Women and Prisoners

The 1960’s and 1970’s were a time in American history that called for reform. This was a time in our history where women were trying to step our of the socially stratified gender roles that they have been placed in and achieve something besides having a husband, a family and a home. The “American Dream” for women was no longer the idea of the house with the white picket fence and big green lawn, nor was it to live her dreams through the fulfillments of her husband, women wanted to work and to make something of themselves; women wanted liberation. But even among women, there were class differences, so the women’s liberation movement wasn’t being fought as a whole, but in parts; every class of women had their own issues that needed to be addressed. Patricia Robinson wrote a text by the name of “Poor Black Woman”, she addressed the need for social change that women, particularly poor black women were facing. She addressed many of the things that women during that time were fighting for, ” she demands the right to have birth control, like middle ¬†class black and white women. She is aware that it takes two to oppress and that she and other poor people no longer are submitting to oppression… Through these steps… she has begun to question aggressive male domination and the class society which enforces it, capitalism.” Women like Robinson didn’t have much to lose in speaking out for change, in the society that they were in. These were women who were locked down upon because of heir color, their gender, and their economic status, but it was women like Robinson that voiced their opinions and helped bring about change.

The 60’s and 70’s weren’t only a time where you saw Women’s liberation movements taking place, there were many uprisings happening, and particularly there were rebellions within the penitentiary system. Federal and state prisons were experiencing turmoil, Zinn states that “in the sixties and early seventies…rebellions multiplied. They also took on an unprecedented political character and the ferocity of class war, coming to a climax at Attica, New York…” Using isolation prisons hoped to turn their bd guys into good guys but instead they ended up with insane or dead inmates. But the prison system wasn’t the only thing that needed reform, the sentencing of inmates had to be looked upon as well, because as Willard Gaylin found, there was an “enormous discretion given to judges in the handling out of sentences.” Willard Gaylin was a psychiatrist who spoke to a man names Hanks, he interviewed this African American male who refused to sign up for the Vietnam draft and was sentenced for five years, Gaylin says:
“How was your hair then?” I asked.
“Afro.”
“And what were you wearing?”
“A dashiki.”
“Don’t you think that might have affected your sentence?”
“Of course.”
“Was it worth a year or two of your life?” I asked.
“That’s all of my life,” he said, looking at me with a combination of dismay and confusion. “Man, don’t you know! That’s what it’s all about! Am I free to have my style, am I free to have my hair, am I free to have my skin?”
“Of course,” I said. “You’re right.” ”

This conversation shows us that the decisions that were being made at that time were swayed by your attire, your headdress, even maybe your color. The system that sentenced you to do time in prison was faulty, and prisoners along with others, like Gaylin, wanted to publicize this problem and fix it. This brought about a movement that has made a lot of progress for those in the system.