Prison Commentary: Life Sentences & Women in Prison - Week 6

Prison Commentary: Life Sentences & Women in Prison - Week 6

Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: February 19, 2014 

Published: February 24, 2017
© All Rights Reserved

Written during Destiny's junior year of college, Destiny poignantly provides commentary and reflection on readings for the week for a University Honors course titled "Extreme Punishments." Each reading required the illumination of the following 4 structure components: takeway(s), a free write, a quotation(s) of interest, and a question(s). 

Life Sentences and Women in Prison

Freedom is like birth. Till we are fully free, we are slaves.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Up the River and A Woman Doing Life


  • Women in prison deserve emotional and psychological counseling and mentorship programs
  • Injustice in the U.S. justice system is a normative both historically and presently
  • Life within itself is a blessing and should be cherished holistically
  • Life in prison can be a death sentence or hell on earth
  • Inmates are often more reflective and grateful of life/freedom because they are deprived of it
  • Sometimes creativity is sparked when one is deprived of a necessity (i.e. food recipes in A Woman Doing Life)



In relation to the title, Up The River, the author introduces and closes her Acknowledgements section with this metaphor. Here, the author uses personification by giving the river human-like qualities. She relates "going up the river" to her struggles and experiences while in prison. In extension, she relates "coming back down the river" to regaining her freedom and being released from prison.

The book cover also justifies this metaphor through visual imagery. Here, we see a gloomy building in the far upper left. Then, we see an individual coming down the river, leaving that demure place. The demure place appears to be prison. And the individual "coming back down the river" is the author.  It is always a beauty to witness an author's story emancipated through the editors and illustrator(s) artwork.  This idea of bridging the context of author's story with the cover art evokes pathos for the reader.

In the poems, "Public Defender" and "Private Attorney" the author juxtaposes common perceptions, misconceptions, and mindsets of each (pgs. 2, 3). It was strategic to place these two poems in the order of left to right instead of double-sided on one page. In this way, the reader can truly capture the juxtaposition of both poems.

In "Public Defender" the author uses repetition to reiterate the fact that many public defenders are callous and removed by repeating the 2nd stanza. In this way, she anchors the poem's premise and acknowledgement that some public defenders are often unmotivated. And consequently, cases are overlooked and clients' legal needs are disregarded (pg. 2).

In the poem “Private Attorney” the author uses descriptive imagery to show how some people may perceive private attorneys as more competent, solely from their physical appearance or “flashy” material items. The author’s emphasis on superficial items and labels (Black Amex/black card, loafers, etc) paints a concise and realistic picture in the readers’ minds (para. 1, sentence 5, 6).

Conclusively, in both “Up the River” and “A Woman Doing Life,” there’s an underlying theme of how it’s too easy to take freedom for granted, especially when one isn’t in prison. Erin George sheds light on this when she describes the complexities of envying the freedom of geese, but also being deprived of good food. So in this way, she wouldn’t mind having “roast goose for dinner” (pg. 196). This passage reflects the idea of cognitive dissonance, something we all experience.



Up The River

  • "Just meet em, plead em, stamp the file closed." -Public Defender poem (pg. 2)
  • “Looks of seductive shock at my black Amex.” - Private Attorney (pg. 3).

A Woman Doing Life

  • “From the skein of the geese overhead that we envy them their utter freedom...really though we all just wish we were having roast goose for dinner.” - Reflections from a prison yard “ pg. 196”



  • How did the professor initially meet Bozelko?
  • Where the editors inspired by "Slamming the Open Door" with the titles of each poem? (i.e. public defender, prosecutor, etc.)


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