Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing



First Advisor

Hesook Suzie Kim


One of the most important issues that an individual confronts during one's life is the death of a significant person. Given the contextual nature of grief, incarcerated women are faced with unique challenges when the death of a person occurs during their imprisonment. Yet, little is known about grief experiences under these circumstances.

The research questions guiding this qualitative study were: What are the meanings of the grief experience of incarcerated women? How does their grieving process compare with images of grief depicted as a normal process? To what extent do the women perceive incarceration influencing their grief? In-depth interviews with three women in a medium security prison in New England were completed and analyzed with regard to self-understanding, critical commonsense understanding, and theoretical understanding based on Kvale's (1983, 1996) approach to the interpretation of interviews. In addition, narratives extrapolated from the interviews were analyzed using Gee's (1985, 1986, 1991) and Reissman's (1993) approach to narrative analysis.

For all three women two events (the delivery of the news of the death and going to the funeral home) were particularly stressful. All the women exhibited an acute grief response which could be expected given the nature of their relationship with their loved one. However, their grief was "suspended." The women were unable to express their grief, participate in important public rituals, and access adequate resources to support their coping. The context of the prison complicated the grieving process resulting in disenfranchised grief. This finding raises critical questions regarding possible complicated bereavement, which can further impact the adjustment to the multiple challenges that women confront when they are released from prison.

Implications for nursing knowledge development, nursing practice and education, and the criminal justice system were discussed. Recommendations included longitudinal research studies, education of nurses and nursing students about disenfranchised grief, and policy changes in the criminal justice system.



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