“Doin’ Whatever I Had to Do to Survive”: A Study of Resistance, Agency, and Transformation in the Lives of Incarcerated Women
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The number of women who are incarcerated has increased significantly in the past few decades. Originally designed to manage male offenders, jails and prisons are ill-equipped to address the unique needs of women inmates whose paths to incarceration often include histories of trauma, abuse, and addiction. This qualitative study investigated the lives of 13 women who while incarcerated at Dallas County Jail, participated in an educational program, Resolana. The purpose of this study was to understand the women’s lives prior to incarceration, as well as the impact of the program and changes they experienced, if any, as a result of what they were learning. Data were collected using semi-structured, life history interviews, and by engaging in field observations as a volunteer for each class for a period of one week. An in-depth analysis through a critical lens, using a holistic-content narrative analysis method, was done with one participant’s life history. The findings are presented as an ethnodrama illuminating the cultural, social, personal, and legal systems of oppression that she survived and that contributed to her path to incarceration. Analyzed through a lens of agency and resistance, the findings that emerged from an analysis of all the participant’s life histories reveal that the women’s criminalized actions were often survival responses. The women employed various strategies, both legal and illegal, in response to people or situations involving control, power or domination over their lives. An analysis of the women’s experiences with Resolana through a transformative learning theoretical framework indicates that the women experience transformation in various ways and to varying degrees. The learning environment served as a container in which transformative learning could be cultivated through opportunities for interpersonal and intrapersonal engagement. The results of this study reveal the need for more and targeted advocacy and education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. The results also indicate that the process and content of Resolana’s programming had a transformative impact on participants, and for some, the transformation was enduring. Finally, the results challenge definitions of criminal behavior in the context interlocking systems of oppression, and encourage thinking about alternatives to incarceration.
Sandoval, Carolyn L (2013). “Doin’ Whatever I Had to Do to Survive”: A Study of Resistance, Agency, and Transformation in the Lives of Incarcerated Women. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from