The female jail population has exploded in the past two decades, mainly due to mandatory-sentencing laws for drug offenses. Three times the number of women have been detained in the last ten years and over 75 percent of whom have children. Nationally, most of these inmates are young, unmarried women of color with few job skills and significant substance abuse problems. They are often incarcerated on drug convictions (Haywood, Kravitz, Goldman, Freeman, 2000).
Many mothers claim that the most difficult part of their punishment is the separation from their children. This is especially true when they become incarcerated (para 1, "Mothers in prison," n.d.). The aim of this phenomenological study was to explore the power of friendship among mothers who are experiencing emotional stress while coping with the separation from their children while incarcerated. I used the phenomenological approach, inspired by humanistic psychotherapist, Clark Moustakas (1994), to collect my data from approximately 6 to 12 mothers, using a video recorder in a focus group setting.
Focus group interviews, observations, questionnaires, and conversations were the primary means of data collection. This study aimed to discover: (1) What is the perception of friendship among incarcerated mothers? (2) Can incarcerated mothers experience the power of friendship as a healing agent to reduce emotional stress? And, (3) Does the experience of friendship help incarcerated mothers cope with long periods of separation from their children?
Through personal anecdotes and experiences, the study revealed that incarcerated mothers perceived friendship to be meaningful when there is trust, concern, and support. Moreover, they believed that friendship serves as a healing agent in helping them to reduce emotional stress. With the support of friendships, coping with the separation from their children was less difficult to bear than doing it alone. Friendship, therefore, served to be a conduit of strength.