Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oprah on Prison Weddings

A few days ago I watched an Oprah re-run that highlighted "shocking" weddings. In it, she talked about prison weddings and catholic nuns marrying Jesus.

In prison weddings clip, Oprah's crew followed Tracy and Joseph on their wedding day. Tracy was portrayed as a divorced mother of one and Joseph as a convicted felon.

There were two predominate thoughts that struck me while watching the segment, "Inside a Marriage Behind Bars."

  1. Popular culture always seems drawn to prisons and prison culture. Unfortunately, this draw always takes a negative and/or grandiose slant.
  2. Family members' everyday experiences of prison (from the outside) are rarely acknowledged by the popular press.
First, pop culture shows often highlight various issues in prisons. However, the shows typically avoid the day-to-day grind of the prison system in favor of focusing on rare and unique circumstances (e.g., prison weddings). In trying to remember some of the shows I've watched over the years I was able to recall programs and movies that focused on: prison weddings, prison escapes, violence in prison, and a slew of shows that sent kids to a type of "boot camp" so they wouldn't end up in prison. I'm hard pressed to remember shows that emphasize the day-to-day lives of most incarcerated individuals in America. Arguably, this is a problem as the public is grossly unaware of some of the real issues facing incarcerated individuals. Pop culture programs rarely highlight the "brokenness" of the system...rather, they focus on the "brokenness" of the people.

Second, the experience of the family members is rarely considered in conversations about incarceration in the US. In this particular segment on Oprah, the producers did elevate Tracy's voice. However, it wasn't the portrayal of her voice that struck me. It was discussion about her family members' voices that left a lasting impression. Tracy mentioned that her mother and sister were not supportive of her marriage. Her comments made me reflect on the effects of incarceration on the nuclear and extended family.

Some family members, like Tracy, might enter into relationships with individuals post-incarceration. Others, like Joseph's own family members were part of his life long before his life-sentence was secured. I wonder why the popular media pays so little attention to the voices of those individuals who dutifully visit their incarcerated loved ones week by week, month by month, and year by year. Instead the pop press highlights sad stories of daughters who want to confront their estranged, incarcerated fathers who took the lives of their mothers.

I am not trying to say that covering what is typically known as victim:"offender" mediation is a bad idea. But rather, I want to emphasize the other silent voices that are so often ignored: the mother of an incarcerated individual who did everything she could to keep her son out of prison, the wife of a prisoner who is now a single mother, the sister of an inmate who's brother has never been to any of her life changing events (e.g., graduation, wedding). Personally, I would like to hear more of these people's stories...the mother, the wife, the sister...I think it might give us a fuller perspective of the ills of incarceration that plague our country.

You can find the link to the full article here.
You can find a link to some video footage of the show/wedding here.


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