A World Apart

A World Apart
by Cristina Rathbone

Cristina Rathbone begins her account of women in prison with one of the salient ironies of correctional institutions: how difficult it can be for outsiders to the system-be they family members of inmates, volunteers, or reporters-to get inside. It took Rathbone a year, and some help from the ACLU, which filed a lawsuit on her behalf, to gain access to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Framingham (MCI-F). And things didn’t get any easier once she was allowed in. She had to wait for hours to enter the visitors area, found herself subject to “random” pat-down searches, and was refused anything beyond the bare minimum of access until she initiated further legal action. She persisted, and her work is at once a tribute to the humanity of the women inside, and a searing indictment of our society’s practices of incarceration.

Rathbone weaves together two narratives: the story of Denise, a thirty-two-year-old crack addict serving time for arranging a drug purchase for an undercover cop, and the story of MCI-F itself, the oldest operating women’s prison in the country. (I volunteered with the Catholic chaplaincy at MCI-F for ten years, and continue to help out in prisons in California.) Along the way, she also provides a broader view of the history of the imprisonment of women.

Denise’s experience gives us a feel for prison life. She arrives terrified, and is taken under the wing of an older woman...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).