VURF recipient Anna DalCortivo, Criminology and Sociology major, presented at Villanova University Symposium in September 2017.
On her experience:
”What is it like to spend three weeks on a research trip with your professor? This summer, with a CURF Research and Travel Grant, I was given the opportunity to find out. On June 27th I landed in Dublin, Ireland with my professor and mentor, Dr. Jill McCorkel. I was hired as her research assistant to work with her on a comparative study of how United States and Irish prison policies impact children of prisoners.
In the fall of 2015, in Dr. McCorkel’s “Punishment and Society” course, I wrote a paper on the collateral damage of maternal incarceration. My research found that 2.7 million children in the U.S. are affected by parental incarceration. In the paper, I analyzed the effects of parental imprisonment on children in general but delved deeper into the unique effects experienced by children who grow up with their mothers behind bars. Knowing what I knew from this research, I was incredibly excited to get to work on Dr. McCorkel’s project.
Prior to our departure, I spent a great deal of time collecting data and organizing findings so that we could hit the ground running in Ireland. I identified advocacy organizations working on behalf of prisoners’ children and families, collected relevant reports on children of prisoners and policies, mapped out key officials of the Irish Criminal Justice System and identified individuals who would be good to interview.
While in Ireland, we conducted a number of interviews with leaders of progressive initiatives including the Family Links Program and the Bedford Row Family Project, as well as Limerick Prison’s Governor and a few correctional officers. As the research assistant, I was given the task of transcribing these interviews. While I learned a lot through this process, the most memorable lesson may have been this: Irish accents can render the English language absolutely foreign.
Throughout our three weeks we made great strides forward for the project. Meanwhile, we also explored Irish current events, expanded our understandings of Irish history and of course we did a little sight seeing. Most interesting for me was our visit to Kilmainham Jail which operated as a prison from 1796 to 1966. The jail is infamously known for holding and executing Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. The tour, infused with politics, was essentially a telling of Ireland’s history through the site of the jail. The most noteworthy part of the tour for me was seeing the East Wing, which was modeled after Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The Panopticon is designed so that all prisoners could be observed at all times without them knowing whether they are being watched. I had learned about this design in several criminology courses and it was fascinating to see Kilmainham’s version. Since our visit, Dr. McCorkel and I have been discussing the phenomenon of “dark tourism” specifically looking at the parallels between Kilmainham Jail and Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary as tourist sites.
So, what is it like to spend three weeks on a research trip with your professor? It’s incredible. I learned so much, not only about Irish prison policies, but about what it means to be a sociologist, to ask important questions, to keep an open mind, and to always keep your eyes open for new issues to investigate. I would just like to thank the CURF office again for awarding me this grant and giving me this incredible opportunity that undoubtedly marks three of the best weeks of my college career.”