Lora Bex Lempert, Women Doing Life: Gender, Punishment, and the Struggle for Identity

AuthorAndrea Leverentz
Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
Subject MatterBook reviews
untitled Book reviews
Lora Bex Lempert, Women Doing Life: Gender, Punishment, and the Struggle for Identity,
9781479827053, $27 (pbk), $89 (cloth)
Within research on crime and punishment, there remains less attention to women’s
experiences. Within incarceration research, there is relatively little focus on those
serving life sentences. Lora Bex Lempert addresses both in her study of women
serving life sentences in Michigan. While this is a numerically small group, this
population provides an important glimpse into the criminal-processing system and
its consequences. As Lempert argues, these women are both hyper-visible, thanks
to 24–7 surveillance, and hyper-invisible, because of their removal from society.
Lempert emphasizes “the processes by which life-serving women sustain identities
of self-worth, agency, and power” to further our understanding the meanings and
roles of imprisonment (p. 11). Throughout, she foregrounds the women’s voices
and perspectives, while situating them within research on gender, offending, and
Lempert draws on multiple data sources in her study, including focus groups,
life history interviews, and daily diaries. Both the focus groups and the interviews
gave the women a space to talk about their experiences outside of correctional
officer monitoring. With focus groups, the women could also engage with one
another, while the research team took a back seat. As is common in prison
research, Lempert was not allowed by the facility to use taping equipment, and
so she instead used student “scribes” for both focus groups and interviews.
Seventy-two women participated in focus groups, with a subset of 10 women
participating in interviews. In addition, Lempert twice presented preliminary find-
ings to participants to solicit their feedback. This is an uncommon step, which
reflects the respect with which Lempert treats the women who participated.
The sample includes women who had been, at that point,...

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