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Michigan Journal of Gender & Law


This Article consciously employs both a dignity rights-based framing and methodology. Dignity rights are those rights that are based on the Kantian assertion of “inalienable human worth.”29 This framework for defining rights spans across a number of disciplines, including medicine and human rights law.30 Disciplinary sanctions like solitary confinement or forced medication might be described as anathema to human dignity because of their degrading effect on an individual’s emotional and social well-being.

This Article relies on first-person oral histories where possible. Bioethics scholar Claire Hooker argues that including narratives in work on dignity rights “is both a moral and an aesthetic project.” Using oral histories in this way—requesting, offering, and receiving narrative—is important for two reasons. First, it is crucial for developing a shared understanding of the context surrounding the event, such as the position, setting, and social order. First-person narratives reveal the human experience behind legal rules. Secondly, the methodology is significant to dignity rights scholarship since it respects and augments the idea of a right to dignity by recognizing that the people who are primarily affected by an event are the people best informed about the dynamics of the harm they have endured. The precise influences that lead an individual to articulate her rights cannot be conveyed through court records or opinions. That process occurs before, beside, and in the aftermath of litigation. Traditional forms of scholarship—those based on highly bureaucratic processes such as court decisions and filings—may even be considered dignity-violative. For women of color or poor women, those indignities are often rendered invisible by supposed “neutral” applications of law and summarization of harms in court decisions. In this way, marginalizing individual narratives can be dignity-corrosive. To examine the role of women in the development of prisoners’ rights litigation, I conducted oral history interviews with three individuals involved in the lawsuits from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in the 1970s.

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