Alabama built a special hell for women, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women

Thanks to an ongoing investigation, the news is beginning to seep out that Alabama has built a special hell for women, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

A 36-page letter of findings laid out a gut wrenching picture of sexual violence at Tutwiler: “For nearly two decades, Tutwiler staff have harmed women in their care with impunity by sexually abusing and sexually harassing them. Staff have raped sodomized, fondled, and exposed themselves to prisoners. They have coerced prisoners to engage in oral sex. Staff engage in voyeurism, forcing women to disrobe and watching them while they use the shower and use the toilet. Staff sexually harass women, subjecting them to a daily barrage of sexually explicit verbal abuse. Tutwiler has a toxic, sexualized environment that permits staff sexual abuse and harassment… Prison officials have failed to curb the sexual abuse and sexual harassment despite possessing actual knowledge of the harm, including a federal statistical analysis identifying sexual misconduct at Tutwiler as occurring at one of the highest rates in the country. Prison officials discourage prisoner reporting of sexual abuse due to actual and perceived retaliation against individuals who make allegations. For example, immediately after making allegations, Tutwiler often places women in segregation and gives them lie detector tests. In some instances, reporting the sexual abuse of one staff member results in additional abuse from other staff members. When confronted with allegations of sexual abuse and harassment, Tutwiler fails to adequately respond or investigate… Systemic deficiencies at Tutwiler directly contribute to staff and prisoner sexual abuse and staff sexual harassment that injures prisoners, and creates a substantial risk of further harm.”

While the intensity of the violence may surprise some, the fact of immediate physical and structural violence against women at Tutwiler has been known for a long time. In July 2011, we wrote about structural violence and overcrowding at Tutwiler and again in June 2013, we wrote about violence against older women at Tutwiler. Historically, the media have been prohibited. But prisoners have reported, both formally and informally, the hell that Alabama had built specifically for women. Women former prisoners talked of rape and of children born of rape. Did the State prosecute the fathers of those children? Occasionally. Did the State force the fathers to pay child support? Seldom, and only when pushed … hard. Who listened? Not the State, not the general citizenry, not the world.

The State built for women a house of horror, but the `free world’ did not feel horror. The State built for women a universe of fear, and the `free world’ felt neither fear nor terror. Why does it take a Federal investigation to pry open, a tiny bit, a prison system that is unconstitutional, terrorist, and evil? Why does the fate and why do the lives of hundreds and thousands of women lie, abandoned and worse, in a mass torture chamber? Why does `the world’ not care?

The Federal government is now investigating the mental and medical `care’ of prisoners at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. They will find more violence, horror, and damage … again.

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa.