Assistant Vice President for University Outreach and Public Service, Dr. Hollie Cost participated in a panel conversation at the Alys Stephens Center in Downtown Birmingham on Tuesday, November 1, 2022. This event, Locked up in Alabama: Stories and Solutions, presented projects and perspectives aimed at improving Alabama's prison system.
The following was written by Andrew Yeager with WBHM, a non-commercial public FM radio station in Birmingham, Alabama
On Tuesday evening I sat in the Alys Stephens Center and heard from a woman who had been incarcerated at Tutwiler prison in Alabama. She was pregnant while serving her sentence and described giving birth to her son while her ankles were shackled to the stirrups and her wrists handcuffed to the bedrail. After the delivery, the nurse let her see her son, but she could not hold him.
That story from Faye Mitchell was one of many shared by formerly incarcerated individuals at our program "Locked up in Alabama: Stories and Solutions" which developed from our podcast Deliberate Indifference. That podcast broke down the crisis in Alabama’s prison system which is overcrowded, violent, understaffed and faces a lawsuit from the Department of Justice.
We heard from a man who served more than 30 years about the lengths he went to maintain his Scrabble board and dictionary which he said allowed him to keep his sanity. We heard poetry from those in and outside prison. We heard about second chances. And we hear from those on the policy side and thinkers on how to improve the system.
As I reflected on the program, I noted what I didn’t hear. I didn’t hear demonization of anyone around this troubled system. I didn’t hear political catch phrases. I didn’t hear quick, simple solutions. What I did hear was an acknowledgement of the humanity of those involved and a recognition of how flawed our prisons are in Alabama. The Department of Corrections currently has a poor record of “correcting” those within its walls, much less serving its role effectively for those of us on the outside.
In his opening remarks, our executive director Will Dahlberg noted the evening might leave the audience with more questions than answers. That’s ok. But what wasn’t missing was hope, whether from those who experienced prison first hand or those working to improve the system. Things do not have to be the way they are right now. Creating that change will take working together and building trust, something that’s often lacking in public life in Alabama.
Activist, T. Marie King (left), Auburn University Assistant Vice President of University Outreach and Public Service, Hollie Cost (middle-left), Aid to Inmate Mothers mentor coordinator, Deborah Neal (middle-right), and Alabama Appleseed Executive Director, Carla Crowder (right), discuss their ideas for improving Alabama's prison system at WBHM's "Locked up in Alabama: Stories and Solutions."