Who Would Believe a Prisoner?

Indiana Women’s Carceral Institutions, 1848–1920

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Pub Date Apr 25 2023 | Archive Date Apr 25 2023

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A groundbreaking collective work of history by a group of incarcerated scholars that resurrects the lost truth about the first women’s prison

What if prisoners were to write the history of their own prison? What might that tell them—and all of us—about the roots of the system that incarcerates so many millions of Americans?

In this groundbreaking and revelatory volume, a group of incarcerated women at the Indiana Women’s Prison have assembled a chronicle of what was originally known as the Indiana Reformatory Institute for Women and Girls, founded in 1873 as the first totally separate prison for women in the United States. In an effort that has already made the national news, and which was awarded the Indiana History Outstanding Project for 2016 by the Indiana Historical Society, the Indiana Women’s Prison History Project worked under conditions of sometimes-extreme duress, excavating documents, navigating draconian limitations on what information incarcerated scholars could see or access, and grappling with the unprecedented challenges stemming from co-authors living on either side of the prison walls.

With contributions from ten incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women, the result is like nothing ever produced in the historical literature: a document that is at once a shocking revelation of the roots of America’s first prison for women, and also a meditation on incarceration itself. Who Would Believe a Prisoner? is a book that will be read and studied for years to come as the nation continues to grapple with the crisis of mass incarceration.

A groundbreaking collective work of history by a group of incarcerated scholars that resurrects the lost truth about the first women’s prison

What if prisoners were to write the history of their own...

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ISBN 9781620975398
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Featured Reviews

This is fascinating historical document. It's hard to read the entire text as if it's a book but for insight into prison, prisoners and the prison industrial complex this is a worthwhile text.

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It took me a while to get going with this book but once I did, I pretty much read it in one sitting, and I did not see time fly. That first line might seem like a strange way to start a review for an history book, but this book is a lot more than pure history, but it is also well documented history (peep that bibliography) delivered in a way that is anything but dry.

I remember when I was in school and we were told that we should never research something that affects us personally because we might have blind spots, this book makes almost entirely the opposite point, I liked that. I feel like I have to point out that I thought there was a great deal of humanity in how the authors treat all of their subjects, even when the people they talk about are deeply unsympathetic.

I found it particularly interesting how the authors showed that there was always a capitalistic aim that superseded any actual moral imperative that might have been claimed by the people who created carceral institutions, not that I was surprised by it, I just really thought the way it was explained and documented was great.

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