THE KEEPERS & THE KEPT
Weaving Through the Cloistered World of Female Incarceration
Cathia Leonard Friou
Center for Documentary Studies
Duke University, December 2021
It was the chance sighting of a Facebook post, on my birthday no less, that catapulted me into the unlikely stratosphere of female incarceration. Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women, a non-profit organization in Raleigh, NC was searching for an “oral historian” to help tell their story in celebration of their 40-year anniversary.
NORTH CAROLINA CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION FOR WOMEN
In March of 2020, I attended volunteer training to prepare for my role as oral historian for the prison ministry. It took place in a double-wide trailer that served as both classroom and church for the minimum-security prison for women. The Hope Center sat on the edge of the prison campus near several dormitory-style buildings with similar siding.
MECKLENBURG COUNTY DETENTION CENTER
Because I didn’t realize that something as foundational as human dignity was so absent in our criminal justice system, I became keenly interested when I saw evidence of it being honored. The Mecklenburg County Detention Center (formerly called the jail) is one of those places. I’d read about the new child-friendly Contact Visiting room for incarcerated folks to visit with their young children and was eager to learn more about it.
NOTES FROM THE FIELD
In the 1970’s, Robert Martinson was part of a team of prison researchers who determined that programming and other rehabilitative efforts provided “no appreciable effect on recidivism.” The “nothing works” narrative took hold and was welcomed by both sides of the criminal justice reform debate. Left: If nothing works, then there is no need for indeterminate sentencing. Right: If nothing works, then there is a need to be even tougher on offenders. That he later retracted his findings did little to interrupt the narrative that had taken hold in the criminal justice system. Less than a decade later he died by suicide.
Where do I begin?
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”