Last week we traveled with a group of prospective board members to Alabama to discuss strategies for building a cooperative non-profit organization with the Alabama Prison Birth Project. We visited historic sites near Auburn and Montgomery to learn about the history of Alabama. We spent time as a group sharing the history of our project, and described our vision for the future of our work. Together we toured the women’s prison and talked with incarcerated women.
Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is located in Southeastern Alabama, in a town called Wetumpka. Its buildings are small, unremarkable, and surrounded with razor wire. The heat inside the facility is oppressive. Women are housed in a series of dorms that consist of one barred wall, a large open room, and bunked beds as far as the eye can see. Everyone wears white, with no indication of a name, but instead a number to identify them. Most women are sitting on their beds, which we learned is a policy. Unless you have a doctor’s note, you are not allowed to lie down and sleep during the day. There are loud fans, constant clanking iron doors, and the voices of hundreds of women, interrupted with the shouts of officers every few minutes. There is also death row, a beauty salon, and a medical facility, similar to something one would see in a third-world county.
For 18 months, the Alabama Prison Birth Project has been offering monthly prenatal education groups inside Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. One unique aspect of their programming is that they bring a healthy meal for the pregnant and postpartum women to each group. Our goal is to raise $25,000 before the end of 2017 to begin doula care at Tutwiler. Currently there are 10 pregnant women and according to data kept by the prison’s medical department 82 women have given birth there in the past 3 years. If you or someone you know would like to help bring this trauma-informed program to Tutwiler, please consider making a donation here: https://www.prisonbirth.org/donate
On our last night, Alabama Prison Birth Project Director, Ashley Lovell, hosted an event for community members, prison staff, and medical professionals, to build support for services for incarcerated women in Alabama. The event was beautiful on Ashley’s husband Grave’s family farm, with attendees coming from as far away as Birmingham, a 2 ½ hour drive each way. It was a great opportunity to have personal conversations with supporters about the conditions and needs inside the prison. Ashley and Erica gave a back porch speech, and raised over $3,000 to support their work.
In the coming week, we will be selecting a name for the national non-profit we are building together. Our intention is to create an organization dedicated to developing and nurturing innovation at the intersection of reproductive health and the criminal justice system. Our non-profit will focus on disrupting oppression, redefining justice, and reclaiming the power and wisdom of all birthing people.
Over the next year, we’ll continue to share our trials and tribulations along the way. In this time of uncertainty and change, our prisons and jails, most already over capacity, are continuing to fill. As the rate of incarcerated women soars, our services, ideas, and the safe spaces we seek to create inside, become essential resources for mothers experiencing incarceration. Few programs like ours exist to reduce the inter-generational trauma caused by maternal incarceration. Your on-going interest and support in our work allows our reach to grow, and we thank you for it.
In Peace for Progress,
Erica Gerrity- Director of The Minnesota Prison Doula Project
Ashley Lovell- Director of The Alabama Prison Birth Project
**Professional pictures by http://www.sherinahill.com/