In Literacy Experiences of Formerly Incarcerated Women: Sentences and Sponsors, Melanie N. Burdick uses narrative research to elucidate the literacy experiences of formerly incarcerated women and how literacy has affected their lives, both while incarcerated and while transitioning back into society. Using Deborah Brandt’s theory of literacy sponsorship (1998), Burdick explores both the mass incarceration of women and their access to literacy as feminist and social justice issues. While reading and writing in prison is often romanticized through caricatures of incarcerated people who become enlightened and reformed, Burdick targets these romanticized views and criticizes their controlling and harmful effects. This book shines a light on the personal and political ramifications of literacy experiences in women’s lives as they grow up in families and schools, move through the prison system, and transition back into society and higher education, arguing that literacy is politically situated and that transitioning out of prison is a complex process marked by literate acts that are dependent upon constructive literacy sponsorship.
Melanie N. Burdick is associate professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning at Washburn University.
Chapter 1Stories and Sponsors: Narrative Inquiry and Literacy Sponsorship of Formerly Incarcerated Women
Chapter 2Literacies of Transitioning, Power, and Owning the Story
Chapter 3“Because Our World is Very Small”: Prison Libraries and Librarians
Chapter 4Mothering Through Literate Acts: Facebook, Texts, and the “Happiest Thing Ever”
Chapter 5Three Dimensional Landscapes of Formerly Incarcerated Women’s Literacy Narratives
Chapter 6 Listening to Diane: One Woman’s Prison to School Pipeline
Chapter 7 Narrating and Owning a College Student Identity
Chapter 8 From Finding an Academic Home to “Feeling Untethered”
Chapter 9 Opening the Gates: Narratives from Diane’s Professors
Chapter 10 Seeing Through the Sentences and Into the Stories
About the Author
Through reflective feminist methods of narrative inquiry, Dr. Burdick's research invites readers into the lives of women who are formerly incarcerated, pressing them toward the intricacies of lives caught, confined, and released. Her skillful recognition of privileged researcher positionalities in dialogue with participant interviews exemplifies the necessity of paying attention to the complex circumstances that contribute to U.S. mass incarceration and the damage endured by the people, particularly women, whose lives it touches. The literacy sponsorship and transitional narratives by Grace, Lexi, Diane, and Becky offer a rare window into the possibilities of diverse literate activities (e.g. reading, academic writing, social media engagement) to shape and shift life trajectories--and to counternarrative dominant public perceptions of formerly incarcerated people.
Through skillful narrative inquiry and unerring insight, Melanie Burdick offers us moving portraits of the literate lives of formerly incarcerated women. Burdick insightfully and respectfully traces these women both within and beyond bars as they begin to reclaim their humanity and their place in the world. Her focus on the narratives of justice-involved women and their inextricably intertwined experiences of literacy, incarceration, and re-entry distinguishes this book as a unique and powerful contribution to the field.
This book contributes to our understanding of a population that remains largely hidden and ignored, challenging us to understand and learn from literacy experiences that have been left out of the stories we tell of incarceration in the U.S., and makes crucial contributions to prison studies, feminist studies, and literacy studies through its examination of the storied literacy experiences of formerly incarcerated women. Beginning with the "literacy acts and absences that are inherent to prisons," Burdick expertly analyzes multiple constructive and destructive literacy sites and sponsors that shape the experiences--and ultimately ways of knowing and telling--of incarcerated women. This is essential reading for teachers and scholars in writing studies broadly interested in "how reading and writing are acts that connect to identity, transition, and both positive and negative visioning and reenvisioning of lived experience," as well as teachers, advocates, and volunteers who seek better ways to sponsor literacy for incarcerated and previously incarcerated people. Burdick's careful and reflective application of narrative inquiry and feminist research methodologies provides a model appropriate for research methodology and qualitative research methods courses more broadly.
Melanie N. Burdick offers a compelling and moving portrait of how four justice-involved women used literacy to challenge problematic stereotypes and rewrite their lives. Guided by narrative inquiry and feminist methods, this book thoughtfully illustrates the powerful potential of prison libraries and librarians and the ways in which educators can support individuals as they forge new identities within and beyond the university.