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The Blue Years: An Ethnography of a Prison Archive

By Angela Garcia

Cite As:
Garcia, Angela. 2016. “The Blue Years: An Ethnography of a Prison Archive.” Cultural Anthropology 31, no. 4: 571–594.


This article is an ethnographic account of an archive of prison letters written by three generations of female kin. Based on long-term ethnographic research in rural New Mexico, it describes the context in which the letters were written, as well as the desires, preoccupations, and practices that transformed them into an archive. I have placed a particular focus on how dislocation and connection manifest in the letters and shape the kinds of narratives the archive tells. Themes of isolation, loss, and memory are explored within the wider context of colonial history and the acceleration of the carceral state. This article seeks to integrate these registers analytically, while elucidating the role of archiving for a subject’s present life.


archive; writing; affect; materiality; prison; feminist historiography