Life of a Single Mother in the Prison System

            The prison facility or the principle of incarcerating a criminal offender takes a toll on the personality, welfare and life in general of a person whose destiny is expected to change. This is because beyond the fundamental objective to make an offender realize the implication of the wrongdoing, an imprisoned criminal’s experience within the jail is likely to resort to drawback rather than the eventual achievement of rehabilitation.

The said situation holds true on cases involving women offenders. The reality about the damaging and terrifying events which were experienced by women criminals when they are subjected to the prison system is undeniable. In fact, the alarming escalation of such kind of detrimental process or structure served to hamper rather than carry out the rehabilitation needed by a lawbreaker. For a woman offender, a day in a prison life is synonymous to unending routine activities wherein casual cruelty reigns (Buck).

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            The unfortunate condition of women offenders as they are subjected to the existing prison system is best exemplified with the current state of single mothers who were meted with prison term. As married women criminals suffer being locked-up in jail, the agony is doubled on the part of unmarried women criminals who are previously or bound to be sole guardians of their children. In particular, the life of a single mother in the prison structure has alarmingly gone from bad to worse. This is primarily due to the severity of treatments accorded to these single mothers. While the prison system is a portion of a field which controls women who have committed crimes, it should never functions as an institution which demeans the condition and obstructs the innate rights of women offenders, single mothers in particular. Additionally, since the philosophy of imprisonment is to denounce the unlawful conducts and the wrongdoings of female criminals, it is logical that they are not subjected to humiliating situations. Double standard sets in if it is not enough that these single mothers bear the pain of being away with their families including their children hence people and the society allows such kind of undignified treatments.

            Manifestations of the apparent cruelties and eventual destruction done to female offenders are explicitly illustrated with the life stories or accounts of a number of single mothers. Female criminals are incarcerated for several rational or lawful reasons. Once locked-up, however, it is unfortunate that they suffer unfavorable confinement conditions. Ultimately, the degrading life of single mothers in detention centers signifies the need for structure modification and most importantly, an increased awareness and acknowledgement which, in turn, will pave the way for their liberation from the current state of the prison system.

Prison System Today

            The current state of the prison system particularly with regards to the plight of imprisoned single mothers was effectively discussed by Gaines and Miller in their 2007 book “Criminal Justice in Action.” The literary work put the public in thinking and action mode as to the structure and manner of incarcerating women offenders, single parent in particular. Through the use multimedia system, the authors presented that disturbing realities within the criminal justice system (Gaines & Miller).

In particular, Gaines and Miller corroborated the perspective that female criminals, as compared with male offenders, are more undermined in relation to their physical, mental and emotion conditions inside prison facilities (Gaines & Miller). To achieve effectiveness, the book, in its chapter called “Behind Bars: The Life of an Inmate” provided readers with real-life accounts and existing conditions of prisoners. Aside from the comprehensive discussions about cyber crime and terrorism as primary adversaries of the criminal justice system, Gaines and Miller supported the concepts of oppression and cruelty experience by lawbreakers. Specifically, the two explicitly wrote on the reported sadistic situations of women offenders who were subjected into the prison system (Gaines & Miller).

Women in Prison

Prison is not an isolated institution, it is part of a continuum in the control of women, whether by our lack of access to economic independence, violence, racism or specific laws that target women such as prostitution and social security. The society that condemns the behavior of women it imprisons, yet accepts the treatment prisoners are given inside is at best hypocritical, but perhaps more correctly, sadistic. (qtd. in Lees 1).

The above-mentioned statement from Amada George (1993) concretely depicted the

disturbing and damaging condition of female criminals who were subjected to the structure of prison. The said article by the community-based association called Justice Action stated that because of the prison system, women offenders are seized from their respective families and societies (qtd. in Lees 1). Thereafter, these ill-fated female criminals as packed into a congested and repressive prison setting, detached them from people and communities and above all make them suffer hostility, persecution, rough treatment, racial discrimination, lifelessness and futility (Lees 1).

            Such overview also noted that the particular issues concerning women’s imprisonment were generally ignored (Lees 1). Apparently this is due to the fact that compared to jailed male criminals, women in prison is only a small percentage in the prison system and the criminal justice system in general. However, with a clear depiction of the real condition of female offenders in various prison facilities, it is now evident that they truly endure damaging imprisonment condition and that this needs to be addressed, if not resolved.

            The growing population of women in prison nowadays has gained significant concern primarily because of the idea that among the women criminals who are locked-up in jails, a bigger percentage is comprised of married women who are already parents or mothers and majority of which are the only guardians of their children. This fact, alone, may serve as a wake-up call for authorities and the overall system to implement changes as regard the situation of single mothers.

In fact, compared with married female offenders whose parental responsibilities are shared with their spouses, these sole guardians agonize more with their prison conditions. This is because aside from being isolated from their children prior to imprisonment or even after giving birth, in cases of mothers giving birth inside the prison, the gloomy perspective of their children being left alone and exposed to outside cruelties as well as put into foster homes or eventually adopted is an unbearable torture for them (Lees 1).

            The said scenario is the depressing reality of the manner of punishment that single mothers and their children have to endure in the serving of their prison terms. In particular, the lives of single mothers in the prison system are susceptible to the eventuality of their children being taken from their custody by the jail officers even in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, the harmful implication is felt more by the children who may perceive that they are the ones responsible hence being punished for the imprisonment of their mothers (qtd. in Lees 3).

            Aside from the cited burdens that faced single mothers in the prison system, their conditions also have economic implications. Their admission into the prison system frequently manifests a result of the many difficulties that female offenders have to deal with everyday. This is mainly due to their unsettled domestic work such as in child-nurturing and this situation is very evident especially for single mothers (Lees 3).

Life of a Single Mother in the Prison System, an Interview

            The prison life of 34-year-old Chelsey Smith is a concrete example of the grueling experience endured by a single mother in one of the prison facilities in California, USA. Chelsey was meted with two years imprisonment resulting from her heroin addiction. Although already a grown woman, she has totally no idea of the system of criminal justice and while also prepared for the decision of the judge, her two months pregnancy is all that mattered to her that time (Smith).

            After serving her sentence and fully rehabilitated from drug addiction, Chelsey has nothing but memories of her distress while in the prison system. Looking back, the then 30-year-old inmate was subjected to almost all kinds of harassments and suffering in the hands of the jail officers of the prison facility and even among her co-inmates (Smith).

            “It was the most terrifying two years in my life. I could only remember it with heavy thoughts and painful feelings that I lost my daughter and two years of my life were wasted” (Smith). It was truly unbearable to see Chelsey during our interview almost two years after her painful prison experience (Smith). In between sobs, Chelsey recalled hard the very first day when she was physically harassed during the required strip-search. She revealed that male and not female jail officers conducted the body search where she underwent removing her clothes and thereafter nakedly inspected with the full and malicious view of the male jail guards. “It was really horrible. They did that even if I informed them of my pregnancy” (Smith).

            Chelsey went through the ordeal, including the apparent “legal sexual molestation” as well as the nagging and various forms maltreatments from other inmates, until she gave birth to her daughter whom she named Sheryl. Unfortunately, the mother and daughter soon faced painful punishment of separation when the still one-month-old child was pulled from Chelsey’s bed and was never seen again by her mother. She later learned that Shirley was already adopted and her efforts to locate her supposedly now two-year-old daughter turned futile. Today, Chelsey has fully recovered and a picture of a completed women in the hands of her husband and son. Despite her tragic experience being a single mother in the prison system, she emerged productive and fought to achieve what she is now (Smith).

Single Mother in the Prison System, the Real Picture

            Citing the result of a study about the real picture of the life of single mother in the prison system, Warren wrote that the structure of incarceration is a total failure as regard the welfare of women offenders. The same oversight panel study revealed that the policies concerning the prison system which are planned for hostile male criminals led to an undeniable situation where treatment of women, single mother in particular, in the prison system tends to be difficult (Warren 1). The author also noted the failures of the system and how much cost was wasted due to the fact that women criminals remain untreated. In particular, the result about the reported prison system policies turning unsuccessful is more significant for women-mother criminals and most importantly single mothers who comprised around 65 percent of the total population (Warren).


            People and the society will never be aware of the horrifying and humiliating condition of imprisoned women criminals if not for an increased awareness and sincere effort to save their lives in the prison system. While they have violated the law, women offenders including single mothers need to be treated rather than punished. The life of a single mother, as depicted by the life story of Smith and the other many women in the prison system should serve as a wake-up call for the system to be changed for the better and for authorities to act together. Despite their wrongdoings, they still deserve humane treatment and their rights to be ultimately uphold.

Works Cited

Buck, Marilyn. Prison Life: A Day. (n.d.). Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance. 11 November 2008 <>.

Gaines, Larry K. & Miller, Roger LeRoy. Criminal Justice in Action. California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2007.

Lees, Renee. “Women in Prison – Summary.” Justice Action. June 2001. 12 November 2008 <>.

Smith, Chelsey. Personal interview. 11 November 2008.

Warren, Jenifer. “Prison System Fails Women, Study Says.” Weblog Entry. The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog. 16 December 2004. 13 November 2008 <>.


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