Motherwork Under the State: The Maternal Labor of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women
Although Black mothers are disproportionately represented among formerly incarcerated mothers in the United States, existing research has largely neglected to document the challenges they face in resuming their parenting roles after prison or jail. This study addresses this gap using 18 months of participant observations with formerly incarcerated Black women to examine how state surveillance under post-release supervision and Child Welfare Services shapes and constrains formerly incarcerated Black women’s mothering practices. The study develops a typology of three context-specific strategies—what I call “anti-carceral motherwork”— that these women employ to anticipate, react to, and cope with state interventions that threaten their mothering: collective motherwork, hypervigilant motherwork, and crisis motherwork. These findings suggest that contrary to popular constructions of formerly incarcerated Black women as negligent mothers, they navigate multiple, overlapping sources of violence to protect their children. Yet, the labor of navigating the state structures that put their children at risk often placed these women in conflict with the state. This paradox suggests the state criminalizes the maternal labor of formerly incarcerated Black women and that these state logics are used to justify state intervention in Black women’s post-incarceration parenting.
Dr. Susila Gurusami is a sociologist of race, gender, and politics, with particular interests in carceral studies and intersectionality. She is currently a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Riverside and will be an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto beginning in July 2018. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles in June 2017. Her work has been published in Gender & Society (James E. Blackwell Graduate Student Paper Award, ASA Section of Racial and Ethnic Minorities, 2017) and Social Problems. (Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, ASA Section on Race, Gender, and Class, 2016). Dr. Gurusami is currently working on a book manuscript investigating how Black women navigate state surveillance, regulation, and punishment in their everyday lives after returning home from prison and jail.