Book Review: Comfort, M. (2008). Doing time together: Love and family in the shadow of the prison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Doing Time Together is a book written by Megan Comfort with the first publication done in the year 2008 by the University of Chicago Press. Megan Comfort worked at the famous San Quentin Prison in a field related to her academic studies and was intrigued at the high number of women visiting the prison on a daily basis. As Megan Comfort writes, there are a majority of men inside the prison, but no one has ever thought of the women they leave behind. Doing Time Together gives details on how the lives of women with husbands, fiancés, and boyfriends are infiltrated. Contemporary criminologists have not given much focus on the issue, and this is the reason why Doing Time Together is the second book to address correctional megalith after Laura Fishman’s (1990) Women at the Wall. This book review is essential to anyone especially the criminologists in understanding the outcomes of a punitive culture.
Megan interviews a majority of women visiting the notorious San Quentin prison which is aging and overcrowded. She identifies an ethnographic tradition which she uses to categorize voices and stories of all her subjects although not embracing an analytic strategy to any grounded theory or drawing any qualitative methodology. Megan Comfort describes her interest in the subjects and her familiarity with them rooted in her previous work that dealt with HIV prevention program focused on prisoners’ families. Interestingly, she does not put much emphasis on gender as a potential bond that would exist between her and her subjects. Megan Comfort also addresses the potential barriers related to ethnicity and social class.
As Megan Comfort writes, a high number of women describes what it takes to depend on government assistance, shifting from one marriage to another in the hope of finding happiness, dabbling on drugs and residing in neighborhoods characterized by crime. Megan Comfort gives accounts of haunting and heartbreaking romance stories evident in the correctional settings. For instance, she describes wedding behind bars that is awash with white dresses that should be worn loose to fulfill guards’ rules on how women should have a ladylike appearance. Megan Comfort also accounts that women without bras and are passed through metal detectors during prison weddings. Megan Comfort finds out that women are exposed to class and social impoverishment on their verge to find happiness under harsh conditions.
Nevertheless, concerning feminine fantasies of marriage, Megan Comfort does not see impoverishment. Megan Comfort describes the post-prison future dreams that women have which are built on the promises made by men who are behind bars with unforeseen future. The emotional connections which are cherished by women with men in prison raise concerns about inexistence of such moments in the contemporary world relationships. Megan Comfort also explores what it takes to access prison facilities, the risks or benefits of being attached to an incarcerated man, the various roles played by officials in correctional facilities and means of communication. Megan Comfort findings are grounded on theory and a previous scholarship.
Megan is compelled to give evidence of how relationships with partners who are incarcerated may be costly. For instance, she narrates that it was difficult for women to maintain contact via phone or in-person visits to partners who were in prison and thus maintaining intimacy was hard. Megan Comfort writes that those women who managed to continue with some form of contact with the inmates drained family resources which would have been used to cater for basic requirements such as food and bills. She also writes that most of the women who had reduced communication with their partners had an emotional cost that affected their social ties. Megan also notes that the distance and communication barrier created tensions and suspicions between partners. When asked about the status of their relationship, most women replied “on” or “off”. Megan Comfort also notes that women are burdened as they needed to cater to the basic requirements for their partners. Such requirements include toiletries and extra food.
One of Megan Comfort’s strengths is that she dispels the common myth about prison as either wholly positive or negative. She also vividly describes the relationship between incarceration and poverty, single motherhood and unemployment. Part of the ambivalence that is evident in Megan Comfort work results from her experience which makes a majority of the accounts in the writing very appealing and real. Megan findings are crucial for scholars and anyone in the field of social service. Megan’s argument is rigid and describes an institution that is entirely present in anybody’s life. Another strength that Megan Comfort depicts is the utilization of interviews and observation. All of her accounts are first hand, and little information is based on second-hand details or rumors, and this helps Megan Comfort to explore the institution of prison as an active agent. Megan also uses her past experiences to explain all her arguments based on an environment she is familiar with. For instance, she has worked in an HIV prevention program and is conversant with all aspects of family issues. She uses her experience to conclude which makes her an outstanding writer when compared to writers who use second-hand information.
One of the weaknesses depicted in Megan Comfort’s work is that she uses a limited sample. Although she addresses the concept of how incarceration affects relationships, her samples are not diversified. While she is aware of the challenges encompassed in maintaining ties, all her subjects recount mutual efforts to make their relationships happy during incarceration. Megan Comfort only interviews individuals visiting the prison and chose to keep their relationships. The book does not consider experiences of partners who would not endure a prison spell.
It is also unfortunate that Megan Comfort that does suggest any reforms that can be implemented to solve the issue she addresses. Megan’s research work focuses on nuanced implications of prison to family and how the prison is used as a venue for producing change. A reader may be confused by Megan’s assertions that partners can be “reliant on.” Megan Comfort work does not focus on advocating for effective policies, but she instead dwells on a comprehensive analysis of policies without giving solutions to policies which are unfavorable.
Megan Comfort also uses difficult transitions by embracing first-person narratives when she uses some work of other authors and during the narration of modern-day stories. She uses the first person in stories aimed at supporting marriage between Africans and Americans. Megan has also significantly and unnecessarily used history in her work which tends to divert readers from the central issue of concern in her writing. She prolongs in describing the intermarriage between slaves. She unnecessarily includes detailed information of the cultural setting and behavior of Africans. Dwelling so much on unimportant aspects tends to make her work irrelevant in one way or another because the topic and aim of her work is to dwell on the increasing number of prisoners and the impact on the family.
Megan Comfort book is important in Criminal Justice as it addresses how the number of prisoners is increasing spontaneously and how this can have negative impacts on the society and the family set up. Major issues such as marriage breakage, financial and social implications are covered in details. Megan Comforts work can help to stir up awareness and help in implementing policies that aim at addressing the gaps in the prison cells. Megan Comforts work also addresses some ethical concerns in prisons which should be given priority by policymakers. For instance, an aspect of prison officials humiliating women by setting up unreasonable policies should be treated as human rights abuse and given the attention it deserves. Megan Comfort work is rigid as she uses compelling evidence to conclude issues that have been in existence in prisons.
Megan Comfort writing also captures the attention authorities as it tends to stir up questions on how and why there is an increasing number of prisoners. The possible implications are that there is a high rate of offenses in society and thus there should be a concern of security which needs to be addressed. Punitive consequences of the prison systems are covered in details and the negative implications to the society. Megan Comfort book will be essential in defining the plight of partners who are relating while one of them is in prison in the modern world and can help to trigger a change in the cruel systems that have not been given a second thought.
Comfort, M. (2008). Doing time together: Love and family in the shadow of the prison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.