Stories from prison by jean harris

What is the function of prisons: penalty or rehabilitation? What rights are captives entitled to? How is it to be a convicted adult female? These are the inquiries Jean Harris ( 1988 ) contemplates in her book They ever call us ladies. Narratives from prison.

At her slaying test, Ms. Harris ‘s defence pleaded that she was “ excessively much of a ‘lady ‘ to perpetrate slaying ” ( Olster, 1998, p. 79 ) . Yet Doctor Tarnover, the writer of The Complete Medical Scarsdale Diet, was shot by his lover Jean Harris on March 1980 ( Olster, 1998 ) . The lone enigma around the narrative was the province of head and purposes of Ms. Harris at the clip of the shot. Harmonizing to the prosecuting officer Tarnover ‘s decease was caused by green-eyed monster, depression and the emotional maltreatment Ms. Harris experienced over the class of her relationship with him. Thus it was an knowing act to stop her agony ( Olster, 1998 ) . Harris ‘s version was that Tarnover ‘s decease was the consequence of her failed self-destruction effort in forepart of her lover ( Olster, 1998 ) .

To my little letdown, the book did non shed much visible radiation on the March 1980 events. Rather, Ms. Harris focuses on assorted facets of prison life from the early 1800s to present twenty-four hours, pulling to a great extent on her experiences at Bedford Hills Prison where she was convicted to fifteen-to-life sentence.

Punishment or Rehabilitation

Humanity perpetually wrestles with the intent of the justness system. Legal and practical deductions in condemnable justness ever originated from dominant philosophical beliefs of the clip. What is good and what is evil? Is evil ever evil or it depends? Are human existences ab initio good or bad? If one believes that the human character is ab initio good, so one time depraved can she be corrected? If one believes that the human character is ab initio evil, so evil worlds must be punished and isolated from society being hopeless for corrections. Or possibly human existences are mid-tones of good and evil? The other inquiry is who can state whether a human is good or bad? Can she be rehabilitated? And who can implement any of the determinations upon offenders? God? Government? Community? Or merely the offender herself?

Ms. Harris in her life had been both, the sermonizer and the evildoer. In these capacities she struggled:

“ What makes some of us “ good ” and some of us “ evil ” is an antique inquiry. Who is good and who is evil is merely as perplexing. It is easy to describe about people and topographic points, and hard to reflect about them, particularly on paper where others can judge you for being judgmentalaˆ¦ I one time believed the inquiries of good and evil were childishly simple to work out, like stating the difference between black and white. Then, I grew up and discovered a universe with 100s of sunglassess of Grey. And so I came to prison and discovered so much immorality in the box labeled “ Good ” , and some echt good in the box marked “ Evil ” , that I would ne’er once more assume it was kid ‘s drama to separate between the two. ” ( Harris, 1988, p.63 ) .

Philosophic beliefs about good and evil resulted in two schools of idea, as Harris argues:

“ The classical school believes for whatever grounds person breaks the regulation, he ‘s no blasted good and must be harshly punished. In fact, the harsher the better. The determinist thinks we should seek to happen out why the offense was committed so that at the least we can salvage the following coevals from reiterating the same error ” ( Harris, 1988, p.65 )

However historically the attitude toward women-lawbreakers changed “ from a adult female depraved, to a adult female wronged, to a adult female who now says she wants to be treated every bit with work forces ” ( Harris, 1998, p. 29 ) , – she summarizes.

Harris argues that in the eyes of the populace, depraved adult females violate the Torahs of nature.

“ God have created a adult female to be inactive and pure, loving and fertile, obedient and submissive. When she committed a offense she had non merely pained society, she had offended God. The “ Cult of True Womanhood ” had been violatedaˆ¦ And her offenses consisted of anything from pecking to dish the dirting to adultery to slay. Even sulking could acquire her into problem ” . ( Harris, 1988, p. 27 ) .

Interestingly, Harris points out that even when the reform school motion began, “ it was now the female offender who could be reformed and made new once more, non the maleaˆ¦ Furthermore, to direct a adult female or miss to the reform school was non punishment, she was told. It was an look of the populace ‘s parental control for her ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 28 ) . Meanwhile, the first female reform schools were built in Newgate and Arbun in 1800s. ( Harris, 1988 ) . Yet it is of import to set this in historical position. Equally progressive as it was, penalty was highly of import for a sense of justness: “ burglary, counterfeit and stealing from the church “ on a regular footing ” , were all punishable by life imprisonment ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 30 ) . Entirely with such progressive actions as dividing sexes when imprisoned, inmates ‘ intervention by today ‘s criterions was rough. Harris refers to physical penalties, prohibiting to talk at all times, absence of any fabrics provided. “ The work forces were put into cells and the adult females were sent to a individual Attic room over the prison kitchen ” ( Harris, 1988, p.32 ) that resulted in less regimentation for adult females and later no privateness. Entirely with the thought of rehabilitation and intervention it was common to back “ undetermined sentencing since no 1 could state how long reformations would take ” ( Harris, 1988, p.36 ) . Either manner, punished or rehabilitated, adult females were stuck in their gender functions.

The 1930s brought many alterations in adult females ‘s thought and in condemnable justness. Harris observes that adult females advocated for “ the same intervention as work forces, or every bit close as anyone could acquire to it. Gender specific began to skid toward gender impersonal ” ( Harris, 1988, p.28 ) .

Today we tend to believe of both classical and positive criminology as “ deeply flawed ” ( Price, Sokoloff, 2004, p. 20 ) . Critical criminology believing formed in 1960s and 1970s. It focuses on the fact that Torahs are norms socially constructed, and that the governing category ever acts as a Godhead ( Price, Socoloff, 2004 ) . Entirely with acknowledging the function of privileged category, critical criminology besides identifies socially disadvantaged groups ( Price, Socoloff, 2004 ) . Critical criminology furthermore recognizes that disadvantaged groups have different experiences in life and therefore these experiences need to be included in the justness equation ( Price, Socoloff, 2004 ) . Therefore critical criminology non merely focuses on violators, but even more so “ how the political economic system itself promotes the conditions ( poorness, unemployment, etc. ) that cause typical street condemnable behaviour ” ( Price, Socoloff, 2004, p. 20 ) .

Critical criminology position is really appealing to me. It connects condemnable jurisprudence with economic sciences, political relations, civilization, sociology and even psychological science. It helps me understanding affirmatory action construct. In this respect, it helps me to understand why in her determination Justice Sandra Day O’Connor allowed the Michigan State University favoring black pupils while admittances for 25 old ages get downing from 2003 ( Toobin, 2007 ) . It explains why I can see sunglassess of Grey in Ms. Harris ‘ narrative. It besides restrains me from doing unidimensional judgements. But the most of import is that critical criminology helps me to see that penalty and rehabilitation both are non plenty to suppress offense.

Prisoners ‘ Rights

“ There is an aura of scientific discipline fiction about prison. It ‘s existent, but it should n’t be ” ( Harris, 1988, p.8 ) . Seems like Ms. Harris invariably tries to wake up from her environing incubus. Seems like she refers to history, detecting all the values and attitudes in their dynamic alteration, and in secret believing that possibly someday a more merely society would be able to look into her psyche and see a lady, non liquidator. She hopes that someday society will hone remedies for those who stepped out, and the utile member of society as an result will be guaranteed.

“ Obviously what we accept today should non be judged in the visible radiation of yesterday ‘s valuesaˆ¦ Prisons, like schools, do non make values ; they mirror them, something the mean citizen is non comfy being told ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 23 )

Peoples ever make errors. Some fail to be lawful, others fail to contrive and implement Torahs. Today we struggle how much of a freedom can be given away for perpetrating a offense. And what rights are undeniable. Naturally, inmates and corrections officers ( C.O.s ) have different positions. Should captives hold a right to work, to be paid, to instruction, to execute humanistic disciplines, to hold relationships, to privacy etc. ?

“ Physically, captives are better treated todayaˆ¦ We are non chained to the walls, and fed staff of life and H2O, nor do we hold our faces dipped into pans of cold H2O as “ intervention ” to quiet us down. Some may be chained to their beds if they have to travel to hospital, a pattern that should hold stopped before it started, and which I am thankful was non inflicted upon me ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 277 ) .

However, Ms. Harris sees a batch of ways for betterment. Namely, captives need “ suites ” ( Harris, 1988, p.3 ) with a batch of fresh air, with Windowss towards the sky, they need the limitless right for instruction, books, a batch of privateness. Womans need to hold more freedom to be visited by their work forces, otherwise in some instances they will hold no pick other than to prosecute in homosexual relationships. Food could be better. First clip wrongdoers must be treated nicely, so that they wo n’t experience rejected by the society. And, decidedly, no harsh linguistic communication may be used.

Even though some of it sounds a spot naA?ve we may take a expression at these claims closer. To understand what sort of rights could be taken, and what sort of rights could be granted, we should inquire a figure of other inquiries. What is penalty? And do we desire our felons rehabilitated? If so, what would rehabilitate them? What would actuate them to travel back to society with apprehension of their offense, apprehension of its harm, and what is more of import, with restored dealingss between herself and society ( victim where it is possible ) . Personally I see a batch of truth and possible impact in job resolution tribunals and mediation. These constructs have to be taken to a higher degree of execution throughout the authorities.

A Convicted Woman

Narratives from prison witnessed by Ms. Harris without a uncertainty are heartbreaking. Here are merely some of them. After being released from the reform school for the first clip, Alba stayed out of problem for 24 old ages. She was convicted a 2nd clip because of squealing to jury that she was a sapphic. “ They thought a sapphic is capable of anything ” ( Harris, 1988, p.11 ) . Rosie was mentally non good, one time in a piece she was losing memory and enduring from ictuss. Nevertheless she was kept with all the remainder of captives without any particular intervention. Loda was evidently cheated by her attorney who persuaded her selling her house and paying him for registering a hopeless entreaty. Martha was paroled and supposed to travel place to Columbia, but C.O.s did n’t cognize the processs and kept her in prison for excess months. “ Lila served two old ages for lying about a $ 167 public assistance cheque ” ( Harris, 1988, p.64 ) .

Harmonizing to national studies, the profile of modern adult female in prison is “ hapless, disproportionally African American and Hispanic, and has small instruction and few occupation accomplishments ” ( Price, Socoloff, 2004, p. 198 ) . Ms. Harris from what she had seen in Bedford Hills Prison offers her position.

“ There is a good trade of difference between the attitudes of foreign born adult females in 1912 and the attitudes one sees in Puerto Rican adult females. In 1912, people came here with the thought of going American citizens, larning English, raising their kids as Americansaˆ¦ The figure of nonnative adult females who ended up incarcerated in the first half of the century was a smaller part than their per centum of the metropolis ‘s entire population in every instance. For illustration, in 1912 those who were Russian Born made up 10 per centum of the [ New York ] metropolis ‘s entire population, but merely 8 per centum of those imprisoned. Today, Puerto Ricans automatically granted American citizenshipaˆ¦ They cleaving to their ain linguistic communication and ain imposts to the point where many may populate here foraˆ¦ 15 old ages and still hold non learned English. They come here to do money more than to do a new place, and they raise their childrenaˆ¦ to talk Spanish, non English. They are coming into this prison today faster than any other group, and good above their per centum of the entire metropolis population “ . ( Harris, 1988, p.56 )

This account uncovers merely portion of the world though. It is lone portion of “ ‘triple hazard ‘ to depict the complex interaction of category, race and gender that contributes to the of all time increasing rates of imprisonment ” ( Pierce, Socoloff, 2004, p. 198 ) . Still, “ Numberss and faces in aˆ¦ [ Bedford Hills ] tell a great trade about advantages and disadvantages of assorted civilizations ” , – argues Ms. Harris ( Harris, 1988, p.57 ) .

Sociologists identify a figure of strivings faced by captive adult females. These are: ( 1 ) disparate disciplinary patterns, ( 2 ) sexual maltreatment, ( 3 ) separation from kids and important others, ( 4 ) inadequate wellness attention, ( 5 ) deficiency of acknowledgment of anterior victimization, ( 6 ) deficiency of substance maltreatment intervention, ( 7 ) insufficient mental wellness services, ( 8 ) deficiency of instruction and vocational plans. ( Pierce, Socoloff, 2004 ) . Ms. Harris systematically responds to these scholarly observations with her prison narratives. While all of these issues are of import, some resonated with me and I will concentrate on those.

Sexual maltreatment. The Human Rights Watch studies consider that being a adult female in American prison with respect to sexual maltreatment job is terrorizing ( Pierce, Sokoloff, 2007 ) . Ms. Harris describes legion instances of sexual maltreatment of inmates by prison guards:

“ It was non uncommon for a adult female to hold herself to give sexually in order to acquire her day-to-day nutrient. Obviously, that ‘s no longer required but I ‘m told it ‘s still one manner to acquire a truly good repast. ” ( Harris, 1988, p.30 ) .

She besides refers to legion love personal businesss, whether willing or unwilling between inmates. At the same clip, she recalls that even those few prisons that allow coeducation, are a definite measure back in penitentiary reforms. Equally long as I am certain these instances are closely investigated, feels like more attending should be dedicated to this job.

Separation from kids and important others. “ Three quarters of women-prisoners were female parents ; two-thirds had kids who were under the age of 18 old ages ” ( Pierce, Sokoloff, p. 200 ) , national studies study. These Numberss are so significant that the mother-child-prison trigon ca n’t be left without authorities attending. Ms. Harris tells about the federal plan established in Bedford Hills in 1977. This plan aimed to back up and reconstruct household bond between adult females inmates and their hubbies. Harmonizing to Ms. Harris, the recidivism rate for those adult females who participated in the plan was well lower, 4 per centum versus usual 36 per centum statistics.

“ Bedford was among the first prisons, and is still one of relatively few prisons, that permit household visits over dark, in fact for 46 hoursaˆ¦ There are four dawdlers on the prison evidences, two with one sleeping room and two with three sleeping rooms. Merely lawfully married hubbies may come… Every adult female I know here, without exclusion, praises the dawdler visitsaˆ¦ ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 229 ) .

But the Bedford Hills illustration is non common, as Ms. Harris argues:

“ There are still many gaols in our state that forbid visits by kids under the age of 16. If you ‘re there for a twelvemonth, the terminal of that twelvemonth is when you ‘ll next see your small kids. Where contact is non permitted, you are separated from your visitant by glass or screen, and conversations are carried on by phoneaˆ¦ There are no words to depict how wholly lost to the universe it makes one feel. The conversation has the aura of a seanceaˆ¦ Some prisons permit babies to be brought into the visiting room but forbid bottles and nappies. Most prisons have no topographic point for kids to play while parents talk. They can creep on the floor or sit and ‘keep lull ‘ . They may non play with kids sing other inmates. ‘Cross sing ‘ is considered unsafe. ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 230 ) .

Even if kids are allowed to remain in prison with their female parents, those are normally prior one twelvemonth old. Harmonizing to Ms. Harris, who dedicated herself to developing a Children Care Center in prison, a batch has to be done to do this mother-child experience truly rehabilitating and adhering. Womans need to look frontward to something when they come out.

Inadequate wellness attention. “ Nationwide, approximately 3.3 per centum of adult females captives are thought to be HIV-positive, compared to about 2 per centum of male captives ” ( Pierce, Sokoloff, 2004, p. 200 ) . As Ms. Harris puts it, both the physically and mentally ill are frequently kept together with the healthy inmates.

“ Jo Jo has AIDS and has been moved to another floor to interrupt up her love matter with Jonsie. Vickie has terminal malignant neoplastic disease. She has served nine old ages, and Sister Elaine, New York State Senator Israel Ruiz and others are seeking to acquire her a medical discharge so that she can decease at place. To day of the month, all entreaties have been denied although the physician has written to Albany stating she has three months to populate and adding that the attention she has had in prison has from all indicants shortened her life. ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 22 ) . “ [ F ] ifteen adult females from here have died of AIDS in the past twelvemonth and a half ” . ( Harris, 1988, p. 59 ) . “ Jenniferaˆ¦ was given 60 yearss in lone for composing ‘properganda stuff ‘ . She was housed in the new residence hall flying cells alternatively of cells, following to the adult female with an advanced instance of AIDS ” . ( Harris, 1988, p. 247-248 ) .

Such state of affairss demonstrate an crying neglect for basic human rights where captives become dual victims of society.

Lack of acknowledgment of anterior victimization. The 22nd chapter of Narratives from Prison focuses on the beat-up adult female syndrome. Personally, it is the most powerful chapter in the book. Here is how Ms. Harris describes battered adult females at the Bedford Hills:

“ They were good girls, good married womans, good female parents and good citizens until the twenty-four hours or dark the concluding straw of inhuman treatment was piled on top of all other straws, she broke and a hubby or lover was killed ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 219 ) .

Fortunately, Bedford Hills Prison, harmonizing to Ms. Harris, took an attempt to present the abused adult female construct to society, media and legislative assembly. At the clip when the book was written, the New York State legislative assembly did non believe in a ego defence construct. Additionally, all offenses that originated from domestic maltreatment or any other type of force were handled inconsistently. Even though Ms. Harris did non mention straight to her instance in this chapter it is obvious that she draws a batch of personal emotion from it. Obviously she used to endure from an emotionally opprobrious and unfaithful relationship with Tarnover ( Olster, 1998 ) . Ms. Harris ne’er confessed in her purpose to kill him but the dysfunctional relationship without a uncertainty contributed to her depression ( Olster, 1998 ) . Unfortunately, Ms. Harris ‘ opprobrious state of affairs was n’t the worse possible.


It was hard to place how much of Harris ‘s narrative is nonsubjective, and how much is an effort to set the incrimination for fallen adult females on society. Narratives from Prison ( Harris, 1988 ) should be carefully analyzed for the credibleness of the writers ‘ statements and cogency of her limited research, notwithstanding its strength in pealing societal bells in condemnable justness. Individual narratives of Bedford Hills inmates witnessed by Ms. Harris are those bells. At the same clip a great trade of cautiousness should be used when connoting that these single instances are national tendencies. Such statements as “ there are still prisons in America today, in New York State, where inmates may hold no more than two books in their cells at one clip, and one of those must be the Bible, whether they want to read it or non ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 232 ) merely did n’t look to be plausible. Other remarks clearly reflected her complete negative attitude to justness as such. Harris says that “ prison is the original of democracy gone huffy ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 237 ) and that “ anyone of these [ significance correctional officers – C.O.s ] aˆ¦ could walk into my cell aˆ¦ and rupture up the images of my boies and the manuscript I am writingaˆ¦ with the blessing of the United States Supreme Court ” ( Harris, 1988, p.238 ) and, eventually, that Chief Justice Warren Burger turned a captive to “ a societal, emotional and rational living dead ” ( Harris, 1988, p. 238 ) seemed to be utmost farfetched. The usage of statistical information was ne’er supported with appropriate commendations therefore it was impossible to set up credibleness.

Since it was non the intent of this research to formalize each and every claim made by Ms. Harris, I focused on the facts that could be utile in analysing adult females wrongdoers as societal phenomena.

The whole book is a call for penitentiary betterment. Obviously, the somersault coin of any betterment is the deficiency of taxpayer ‘s dollars. At the same clip, any reform has to be effectual and strategic. Decriminalization of drug usage and harlotry could salvage a batch of money. In fact, in these two instances fiscal punishment should put at the pess of drug traders and users of sexual services.

Equally much as acknowledgment of old victimization is of import, I can besides see a great quandary in it. On one spectrum is Aileen Wuornos, cocotte, abused and neglected adult female, who killed her seven clients. She was charged with a decease punishment ( Makleod ) . To my sentiment, Jean Harris, educated upper-middle category adult female, who likely suffered some kind of emotional upset, is on the other side of a spectrum. If we think relativistic, the manner modern critical criminology is constructed, we need to possibly see even more utmost instances on the spectrum. Would it be an alibi for a school child after reasoning with a instructor or parent to get down hiting in school? Remember Columbine High School ( Rosenberg ) . Would these childs have an alibi because they were abused emotionally? Would it be different if they are abused physically? I likely do n’t cognize all these replies. I decidedly believe in intervention for abused adult females in prisons. At the same clip, I believe that no affair how exhaustively the jurisprudence is constructed it can ne’er foretell all scenarios. I believe in judicial discretion with one status. The populace every bit good as jurisprudence enforcement has to be extensively educated about adult females ‘s issues. And we still have a long manner to travel.