My thesis examines the unacknowledged and under researched world of women’s prisons zines in the United States. Having begun to establish the genre in my masters dissertation, my PhD traces women’s prison zines back to the 1930s with the first known publication The Eagle and will discuss how this literary tradition grew through the latter half of the twentieth century and how it continues to have a presence in 21st century mass incarceration.
Prison zines are short collections of art and literature produced by inmates that circulate both within the primary prison where they are produced, and amongst other penal facilities in America with some even reaching the general public. The zines cover a broad range of topics including many outside of the criminal justice system such as race, motherhood, physical and sexual abuse, addiction and education. This cacophony of voices adds immeasurable detail to the tradition of women’s prison writing, beyond the popular autobiographies of Assata Shakur and Angela Davis who dominate scholarly debate about female incarceration, and beyond the statistics and stereotypes that pervade popular perceptions of female prisoners.