Beyond the attic door : a feminist social history of imprisonment at the Portage Gaol from 1945 to 1970

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Singleton, Wendy A.
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By documenting aspects of the history of the women's gaol in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, this project aims to contribute to our knowledge of women's imprisonment, an area which has been neglected in academic and popular literature. Particular attention is devoted to gaol history from the time it became a women's institution in 1945 until 1970. Gaol records, archived documents and interview data are combined to produce this account of the history of the Portage Gaol. The initial focus is on reconstructing who the women were and why they were imprisoned at the gaol. An administrative time line is then set out which provides some detail of the tenure of the three superintendents who oversaw the gaol throughout the period in question. Following these descriptions of who some of the main characters were and their roles, an analysis of what day-to-day life at the gaol was like is presented. Gaol regimes were implemented to ensure the close supervision and containment of inmates within the gaol. Work, education, recreation, discipline, classification and segregation all provided opportunities for gaol staff to scrutinize, correct and generally control female inmates. Regardless of the multitude of constraints placed on their daily lives within the gaol, inmates found ways to maintain some of their individuality and autonomy while incarcerated. Outright resistance to gaol regimes was rare, as most women complied with gaol routines. When conflict did occur between inmates or between inmates and staff it was typically in response to the conditions of confinement at the Portage Gaol. By bringing this group of female inmates into focus, a small piece of history can be reclaimed from the attic and given the attention it deserves.