Book Review: Women doing life: Gender, punishment, and the struggle for identity

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
AuthorEric Allen
Subject MatterBook Reviews
assimilate, others have a tough attitude toward immigration and subsequently force local author-
ities to strictly enforce immigration laws. The authors conclude their analysis by providing several
important ways to address immigration issues in the country. These recommendations are
provided in Chapter 7 of this book.
Overall, this is a nicely written book that offers critical assessment of the role of law enforcement
in immigration issues. The book is thorough and provides important new information on the subject
matter. This is a graduate-level book, and I will definitely recommend it to instructors teaching
courses on critical issues in policing- and immigration-related courses.
Lempert, L. B. (2016).
Women doing life: Gender, punishment, and the struggle for identity. New York: New York University Press.
320 pp. $27.00 (paper), ISBN: 9781479827053.
Reviewed by: Eric Allen, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817696133
‘‘[A]bsent from contemporary work is an understanding of the personal experiences of
life-imprisoned women as they consciously attempt to live meaningfully as human beings within
never-ending confinement. It is my intention that this book will fill that void and reduce the hyper-
invisibility of these women’’ (p. 7). In Women Doing Life: Gender, Punishment, and the Struggle for
Identity, Lora Bex Lempert confronts the extreme circumstances life-serving women (i.e., ‘‘lifers’’)
face in a broken prison system that views them as ancillary to men. This book explores how women
manage stigmatized identities, create strategies for engaging in responsible conduct, and construct
meaningful lives within prison. Through analyses of focus groups, life-course interviews, and
solicited diaries, Lempert argues female lifers overcome powerless roles by transforming themselves
as powerful agents with meaningful lives, exercise power and resistance strategies, routinely attempt
to create order and control, and navigate prison’s incessant pressures of erosion that otherwise
diminish hope for a free and agentic life. Offering a sobering glimpse into the lives of 72 incar-
cerated women, Lempert provides evidence of the consequences of criminal justice policies that
were designed for men, by men, and the failure to address the deeply embedded nature and salience
of gender in an era of mass incarceration. These consequences, including extreme instances of
violence and abuse from correctional officers, have enduring effects for these women, their fami-
lies—particularly their children—and communities. Lempert concludes by offering suggestions to
improve the system.
Lempert’s initial chapters highlight the disadvantaged conditions and households her respondents
experienced, often as ‘‘victims’’ before becoming ‘‘offenders,’’ and the transition to life in prison.
Endemic of her respondents’ experiences, Carmela, an African American woman, age 37, reported a
traumatic history growing up, emotionally deprived of parental and community support and experi-
encing racism and sexual assault. Feeling outcasted, Carmela self-medicated through illicit drug use
and sexual experimentation, jumped from one abusive relationship to another, and was coerced into
crime by significant others. She fell into patterns of offending and, ultimately, the accumulation of
events resulted in her committing murder. To generalize, the author succinctly states, ‘‘hurt people
hurt people’’ (p. 38).
In the next set of chapters, Lempert outlines a six-stage model through which women traverse the
new reality of prison life, reframing themselves as active agents living meaningful lives in the
Book Reviews 419

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