For Dear Life

Women's Decriminalization and Human Rights in Focus
Carol Jacobsen
Foreword by Lucy R. Lippard
A bold journey through images that bear witness to the tenacious power of art and activism


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.

Carol Jacobsen is Professor of Art, Women's Studies, and Human Rights at the University of Michigan and Director of the Michigan Women's Justice and Clemency Project.

Praise / Awards

  • Winner, Freedom Fighter Award from The Independent Publishers Book Awards, 2020
  • "I found For Dear Life: Women's Decriminalization and Human Rights in Focus to be a fantastic read and the stunning photography and visual
    media make the stories real and hard-hitting...In the end, this book shines a light on a patriarchal social justice system which is reflective of patriarchy in society in general. I hope this book encourages more people to stand up for women’s rights and feminism."
    -Readers' Favorite
  • "For Dear Life is a significant book for those open to traveling a layered path to understanding the experiences of imprisoned women and the arduous process of humanizing them within the legal system–and the community–when working to help them move beyond prison." 
    -Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work 
  • "This book puts a face to the movement of incarcerated women along with photocopies of their letters expressing their struggles, case updates, and pleas for help. Jacobsen has provided a strong voice, coupled with action and coherent strategy to advance incarcerated women's rights, gender justice and feminist organizing through art and creative expression." 
    -Corrections Today
  • Silver Medalist: 2019 Nautilus Book Award in Social Change and Social Justice
  • Winner: 2021 University of Michigan Press Book Award
  • Silver Medalist: Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA) 2020 Midwest Book Award in Design– Interior Design
  • Finalist: Stony Circle Network (SNC) 2020 Sarton's Women's Book Award

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Carol Jacobsen interviewed in the Detroit Free Press Link I 12/24/2020 
Read: Carol Jacobsen interviewed in the Detroit Free Press Link | 5/2/2019
Read: Carol Jacobsen's clemency work in the Detroit Free Press Link | 12/19/2018
Read: More of Carol Jacobsen's clemency work in the Detroit Free Press Link | 12/19/2018
Read: Carol Jacobsen's interviewed in the Detroit Free Press Link | 12/5/2018
Watch: Carol Jacobsen gives a talk at Penn Law on the Michigan Women's Justice & Clemency Project Link | 5/14/2012
Watch: Sentenced: A UM Stamps spotlight on Connie Hanes, an inmate who committed suicide in her cell. Link | 2/22/2007

Product Details

  • 216 pages.
  • film stills, photographs, and montage.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12418-3

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • $35.00 U.S.

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