For Dear Life chronicles feminist and artist Carol Jacobsen’s deep commitment to the causes of justice and human rights, and focuses a critical lens on an American criminal-legal regime that imparts racist, gendered, and classist modes of punishment to women lawbreakers. Jacobsen’s tireless work with and for women prisoners is charted in this rich assemblage of images and texts that reveal the collective strategies she and the prisoners have employed to receive justice. The book gives evidence that women’s lawbreaking is often an effort to survive gender-based violence. The faces, letters, and testimonies of dozens of incarcerated women with whom Jacobsen has worked present a visceral yet politicized chorus of voices against the criminal-legal systems that fail us all. Their voices are joined by those of leading feminist scholars in essays that illuminate the arduous methods of dissent that Jacobsen and the others have employed to win freedom for more than a dozen women sentenced to life imprisonment, and to free many more from torturous prison conditions. The book is a document to Jacobsen’s love and lifelong commitment to creating feminist justice and freedom, and to the efficacy of her artistic, legal, and extralegal political actions on behalf of women.
“To grasp fully the horror of our nation’s prisons and the injustices of its justice system, and yet still be awed by the truly stunning extent to which the women who endure this horror refuse to be lessened and erased, one must read this book. Its essays and renderings of women’s lives on the inside both haunt and inspire.”
—Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
“An extremely powerful book that not only documents Jacobsen’s career but itself functions as an artistic project that challenges the silencing measures inflicted by social forces upon marginalized women such as prisoners and sex workers.”
—Wendy Kozol, Oberlin College
“Jacobsen does a wonderful job accurately presenting the field in a highly compelling manner. This is truly a case in which a picture is worth more than a thousand words—this richly illustrated book’s mixture of photos of incarcerated women juxtaposed with reproductions of bureaucratic documents is spot on, and the women's voices compelling.”
—Susan Sered, Suffolk University
“Sheds a searing light on the misogyny of the criminal-legal system and the dark, abusive world of women’s jails and prisons. This passionate book illuminates not only a sobering close-up view inside but also a feminist path through the fence where human rights and justice may enter.”
—Nadine Strossen, New York Law School and former President of the ACLU
"Carol Jacobsen’s exhibition ‘Street Sex’ was shown at Franklin Furnace in New York in 1991, with no censorship. Her decades-long concern for the criminalization of women, beginning with those sex workers in Detroit, led to this wonderful book…. Now that the #MeToo movement has gained public traction, it is my hope that the widespread criminalization of women may come to broad notice—and that justice may be gained.”
—Martha Wilson, Artist and Founding Director of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.