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Record Type: Review   ID: 64

Vision Narratives of Women in Prison

Burke, Carol

The author is Assistant Dean of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. She conducted this research as a graduate student in folklore studies, a scholarly discipline that has much to offer those who study exceptional human experience. In this study she examines what she calls the "vision narratives" of women prisoners at Indiana Women’s Prison and the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, but what she actually collected was the full range of exceptional experiences we call psychical and some that are death related. She chose the term "vision narratives" because it "embraces accounts of spiritual, psychic, and delusional phenomena" (p. 26). In our terms, the specific experiences described are veridical dreams including precognitive ones, clairvoyance, clairsentience, telepathy, out-of-body experiences, déjà vu, apparitions, hypersensitivity, retrocognition, ball of fire, waking precognition, an inner voice, night paralysis/incubus; religious and demonic visions, heavenly and hellish visions, and angelic helpers. Burke begins with an interesting review of the folkloric approach to such experiences. She presents examples of different classes of experiences in a chapter each devoted to Signs, Return of the Dead, and Gods and Demons. There is a chapter consisting of accounts of the experiences of four "gifted women" who have had many experience, and who, within the context of prison life, serve as "maternal counselors and spiritual advisors" to some of the prisoners. Of most interest to me is the chapter entitled "Visions in the Context of Life Stories," as these are EHE portraits, relating firsthand accounts of experiences with details of the experiencer’s life history. An appendix is devoted to descriptions of various types of exceptional experience in the experiencer’s own words. Burke catches the meaning these exceptional experiences can play as exceptional human experiences when she says that, as a folklorist, she discovered that "although spirits may only appear in stories, stories often appear as spirits—guiding us beyond ourselves, healing the splits in our selves and our natural lives that in the long run make no more sense than the supernatural" (p. 11).

She also captures what I have learned from observing psychical experiences: they have a spiritual component. She writes: "These visions are direct, unmediated encounters with the sacred, and many women find in them the spiritual direction they need to survive in prison" (p. 27).

Publisher Information:Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991. xiii + 192. Appendix B: Narratives 165-175; Bibl: 185-190; Chapnotes: 179-183; Glos: 177-178; Ind: 191-192
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