Theology of the Body Thursday #8: The Woman’s Body in Prision

I’m sure many of my readers have never been to prison. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically think that I have much in common with women behind bars. You might think, they’re criminals, what could I have in common with them? Or, they’ve had such hard lives and mine has been so easy, how can I be similar to them in any way?



I recently read an article discussing the plight of incarcerated women. It struck me how their lives illustrate the Theology of the Body and the feminine genius in their own way.

Most women behind bars are there for non-violent crimes. Many of them had dependents, children or other family members, that they had to support. As women, they took quite seriously their responsibility to nourish and support those who depended on them. If they felt they could not provide this support by legal means, they resorted to illegal ones. They sold drugs and their own bodies to do their job as mothers and caregivers.

Earlier this year, a woman was hanged in Iran for killing her abuser. Meanwhile, in the US, a woman is given 45 years for killing the man who abused her and killed her son.

Earlier this year, a woman (pictured above) was hanged in Iran for killing her abuser. Meanwhile, in the US, a woman is given 45 years for murdering the man who abused her and killed her son.


Many of the women who are in prison for violent crimes are there for attacking or killing an abuser. A little appreciated part of the feminine genius is our unique calling to protect all those in need. As our bodies are built to protect the unborn child in our womb, we are called to protect the defenseless and the voiceless. So, these women took their calling to an illegal extreme in killing the one who hurt them, their children, or someone else they cared about.

Women behind bars were victims of rape or abuse at more than twice the national average. At some point in their lives, their dignity as human beings was undermined. This callous disrespect of their dignity can shatter even the best, most morally upright people.

The article I read specifically talked about women in solitary confinement. We are social beings, we all need community. This is especially true for women. Women in solitary confinement have bigger problems with it than men do. They are more likely to have a mental illness exacerbated by their time in solitary. They are more likely to have been victims of abuse before going into prison, leading to additional stress in solitary. They are also more likely to be abused by guards while they are in solitary. Solitary confinement takes mothers even further away from their children, straining the relationship. As any mother could understand, seeing your child on a TV screen rather than in person is heart-wrenching.

I do not write this solely to garner sympathy for women behind bars. I write this principally for illustration of the feminine genius, especially the universal call to maternity. All women,

  • inside prison or following the law,
  • on the poorest streets or in mansions,
  • in convents or in whorehouses,
  • married or single,
  • gay or straight,
  • Catholic or atheist,
  • fertile or not,

regardless of their state in life, their socio-economic status, race, creed, or sexuality, they (we) all have printed in their bodies the ability to create, protect, and nurture life. That is something we all have in common, even, or perhaps especially, our sisters in prison.



US Dept. of Justice

The Sentencing Project

ACLU report “Worse than Second Class


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