A Community of Survivors: Managing the Stigma of Courtesy Incarceration Online

Alexandra Hinck, Shelly S Hinck, Jeffrey Stephen Smith, Lesley Anne Withers

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Often ignored, the children, spouses, and partners stressed by the incarceration of a loved one need the support of a community. Children are affected emotionally by the absence of a parent, families are affected financially due to the loss of income once generated by the individual incarcerated, and parents are affected by the loss of the opportunity to raise their children and shape their futures. However, giving a damn about an incarcerated loved one can have consequences for the damn-giver that involve guilt, shame, and isolation. The stigma of association with incarcerated persons, or courtesy incarceration (Peterson, Cohen, & Smith, 2013), can strain the community from which they seek support. Therefore, for many, self-care involves seeking and finding solace, similarity, and connection with others online in a virtual community. Online support networks offer opportunities for family members to interact with others in similar situations, receive emotional and informational support in an environment not constrained by visitation times or geographic location, and avoid the judgment that often accompanies the stigmatized identity of the individuals seeking support. The appeal of these sites may go beyond merely providing information and interaction; they may provide opportunities to develop and express identity; create and share values, expectations, roles, rules, and norms; and forge connections in ways indicative of community (Willson, 2006). Past research has addressed the benefits and the prevalence of support sites in a virtual environment; however, little research has explored if and how support sites create a sense of virtual community among its members. Using a grounded theory approach, this study explores how users of one online support network, Prison Talk Online, create and enact virtual community to help one another to not only survive, but to bond over their shared experience of stigma.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - Nov 17 2019
EventNational Communication Association - Baltimore, MD
Duration: Nov 17 2019Nov 17 2019


ConferenceNational Communication Association


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