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Robin Hood versus Criminal

Hummingbird's picture

When reading “Prisoners of a Hard Life” (PHL) I felt outraged. The level of mistreatment, the utter waste, and the general lack of compassion these women faced (and still face) shocked and frustrated me. I couldn’t understand how people like Denise could be treated the way they were. I followed up the PHL reading with Colored Amazons, however, and began to feel a change of heart. As I read, I couldn’t stop thinking I was missing something or wasn’t getting the full picture. Though, like PHL, many of the stories in Colored Amazons frustrated and angered me – Alice Clifton’s story, for example – I kept feeling as though the stories were commending the actions of the prisoners, and that made me uncomfortable.

            My biggest issue was with the story of Fannie Smiley – a thief by occupation, according to her records – and the way that Kali Gross describes her actions. While talking about Smiley’s last heist she says, “…she relieved both employers of clothes, ‘cut glass,’ and silverware – the total number of items valued at two hundred dollars,” (42). It sounded to me almost impressed and seemed to portray Smiley as a kind of Robin Hood. However much I wanted to empathize with this portrayal of Smiley, though, I was stopped when I remembered she had skills to work, and was dependent on no one. What I wanted from Gross – a clear opinion on what she thought of Smiley, or even some theorizing as to the conditions of the time and why Smiley would chose not to work a legal job – never came. And because I couldn’t gauge Gross’ opinion, I felt uncomfortable forming my own.