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Title:Using leisure as a coping tool: A feminist study of the recreational experiences of incarcerated women in a Puerto Rican prison
Author(s):Davila Figueroa, Marizel S.
Director of Research:Shinew, Kimberly J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Shinew, Kimberly J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Stodolska, Monika; Summerfield, Gale; Marshall, Anna-Maria
Department / Program:Recreation, Sport and Tourism
Discipline:Recreation, Sport, and Tourism
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
incarcerated women
capabilities approach
Puerto Rico
Abstract:The purpose of this dissertation project was to study whether leisure activities and programs serve as coping tools to manage the stress of incarceration in the lives of incarcerated women in a women’s prison in Puerto Rico. The study took place in the Escuela Industrial de Mujeres at Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. The methods of this qualitative study consisted of individual interviews and focus groups to gather the opinions of a group of 45 incarcerated women about their experiences of life in prison and the methods used to cope with incarceration. The capability approach was employed as a diagnostic tool to assess the recreational opportunities at EIMVA towards enabling inmates to positively cope with imprisonment. Actual manifestations of the concept of social justice within society are evidenced through numerous processes. One such process is the way in which society deals with transgressors of the social order. Incarceration is one of the consequences of deviant behavior within much of the Western world. Usually, prisons have been regarded as institutions of criminal containment and not centers focused on human needs (Cushing & Williams, 1995). As a result, prisons are places of stress and tensions which can negatively affect a person’s well-being. As a society we must take into account that a great number of inmates will rejoin society. Thus, it is important to provide inmates with opportunities to achieve physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Recreation and leisure participation can help serve this purpose. The findings showed that once the inmates have accepted the realities of dealing with the constraints and deprivations of prison, they encountered causes of stress which were specific to the context of incarceration. The incarcerated women experienced lack of freedom, and stress stemming from the difficult conditions of prison life including the loss of control over their environment as well as from interpersonal relationships with family members and other prisoners. In particular, the incarcerated women became preoccupied with the welfare of family members, particularly children. Additionally the need to reconcile the need for personal relationships while dealing with distrust or shame increased the internal tensions experienced by the female inmates. However, insofar as they acquired a perception of free will, they were better suited to employ the coping strategies available to them in prison. The women were able to engage in activities which helped them to mediate the negative feelings related to incarceration. Specifically, activities such as jobs or education which may be considered social commitments outside of prison became activities sought as opportunities for mental, physical and emotional refreshment, thus becoming recreational activities. Additionally, the women partook in religious activities and leisure activities in order to feel good. As a result of engaging in activities which the women feel have recreational value, they are able to engage in self- reflection and gain an increase sense of self- esteem, agency and empowerment, which provides them with a vision of the future that seems more positive than when they first entered the prison. Consequently, the incarcerated women’s perception of free will increased and they were better able to use the coping strategies available to them. This became a cycle of potential improvement for the female inmates. This study provided evidence of the utility of the capabilities approach in understanding the prison environment. It suggests that perceptions of freedom can be just as important as actual experiences of freedom when living as an incarcerated person. Additionally, this study suggests that the women who reside at EIMVA are able to fulfill many basic capabilities. Moreover, the study suggests that when opportunities for social connectivity and personal capacity are available to inmates, they are able to increase their capabilities and cope better with incarceration. The degree of coping reached by an individual was contingent upon the opportunities available to them. The more opportunities available to a woman, the better they were able to cope.
Issue Date:2011-05-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Marizel S. Davila Figueroa
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-25
Date Deposited:2011-05

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