The Informal Economy of Incarcerated Women



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This research focuses on the lives of incarcerated women through an examination of specific aspects of an informal economy created and maintained inside the formal system of strictures and punishment. The informal economy consists of culturally specific exchanges of goods and services, the accumulation, distribution and display of resources, specifically commissary. Commissary, a small retail counter established by the prison system and located on each facility, becomes a space carved out to initiate a set of practices that cultivate and display power and social prestige. Each inmate is socialized into the world through intense observation essentially decoding entirely new symbols of affluence, social status and capital thus allowing her to recognize advantageous opportunities. This thesis identifies forms of social organization and strategies that allow for participation the informal economy, thereby improving the likelihood of meeting economic and emotional needs.



Women, prison, informal economy