Sweet Home Alabama

julia tutwiler

Old habits die hard, especially at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. From what I have read, everything that could go wrong in a women’s prison seems to be going dreadfully wrong at this state facility. “We think that there is a very strong case of constitutional violations here,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for civil rights for the Justice Department. Ms. Samuels sent a 36-page report to the governor in January, 2014. The toxic, highly sexualized environment, she said in an interview, has been met by, “a deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management, who have been aware of the conditions for many years and have failed to curb it.”

The following link articulates in raw detail how bad it is: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1031449-tutwiler-prison-report.html

Of course Alabama has serious edgy history which includes Governor George Wallace, Birmingham Police Commissioner Bull Connor, Rosa Parks, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and Julia Tutwiler. Bypassing well documented state racism, violence and the too big business of Crimson Tide football, we could learn some very valuable lessons from Julia Tutwiler, a true maverick in her time.

Who was she? Known as the “Angel of the Stockade,” Julia Tutwiler was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on August 15, 1841. She was well educated because her father felt women were the intellectual equals to men and should be educated as such. Just to name a few of her accomplishments; Julia Tutwiler was one of the first woman admitted to the University of Alabama, wrote the state song and was inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame in 1953.

Education and prison reform were a serious focus for Julia as noted in this Encyclopedia of Alabama excerpt: “A converted Episcopalian, she believed that literacy through Bible reading could help inmates avoid repeating their mistakes. Tutwiler also drew on lessons in social activism that she learned at Kaiserswerth. The Tuscaloosa Benevolent Association sent questionnaires to the heads of all county jails, from which they compiled information about their conditions. The association then submitted its findings to the legislature in 1880 and helped to remedy the lack of heat and sanitation in the facilities. Tutwiler and some of her students visited prisons on weekends and conducted religious services, and Tutwiler personally provided Bibles to inmates.” Remember, this took place over 130 years ago, a Christian white woman helping female Alabama inmates 15 years after the Civil War. Julia Tutwiler was the real deal, a century ahead of her time.

History often repeats itself and the dreadful conditions endured by female inmates in Wetumpka Alabama is no exception. The cruel irony is that this awful prison is named after such a courageous activist who sought to remedy bad state prison conditions in the 1800’s; she would roll in her grave. As Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” J. Edgar Hoover blocked social progress and of course King, whom Hoover kept under constant surveillance, was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee.

So when my wife Patty goes off to co-facilitate a bible study every Wednesday evening for the female inmates at the local jail, I believe Julia Tutwiler would approve. Me? I love it! The word of Jesus shared with those in need of hope and restoration, behind the wire. So for all the women in America, trying to right the wrongs in our corrections system, state and federal, this guy says forge on ladies. Hopefully withering national scrutiny will change things for the inmates in Wetumpka, Alabama. That would truly be a blessing, finally.



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