"Age is Just a Number in Here": A Qualitative Study of Adulthood in a Women's Prison

Open Access
Umamaheswar, Janani
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 19, 2014
Committee Members:
  • John Kramer, Dissertation Advisor
  • D Wayne Osgood, Committee Member
  • Paul Amato, Committee Member
  • Julie Horney, Committee Member
  • Candace Kruttschnitt, Special Member
  • Women prisoners
  • incarceration
  • prison
  • adulthood
Drawing on in-depth interviews with 35 women prisoners incarcerated in SCI Muncy, a women’s prison in Pennsylvania, supplemented by mail correspondence with a sub-sample of these women, I examine how the inmates construct definitions of adulthood while incarcerated. I also investigate the inmates’ conformity to conventional markers of adulthood, as well as their views on how their incarceration has affected their sense of adulthood. The findings suggest that incarcerated women—like women outside prison—adhere to some conventional markers of adulthood (motherhood in particular), while expressing ambivalence about others (marriage in particular). Further, the findings indicate that inmates who have been incarcerated for longer periods (over 5 years) are more often perceived as adults by other inmates; that longer periods of incarceration make women “feel” more adult; and that women’s opinions regarding the impact of confinement on their sense of adulthood are mixed.