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Acting in Prison: Vision as Resource for Change

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       Barb Toews, General Studies 223:
       Acting in Prison: Vision as Resource for Change

      Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2012
       F 12:30-3:30 (plus travel time when at Cannery)

F 1:00-4:00 (when at BMC)

       This class is part of a cluster of three courses in a new
       360° called Women in Walled Communities: Silence, Voice,
, which focuses on the constraints and agency of
     individual actors in the institutional settings of women's
       colleges and prisons.

Instructions for Preparing Your Final 360° Portfolio

The U.S. leads the world in incarceration, imprisoning one in 100 people. This translates into more than two million men and women being incarcerated in U.S. prison and jails. The incarceration rate for women in particular is growing at record rates, approximately 400% in the past 25 years. With more than 200,000 women confined in the nation’s federal, state and county facilities, approximately 10% of all incarcerated people are women and this number is expected to rise. Given this reality, it is imperative for social scientists and practitioners, and citizens nationwide, to understand the forces that drive mass incarceration, the meaning and experience of incarceration, especially for women, and its implications for the social world.

This course, through the theme of “vision,” draws on sociological, psychological and correctional perspectives (individually and together) to consider the social and historical context in which mass incarceration occurs and the consequences of this trend for particular social groups, the day-to-day experience inside correctional institutions and the ways in which incarcerated individuals, and allies, strive to change both the social context that has contributed to their incarceration and their daily experiences inside the institution.

This course includes both campus-based classes and experiential jail-based classes with incarcerated women. The resulting combination of theory and experience will provide students the unique opportunity to grapple with perspectives on incarceration and the incarcerated in an applied, real world manner and in dialogue with those most directly impacted by the forces under study.

Course objectives:

  1. Gain knowledge about the impact of social structures and institutions on a woman’s path in and out of prison, their experiences inside prison and the strategies that develop to respond to those experiences. 
  2. Consider the ways in which gender, race, class, sexual orientation, motherhood, education, criminal justice involvement and incarceration intersect in creating the lives of women outside and inside correctional facilities. 
  3. Explore the tensions that exist between visibility and invisibility, publicity and privacy, confinement and freedom, imposed and created experiences, and power/oppression and empowerment/resistance and the fluidity and permeability of social and institutional boundaries. 


1. This course invites you to engage both academically and personally with course materials and activities in a traditional college course as well as a jail-based workshop with incarcerated students that uses an experiential and arts-based pedagogy. This unique combination may push you outside your comfort zones in a variety of ways. Students are encouraged to embrace and learn from these moments of discomfort.  

2. This course may uncover the limits of your patience for systems, institutions and people. Bring a zen-like spirit of flexibility, patience, compassion and curiosity.  These qualities will serve you well when things change on a moment's notice at that institution. 

3. Seven weeks of the class take place inside the Federal Detention Center which require all of us to adhere to institutional expectations and rules. these will be discussed in class and at a security orientation at the institution. Students will agree to a set of expectations and boundaries as part of their participation in this portion of the semester (including a dress code). Due to institutional security concerns, late arrivals to class and early departures from class are NOT possible. Other considerations will be discussed in class. 

 4. If you are not able to meet a scheduled assignment due date, please talk to me  in ADVANCE of the due date. Please limit the use of this option to one assignment. 


In addition to participation and readings, there are 4 core assignments (protected file with assignment descriptions)

1. Weekly postings to the online conversation on Serendip (Thursdays by 6:30 pm; see page on netiquette in protected file) (link to posting page and the page to get a list of just the vision posts);

2. Journal (see assignment description for required entries; full journal due Sept 13, Oct 11, Wed Nov 21 and Dec 13);

3. Three (3) critical, integrative memos (Thurdays, Oct 11, Nov 15 and Dec 13);

4. Final project (due Friday, December 21, assignment TBD as we move through the semester)


Text books

Gross, K. (2006). Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910.  Duke University Press. ("Colored Amazons")

Haney, L. (2010). Offending Women: Power, Punishment, and the Regulation of Desire. University of California Press. ("Offending Women")

Zehr, H. (1996). Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences. Good Books. ("Doing Life")

Zehr, H. (2005). The Little Book of Contemplative Photography. Good Books. ("LBCP")

Additional readings

Protected file with course readings

Including session by session readings, this file also contains the following: 

  • 2012 Party Platforms on Criminal Justice Policy
  • Document with the "avatars" of women at the Cannery

Course outline:

The following outline is tentative as details at the Federal Detention Center continue to evolve.  Activities and readings may be added or removed. 

Preparing to see

Week 1 (Sept 7, BMC, 1:00-4:00) 


  • LBCP – pp. 3-13
  • Colored Amazons – Introduction (pp. 1-12)
  • Offending Women – Introduction (pp. 1-25)
  • “To Create an Enemy” (from Keen, Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination, Harper and Row, 1986) [link to reading]

Imaging female offenders

Week 2 (Sept 14, BMC)  (Break snacks: Barb and Shannon)

Due Thursday, Sept 13:

  • First of weekly posts, by Thursday 6:30 pm
  • Submit required journal entry 1 (this marks the start of the on-going journaling the whole semester)


  • Colored Amazons - Chapters 1-3
  • Prisoners of a Hard Life (The Real Cost of Prison Project) [link to reading]
Link to video of map we created in class

Week 3 (Sept 21, BMC) (Break snacks: Chandrea, Sophia, Hayley and Jo)

BRING TO CLASS: The three completed prison forms and a copy of your drivers license


  • Colored Amazons - Chapter 4
  • Alexander, The New Jim Crow, Chapter 1 and Chapter 5 (pp. 178-187 only) (ebook available through library)
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment: A Review and Discussion for Correctionals Professionals - Chapter 2 [link to reading, NIC-CBT]
  • BMC/FDC workshop description [link to description]

Envisioning incarceration and its impact

Week 4 (Sept 28, BMC) (Break snacks: Esty, Sasha, Michaela, Erin, and Sarina)


  • Art installation at Eastern State on Saturday, Sept 22: Michellel Handelman, Beware the Lily Law
  • Offending Women - Chapters 1-3 
  • Colored Amazons - Chapters 5-6/Conclusion
  • Goffman, Asylums (TBD)

Week 5 (Oct 5, BMC) (Break snacks: Jacklyn, Sharaai, Sarah, Danielle and Sara)

****Plan on class going right up to 4:00

Guest speaker (tentative): Karen Bryant, Warden, Alternative and Special Detention (Warden of the jail in which we will do the workhsop) (NOTE: journal entry reflecting on her presentation - see revised journal assignment sheet)


We will prepare for the start of the orientation and workshop this session.

Envisioning ourselves as "women in walled communities"
  • Each week, meet at the arch at 11:30 for travel to the Cannery
  • No food or drinks are permitted inside the institution so bring lunch/snacks for in the van
  • Class ends at 3:30 and it will take about 15 minutes to leave the institution. Plan on arriving back on campus around 5:00. 
  • Drivers: Sharaai, Chandrea, Danielle, Sasha and Irene

Week 6 (Oct 12, Cannery - Security Orientation)

Due Thursday, Oct. 11:
  • Memo #1 to Barb and image with caption to Serendip
  • Required journal entry 2 (pre-reflections in preparation for the secruity orientation) (submit Nov 2)
  • FOLLOWING CLASS ON OCTOBER 12, write required journal entry 3 (post-orientation reflections) (submit Nov 2)


  • Peruse the website for the Philadelphia Prison System (
  • TBD - Baer and Ravneberg, The Outside and Inside of Norwegian and English Prisons (This reading serves to give you a glimpse into correctional institutions in preparation for the security orientation in addition to raising some curious questions as you prepare to regularly enter the facility) [link]

Unit 1: Who am I?

Week 7 (Oct 26, Cannery - Introduction to each other and workshop themes)

Posting for weeks of Oct 26 and Nov 2: Sarah J, Jomaira, Michaela, Julia, Johannah and Hayley 

By Thursday, Oct 25:

  • Required journal entry 4 (write prior to the start of the workshop, submit on Nov 2)
  • Start of ongoing journaling throughout jail experience and while completing reflective/experiential assignments

Readings: [link]

  • LBCP - Chapter 1 (pp. 3-6 only) and Chapters 2-4 
  • Doing Life - 

          - Introduction, Lois Farquharson, Betty Heron and Raymond Crawford

          - John Frederick Nole OR Tyrone Werts and Donald Montgomery

  • Jivani, My Art (From Solinger et al, Interrupted Life)

In class, all students will receive a reflective and experiential assignment to complete before the next class. This assignment will frame the opening discussion and art creation on November 2.   

Monday, Oct 29, 5:30-7:30, DVR - Meeting to debrief October 26 class 

Week 8 (Nov 2, Cannery - Art creation)

Posting for weeks of Oct 26 and Nov 2: Sarah J, Jomaira, Michaela, Julia, Johannah and Hayley

Due Friday, Nov 2:

  • Required journal entry 5 and full journal to date

Reading: [link]

  • LBCP, Chapter 5
  • Doing Life - excerpts not read from last week
  • Rigney, Metaphorical Society, Chapter 8: Society as Theatre

NOTE: Haverford is showing Concrete, Steel and Paint on the evening of Thursday, November 8. This film documents that creation of the Healing Walls murals. Details to be circulated when known. 

Unit 2: In what spaces can I be me?

Week 9 (Nov 9, Cannery - Introduction of themes)

NOTE: Tentative plan to tour the Cannery and possibly Riverside. Plan on leaving campus at 11:00, if not a bit earlier.

NOTE 2: Next week, we will use magazines with the art project. If you and your friends have magazines laying around for recycling, please save them up and bring them with you to class this week or next. Thanks!

Posting for weeks of Nov 9 and Nov 16: Sarina, Sasha, Sharaai, Jackie, Sophia and Chandrea

Reading: [link]

  • Molina, My Window
  • Doing Life:

           - Cyd Berger, Diane Weaver, Gaye Morley, Harvey Talford

          - Select 3 of the following: Victor Hassine, Commer Glass, Omar Askia Alie, Irving Moore, Juluis Shulman, James Taylor

  • McConnel, Sing Soft, Sing Loud - Chapter 1
  • Toch, Living in Prison: The Ecology of Survival - Chapter 1 (pp. 1-10 and 16-18 only) and Chapter 10
  • King County (WA) Gender Identity Regulations (from Solinger et al, Interrupted Lives)

In class, all students will receive a reflective and experiential assignment to complete before the next class. This assignment will frame the opening discussion and art creation on November 16.

Week 10 (Nov 16, Cannery - Art Creation)

** If you have magazines waiting to be recycled, bring those with you to class for the art project. 

Nov 15 and 16 Guest: Howard Zehr

  • Thursday, November 15 - campus-wide evening event
  • Friday, Nov 16 - in-class guest
Friday, Nov 16, 9:00 - Breakfast with Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (details TBD)

Posting for weeks of Nov 9 and Nov 16: Sarina, Sasha, Sharaai, Jackie, Sophia and Chandrea

Due Thursday, Nov 15:
  •  Memo #2 to Barb and image with caption to Serendip

Readings: [link]

  • LBCP - Chapter 6
  • Doing Life - TBD

         - Trina Garnett, Michael Twiggs, Marilyn Dobrolenski, What Does This All Mean? (p. 118-122)

        - Quotes under photo only:  Victor Hassine, Commer Glass

        - Rview last paragraph: Betty Heron

Monday, November 19, 5:30-7:30, DVR - Meeting to connect and debrief class expeirences so far 

(No class Friday, Nov 22 - Thanksgiving)

Unit 3: Who am I in the community?

Week 11 (Nov 30, Cannery - Introduction to themes and start of art creation)

Posting for weeks of Nov 30 and Dec 7: Sara G, Irene, Danielle, Esteniolla, Erin

Reading: [link]

  • LBCP - Chapters 7-8
  • Doing Life - Marie Scott, Sharon Wiggins, Ricardo Mercado, Harry Twiggs, Jerry Mims
  • Maruna et al, Looking-glass identity transformation: Pygmalion and Golem in the rehabilitation process (in Veysey et al, How Offenders Transform their Lives)

In class, all students will receive a reflective and experiential assignment to complete before the next class. This assignment will frame the opening discussion and art creation on December 7.

Week 12 (Dec 7, Cannery - Art creation and closing)

Posting for week of Nov 30 and Dec 7: Sara G., Irene, Danielle, Esteniolla, Erin

Finish art creation and performance

Closing celebration and farewell

Sharing our insights

Week 13 (Dec 14, BMC)

Due Thursday, Dec 13:

  • Memo #3 to Barb and image with caption to Serendip
  • Required journal entry 6 and submit full semester journal

This session will focus on debriefing the Cannery experience and preparing to share the 360 experience with the the wider Bryn Mawr community (TBD).

DUE: Fri, Dec. 21, 12:30: Final group project work and self-evaluation portfolio