Connecting and Coping with Stigmatized Others: Examining Social Support Messages in Prison Talk Online

Alexandra S. Hinck, Shelly Schaefer Hinck, Jeffrey Smith, Lesley A. Withers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Having a loved one who is incarcerated affects significant others financially, emotionally, and relationally. Many who maintain a relationship with incarcerated individuals also experience courtesy stigma. To manage their courtesy stigma, individuals often turn to online support sites to engage with others who have experienced judgment from their typical social support sources. Using a grounded theory approach, this study explored how individuals in one online support site, Prison Talk Online (PTO), request and receive support. A constant comparative method of analysis was used to build a typology of social support messages for two forums within PTO: Husbands/Boyfriends in Prison and Wives/Girlfriends in Prison. Results indicated six unique types of support sought in these two forums and nine types of support given. Differences in frequencies of types of support that were sought and given between the two forums were also found. Findings suggested that unique stressors and the stigma of having an incarcerated loved one influence people to seek and give unique types of support and create an online community to build a network that might be lacking outside Prison Talk Online.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)582-600
Number of pages19
JournalCommunication Studies
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 20 2019


  • Courtesy Stigma
  • Grounded Theory
  • Incarcerated Relationships
  • Online Social Support
  • Support Typology


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