The Story Within Us
About the BookThe Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading features in-depth, oral interviews with eleven incarcerated women, each of whom offers a narrative of her life and her reading experiences within prison walls. The women share powerful stories about their complex and diverse efforts to negotiate difficult relationships, exercise agency in restrictive circumstances, and find meaning and beauty in the midst of pain. Their shared emphases on abuse, poverty, addiction, and mental illness illuminate the pathways that lead many women to prison and suggest possibilities for addressing the profound social problems that fuel crime.
Framing the narratives within an analytic introduction and reflective afterword, Megan Sweeney highlights the crucial intellectual work that the incarcerated women perform despite myriad restrictions on reading and education in U.S. prisons. These women use the limited reading materials available to them as sources of guidance and support and as tools for self-reflection and self-education. Through their creative engagements with books, the women learn to reframe their own life stories, situate their experiences in relation to broader social patterns, deepen their understanding of others, experiment with new ways of being, and maintain a sense of connection with their fellow citizens on both sides of the prison fence.
About the AuthorMegan Sweeney is an associate professor of English Language & Literature and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Reading is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women's Prisons.
Reviews"Megan Sweeney's The Story Within Us is a prime example of the rich evidence of reading for which many historians would be tempted to trade their nearest and dearest. . . . These narratives show that women prisoners do not digest approved reading materials uncritically but use such literature as a coping mechanism on their own terms.--SHARP News
"A powerful addition to prison literature that will interest scholars of feminist criminology, prison studies, English, women's studies, sociology, and ethnic studies. While other anthologies feature the narratives of incarcerated women, this book is unique in that it includes rich narratives in which women describe what reading and books mean to them."--Jodie Michelle Lawston, coeditor of Razor Wire Women: Prisoners, Activists, Scholars, and Artists
"Riveting and poignant, the voices of these incarcerated women speak to the value of promoting autobiographical reflections and of reading as a therapeutic and community-building resource in prisons and society at large. A stimulating cry for social and familial change."--Patricia E. O'Connor, author of Speaking of Crime: Narratives of Prisoners