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A woman doing life by Erin George

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A woman doing life is the most unique book in terms of describing and understanding the experience of women incarcerated for hard core crimes. The book revolves around the writer and the people, her experiences and responses to the prison life. The experiences that he describes are authentic, rather than fictional as most prison based books are; they are based on her own personal experiences as a convicted criminal serving as a life sentence in Virginia. The book provides an inside view, into not just the prison system as experienced by women, but also the emotions and uphill traumas that the women prisoners have to endure.

Surviving the life in prison

Erin takes the time to describe the harsh circumstances that women in prison are faced with. To clearly bring the reader a complete insight as to how women survive these harsh circumstances, she includes essays, personally written by other inmates with regard to their experiences (George & Johnson, 2010p.141-150). Inmates describe the conditions under which they live, with meager resources and a violent environment.

From the chapter, one can draw that to survive the harsh environment; creativity and a strong character are required. For basic services, communication with the outside world and to protect themselves from the violent crimes; women in prison are forced to form unlikely alliances and support groups. Some are forced to not only befriend, but indeed become sexually involved with those ranking highly in prison. She indicates that this may be the only way through which they can survive their prison terms.

The lives of women in prison are shown to be quite difficult, especially because they are completely shut out by their families on the outside. They are forced to survive on barely basic necessities. Simple and basic clothing for example underwear; is not easy to come by as one would imagine. She shares her experience, of how her first pair fell apart on the first day in prison. Women prisons are shown to distribute low quality food, clothing and even security. Survival in prison is not obvious as one would imagine, but in fact requires the prisoners to not only be creative but also develop a tough skin.

Social organization in women’s prisons

Although there is a legitimate social organization, one in which the guards and prison correction officers rank highly, Erin, supersedes that there is a greater and stronger underground network. This social organization is especially strong for those serving long term and life sentences.

Erin shows how privileges are earned from these underground social organizations. Prisoners, who have lived much longer in prison rank highly here, are closer to the guards and have learnt how one can avoid solitary confinement or earn unique privileges. For this reason, they are highly regarded and sought after, with prisoner completing their duties and doing them favors in exchange for protection and other privileges.

However, it should be noted that although there are high ranking prisoners, those in a different class and realm altogether from the rest of the prison population, guards are considered even higher. Meeting and interacting with other prison official is difficult. Guards hold the keys to the quality of life can experience in prison. They are in charge of the shake downs which could land one in more trouble. To survive, prisoners respect and obey the guard, taking every opportunity that they can to befriend and do them favors.


George, E., & Johnson, R. (2010). A woman doing life: Notes from a prison for women. New York: Oxford University Press.

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