The TLC show “Cellblock 6: Female Lockup” is a documentary-reality show which follows the female inmates in Gwinnett County Jail in Gwinnett County, Georgia. The show profiles various aspects of the incarceration experience from booking to release, but the most pervasive theme is the importance of the female bond. This show made me rethink images of prison scenes in movies where new inmates join gangs and make alliances for their own protection in a dog-eat-dog jail. The women in Gwinnett County are quick to help newcomers. In the episode entitled “Guilty… So You Think”, Tiffany, 24 year old pregnant mother of two, sits down with her new cellmate, Jo Ellen, and engages in a therapy-like session. Tiffany shares with her useful information on the practicalities of jail life and also how to adjust emotionally to her new life. These women, both mothers, bond over their love for their family. Later, Tiffany shows Jo Ellen how to do research information on her case in the jail’s law library.

Other inmates work together to help Deatrah, a fellow inmate, celebrate her birthday. The women surprise her with cards and a birthday cake which was made from crushed cookies and candy bars that had been repurposed to create a chocolate cake. Deatrah is later moved to tears when she receives a birthday card from her parents. Claiming that if she had only listened to her parents she would not have ended up in prison, she shares her story. Deatrah says that as a young woman she enrolled in college and was doing well but began to struggle with her sexuality. Fearing that her highly religious family would not accept her, she turned to drinking and developed an alcohol problem. After failing out of school, Deatrah spiraled out of control and was eventually arrested for armed robbery. At her hearing, Deatrah pled guilty claiming that it was important to her that she was not a liar. As a lesbian in jail, Deatrah has substantially more issues to deal with. Although a common victim of rumors and gossip amongst her fellow inmates, Deatrah stated that her main concern is with the staff. According to the Handbook of the Georgia Department of Corrections,  (pg. 27), romance between inmates is a strictly forbidden and  punishable offense. Deatrah claimed not to be romantically involved with anyone in jail but she fears being subjected to solitary confinement based on rumors or at the whim of a guard due to her openness about her homosexuality.

Of the seven women profiled in this episode, five of them have children. This is a frequent topic of conversation among the women who share memories and console one another since they miss their children and want to be part of their lives. Some women tell their children they are incarcerated, some lie to them, and others have children that are far too young to understand. None of them want their children to see them in jail, and most refuse to let their children visit.

Do not be fooled. This is not a white collar prison or a minimum security jail. According to the show, Gwinnett County Jail houses everyone from murders to parole violators. In this tightly-run ship, women spend 20 hours locked in their cells each day. Yet, these women do not show toughened exteriors but a supportive network for each other and those who enter the walls of Gwinnett County Jail. These women depend on each other to survive this highly emotional experience, and although it most probably exists, there are no traces of bickering or “cat fights.” Above all else, these women have learned to survive through the bonds of sisterhood.

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