Moms behind bars: what it means to be a mother in eshowe correctional center

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Motherhood represents a integral part of human life. In South Africa particularly, mothers are primarily responsible for caring for their families, often with little or no help from a male partner. But what happens to the notion of motherhood when women find themselves separated from their children or raising children in a restrictive and harsh environment? This study looks at the construction of motherhood within Eshowe Correctional Facility for Women. I conducted research as an attachment to Phoenix Zululand, an organization that provides rehabilitation services to inmates in the prisons of Zululand. For two weeks, I lead Phoenix's program “Starting with Us” with a group of incarcerated mothers, focusing on and expanding the sessions that dealt with parenting. The results indicate that incarcerated mothers face myriad difficulties within the prison system. Central to this is there understanding of themselves as mothers. I find that these women are unable to reconcile their imprisonment with their identity as mothers, leaving them with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I also look at the presence of a mother and child unit within Eshowe Correctional Center and provide suggestions for improvement based on the needs and recommendations of the mothers in prison.

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