April 5, 2020
"Emerging from this research are workshops and women's empowerment
groups to address the narcissistic injuries, the internal messages
about the self, the belief systems and patterns that have defined one's
-- Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D., (PSY22909), M.F.T.
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Ph.D. Dissertation Abstract: Hell's Angels
Published in Dissertation Abstracts
The Lived Experience of 26 Women
by Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D., (PSY22909), M.F.T.
This phenomenological dissertation examined the lived experience of women
involved in committed relationships with men serving life sentences or sentenced
to death row, meeting him for the first time after he had been incarcerated. By
lived experience is meant the feelings, attitudes, thoughts, memories and other
psychological events and associations that comprise the existential reality of
the subjects. What psychological factors might predispose, invite or attract certain
women to the prison environment -- factors that are part and parcel of becoming
involved with an incarcerated man? What psychological factors contribute to that
initial attraction to a man who is already incarcerated? What psychological
factors maintain the relationship and keep these women committed to the
relationship for life: his and her own?
The overall objective of this phenomenological study was to raise the level of
consciousness about the occurrence and the nature of the relationships between
women and the men who are imprisoned for life, which often culminates in
marriage, despite the fact that these men will spend their lives behind prison
bars or be executed. Whereas literature on the ever increasing, over-crowded
male prison population abounds, literature that specifically focuses on the
women involved with these men is difficult to find. The secondary objective,
therefore, is to make a contribution to the nearly non-existent, bare-bones
literature on the lived experience of this unique population of women who become
prisoner's wives, meeting their inmate spouse for the first time after his incarceration.
A qualitative research design is used to address these issues. Twenty-six
subjects, all wives or girlfriends of inmates sentenced to life-terms or to
death row, were recruited for this study via contact with various groups
affiliated with prisons, colleagues, flyers posted in prison waiting rooms, and
from the internet. To obtain in-depth descriptions of the subjects' lived
experience, they were asked to complete the demographic and family history
questionnaire and to participate in taped interview sessions (which were later
transcribed and analyzed). Each participant's lived experience was then
analyzed from a depth perspective and summarized as an individual portrait.
A genogram format was used to diagram the data about relationship patterns,
familial dynamics and critical life-cycle events that emerged from the
questionnaire and the semi-structured, in-depth interviews. Individual data
was then compiled in order to identify any common themes among the women's
lived experiences. The results indicated that nine salient common elements
were shared by all subjects. The implications for future research and
clinical work are discussed.