I ambivalent about whether or not reentry is more difficult for men than it is for women. Maybe the question is not whether it’s more difficult, but how is it different for men than women
Many incarcerated individuals have suffered trauma due to abuse and violence. Women are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse, but men suffer through molestation as well. Men and women who live criminal lifestyles often witness and experience traumatic events. When they become incarcerated, they are further traumatized by the degradation and humiliation of imprisonment.
Men in prison live under the constant threat of violence and are often subjected to rape and assaults. Many are even murdered. Witnessing such acts is a common occurrence.
During my 18 years in prison I never saw a woman raped, stabbed, or killed, but it is important to note that frequently women in prison are subjected to sexual harassment by male staff. Many women engage in sexual relationships with correctional officers and this is considered rape because there is no such thing as consensual sex between an inmate and a correctional officer.
Men return to society with many strikes against them. The same strikes female reentrants have against them. Many of these men were a threat to society prior to their incarceration, and it seems that people are less likely to receive and accept men as transformed assets to society.
Consequently mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives become protective of men. They support them in ways that men do not necessarily support women. If you ever see a line in the visitation room at a prison where men and women are held you will notice countless women and children and very few men. In fact, the last trip our office sponsored to Hazelton, W.V. there were over 60 women and children and one man.
While serving prison terms, women are left to handle the emotional duress of their incarceration by themselves, and once they are released, they are expected to return to their families and assume the role of matriarch and caretaker.
Many women were the primary caregivers of their children prior to incarceration. Men on the other hand are not often expected to step up and raise their children full time. The most important thing for women and children is that the formerly incarcerated men in their lives just maintain a crime-free lifestyle. In some cases not much more is expected of them. It’s enough to just remain in society and keep themselves safe.
Even though women are the fastest growing group of people becoming incarcerated the fact remains that they are a very small percentage of the prison population. So when women complain about the abundance of services that are in place for men, the need should be considered.
When we consider the abundance of support that men receive we should also remember the psychological, physical, and social trauma that men experience as a result of incarceration. In terms of reentry it’s not necessarily about whether or not it’s easier for men, but it is critical to understand the differences.