Change these stories / feminism / Tutwiler Prison Series

Locked up like us, at Tutwiler

Immigrant means prisoner?

By Andrea Baldwin

I teach an Introduction to Women’s Studies course at the Tutwiler Women’s Prison in Alabama.  I have been doing so for the last two months and the experience so far has been nothing like I expected.

Going to that prison and interacting with these women, the lack of pretence and airs, their thirst for knowledge and just downright appreciation for my presence there.  I am their Dr. B, “their Google” and being in that prison is what I look forward to every week.

This opportunity for me to teach imprisoned women, my students, is made possible by the Alabama Prison Arts & Education Project.  While the prison system does suck, credit must also be given to the powers that be for allowing me into the facility and for putting up with my requests for something else every week.300px-julia_tutwiler_prison_wetumpka_alabama

I meant to write about my experience in the prison a while now but I was really moved
 to write this piece after last week when the women lamented, “well it seems to me that you are just as locked up as we are!’ and “you have no rights either Dr. B!”.

This is in response to a question about my status as a permanent resident or alien.

One of my students when I walked in on day one, after hearing my accent  and correctly guessing where I was form (Barbados) struck up a conversation on how they let me come into the prison to work.

I told them that I had a social security number and I paid taxes, even though I was an alien with a number.  This obviously stayed with them and last week after we finished watching the documentary, Makers: Women Who Make America, one student asked, “So Dr. B, which planet are you from again?” and that got the entire class going.

They had obviously planned it, but the questions started coming one by one throughout the room;

Them – “So can you vote?”;

Me –  “Nah there are a lot of stuff I can’t do, like vote”.

Them – “So they take your taxes and you can’t vote?  What if you commit a crime?”

Me – “I just have to be careful.” I told them about how I had to be careful not to break any laws especially so call ‘no-so-bad ones” such as driving over the speed limit, I told them how I double check under my cart before I leave the grocery store in case I forgot to pay for the case of bottled water, that type of stuff. 

Them – “So what would happen?”

Me –  “I could be deported and separated from my child and husband!”

Them – “That is some shit!” “What else can’t you do?”

Me – “I can’t leave the country for more than six months at a time?”

Them –  Why? So you can go on a long vacation?”

Me – “Nope, not more than six months.”

Them – “Or what?”

Me – “I would lose my permanent residency.”

Them – “Wow, seems to me you’ve got it just as bad as we do.  You in prison!”


This was written in 2014.


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