpful in clarifying my historiography and more concisely laying out the vibrant history behind my topic. Also, it was really interesting to chat about her work and I am currently trying to read up on the topic. Then I also met with Professor In who had been a federal parole officer for several years. I asked to meet with him so we could talk about his experience with female offenders and their struggles in re-entry. Professor In also gave me some articles to read, which I hope to use in my paper as I continue with revisions.

The Week of the First Draft

It seems like only yesterday it was Christmas break and the only issue was narrowing down the topic. Now it’s March, we have just handed in the first drafts of the paper and I for one would like to know where all the time went. After rewriting my outline and turning 5 pages of bullet points into 10 pages of an actual outline I began to climb over the first hurdle of writing.

For me, the introduction and the historiography were the part I most struggled with. The history of the women’s prisons struggles was really multifaceted and interesting. I could have written a whole paper on the struggles with stereotypes of female criminality and the evolution of treatment. It was difficult to stress all of this rich history in one section of the paper.  After that, writing the paper became more like telling a story and it was awesome. I hope that I did the Prison Project justice when detailing their work fighting for women’s rights within the prison system.  Looking back there is definitely a lot more I could add, but at the time of writing, I was trying to keep the random tangents to a minimum.

The relief of closing all my paper tabs and hitting that submit button was amazing. It’s only the first draft but there is some resemblance of a proper paper and that is encouraging as we move forward. Once the initial euphoria and stress simmered down, I felt extremely proud that I had finished the first step of drafting the paper. Now I can’t wait to keep refining the paper and be able to tell the story of the CWLU’s Prison Project properly. And I hope to send a really important message about the present prison system because it is still overlooked today.

Also, as I was procrastinating a few weeks ago, I found an extremely accurate picture of me finishing the 1st draft:
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The Big Break

After a not so hot visit to the archives, and searching the depths of random collections, I have finally found some really awesome stuff. A bonus to finding some really interesting items, I also was able to meet and read about some really interesting people.

After hitting the so-called “research wall” It was back to what felt like square one. Luckily, I had set up a meeting with a graduate student from Northwestern, Bonnie Ernst. The meeting went extremely well, Bonnie is doing research in Michigan in the same area that I am in Chicago. Her background was amazing and I could tell she really loved what she did. She studied at Oxford and interned with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. The initiative works with adults and juveniles on death row and undoing countless miscarriages of justice. Bryan Stevenson is the co-founder and is the author of an amazing book “Just Mercy”. The book is highly suggested and is inspiring as it is upsetting. Not sure if you could tell, but it’s one of my favorite books and the fact that Bonnie had worked with that group was coincidentally awesome.

 

After I was done asking thousands of questions about her time in Alabama and her research, she was able to help me get on track with finding sources. She listed off a ton of resources that were both out of the box and very helpful. She gave me the ideas to look at other groups, legislation on prison reform, and legal precedent. For all her advice I am extremely thankful.

 

Once I was thinking outside of the box when it came to sources I found a multitude of sources from newspaper clippings to a major lawsuit. Once I found all this it was definitely less frustrating to conceive an outline that was not 85% secondary sources. Hopefully, as time goes on I can keep compiling different archival papers from the Illinois state archives to interviewing the women who created the Prison Project.

The Day of Dorothy

What an outstanding end to a whirlwind of inspiring guest speakers brought in by the seminar. It was the perfect end to a year of reflecting on the amazing life of Dorothy Day. Last semester we spent most of our time following her footsteps in the 20th century. By doing so we learned to appreciate the complicated “soup of isms” and the inspiring acts of resistance that followed suit. It is one thing to read The long Loneliness and hear in Day’s own words the birth of the Catholic Worker and how it was the vehicle through which Day changed many lives. However, it is a completely different experience to hear about Day through someone who worked and lived in the hospitality house. It brings the story of the Catholic Worker and Day to life. A book can tell you what she did and how she felt about an event. But a personal friend can tell you what her laugh sounded like and how she inspired others first hand. Robert Ellsberg the first speaker of the symposium did just that, he brought Dorothy Day to life.

Throughout the lecture, Ellsberg was able to detail how the Catholic Workers and Day changed the course of his life. After dropping out of college sophomore year, he found his way to a local house of hospitality. Soon after he would become the editor of the Catholic Worker and Day’s personal friend. During the talk, several parts of his story stood out to me. He explained that the newspaper did not work like others, instead of seniority or acclaim the top people working on the newspaper were chosen because of their hard work.

Similarly, He spoke of Day as a person who could see the potential in people when they could not see it in themselves. Ellsberg recounted Day’s love of getting to know people, ask questions like if they read literature and most importantly what their favorite Dostoevsky was.

Prior to the talk Day seemed like an awe-inspiring activist who opened her door to everyone and truly lived what she believed in. Her self-discipline that allowed her to create the Catholic Worker and channel the dreams of Peter Mauri was brought to life by Ellsberg. He spoke of the attributes that lead to Day’s success, but he also made Day seem more personal. He enabled the audience to see beyond the crisp stern look she always gave cameras and make the amazing figure Day was more engaging.

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The Rollarcoaster Of Archival Work

It’s good to be back! After a month long hibernation in Pennsylvania it’s amazing to be busy again. So far this semester looks like it will be a crazy rollercoaster of due dates and timelines between diving into archives, a new internship, and a lovely 18 credits, it will be a packed semester. While I may complain throughout it all, never be fooled because I secretly love to be busy.

This semester is especially exciting because of the opportunity to go solo into several archives. So far it’s been really interesting highs and lows, at times you find something awesome and unexpected other times the finding aid had more info than the actual box. Or maybe you go there just to find that the sound recordings that were labeled as available online where actually off limits in real life.

 

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My main primary sources as of right now consist of manifestos and pamphlets.What I am hoping is that with a more intensive search I can find a wide variety of types like sound recordings to prisoner records. I have learned that the search for more variety involves a lot of thinking outside the box. So far that has paid off, one of my favorite pieces right now is a Times article from 1979 where the warden was interviewed. While it’s a brief article the description of the facility given by the warden is much more glowing than any description provided by my secondary sources. Now that I have two sides to the same story, a warden’s view and a researcher’s view, I am hoping to add some prisoner records or pictures to give a more well-rounded view of the facility. Or even some stories from the families of the women who were incarcerated there.

My next step is to find some cool pictures from inside the facility from the 1970s because it is one thing to write about but it is a whole different thing to actually see.

This is It!

It’s been quite the semester and before we all sprint to the start of winter break, it’s time to pick the topic. At first it was a daunting task, with so many things to choose from it seemed almost impossibly broad.

I knew I wanted to pull from an area that I knew somewhat and to focus on a  movement that inspired me. Choosing the movement was the easiest part. I could spend hours reading about the feminist movement in the 20th century. The first push that brought women legal freedoms and more importantly freedom from gender roles. If someone were to say that its overdone, then my retort would have to be then you don’t understand the how monumental it was. I could on but I think the point is clear. Once I figured out the social justice movement, the rest slowly followed.

To narrow down the focus I choose women’s prison reform, which I thought would be fairly relevant even today do to incarceration trends in the US. The US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. In the 1960s America’s prison population soared and never stopped, some even suggest since the late 1960s the prison population as increased 600%. When any institution witnesses such an explosion of populations standards begin to shrink and rights over looked, suddenly when people were put away society seemed to forget them. One thing that I found interesting is that while learning about the mass incarceration movement so far we have only talked about men’s prison. This is why women’s prison reform stuck out to me. A lot of the literature that cited the feminist call to prison reform called these women the forgotten citizens. And up until the early 60s that statement held true, these women were denied access to their children, and even to basic feminine hygiene products.

So in a not so grand fashion I discovered my paper topic: The feminist call to women’s prison reform embodied in the “Prison Project”. The prison project was a part of a larger group from Chicago, called The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. For several years women from the group visited the Cook county women’s prison an petitioned for the rights of the women inside. By talking about this local project I want to emphasize the conditions of prisons at the time and the women who gave a voice to the incarcerated voiceless.

My excitement for this project grew as I found both the secondary and primary sources. Through my travels among the shelves in the library and the internet I discovered that many of the women who founded the CWLU (Chicago Women’s Liberation Movement) are past Loyola teachers and students. I felt a source of empowerment knowing that Loyola had created such powerful and outspoken women.

So far I’ve only hit minor road bumps in researching and locating archives. For instance the pool of secondary sources wasn’t exactly overflowing with variety.  On the bright side however there were some really promising archives and exhibits. So heres to prison reform and the women who gave a voice to thousands who were forgotten in the system.