I think Alabama is going in the right direction, and I’m excited to be playing a part in making change happen.
by Betty Washington, #LwC2020
April 28, 2020
The State of Alabama has one prison for women, ironically named after Julia Tutwiler who was an early prison reformer and educator. It’s a horrible place, built in 1942. It was built to hold 400 women, but today it holds closer to 1,000. It has no air conditioning, and the summers are brutally hot. In 2014, a year after my own release from federal prison, I realized that I wanted to help women who were coming home from serving time in Tutwiler, so I started my own nonprofit organization, Starting Point. There are very few reentry programs in Alabama and the need is very great.
With the cooperation of the prison social workers and the chaplain I meet with women when they are about 90 days from their release date. I give a class where I talk about life skills and I give them accessible and updated information about employment and housing opportunities, public assistance, disability, and other services they may need. Because the women come from many of the sixty-seven counties in the state, I have to be familiar with the conditions and resources that exist in lots of places. I get a lot of positive feedback from the women, and some stay in touch with me after their release.
I am also a registered lobbyist and plan to become more involved in advocacy work. Right now the Governor wants to build three new prisons for men and I’m against that. We know full well that if they are built, they will be filled with bodies in order to justify the expense of building them. That means hard fought reforms like alternative sentencing laws will be scratched. Expungement is another issue I will be working on. Right now there is no way a person can have their criminal record expunged, even if the conviction took place thirty years ago. The collateral consequences of a conviction are severe. I know that from my own experience; I had to fight hard to regain my license from the Alabama Board of Nursing so that I could practice my profession.
Although Alabama still has a lot of challenges, especially for its African American residents, things are improving. We are more united; I don’t think we’re completely Black versus white anymore. There was a time when we didn’t have a single Black mayor, but there are quite a few now, and that says a lot about Alabama. The same is true for women. In the past women were not respected or allowed to run for office. But now we have groups that are preparing women to run, and supporting their campaigns. We still have a long way to go, but I think Alabama is going in the right direction, and I’m excited to be playing a part in making change happen.
Before joining Leading with Conviction I participated in one of JLUSA’s Emerging Leaders forums. I believe that was my breakthrough moment of healing. After going through what I’ve gone through one of my biggest issues has been dealing with the shame of having been incarcerated. But being in the room with other people like me has been empowering. I’m loving it!
Betty Washington is a graduate of Troy University and Trenholm State Technical College. She is a Licensed Practical Nurse and holds a CPC, a CPC1, and CPC-A in Medical Coding.