When she’s released from prison, Bonita Graham wants to get a job, get her children back and stay off drugs.
But being HIV-positive keeps her from learning job skills at Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, Ala., the nation’s last that completely segregates inmates who carry the virus, the Associated Press reports.
Graham, a 26-year-old mother of two, and the 12 other HIV-infected female prisoners are confined to Dorm 8, barred from taking the vocational classes available to the state’s thousands of other prisoners.
Dorm 8 is the most spacious room in a prison system that has struggled with overcrowding for more than a decade. It has television, a DVD player, telephones, microwave, a bookshelf stocked with encyclopedias and a computer.
But modern-day conveniences and space aren’t enough to erase feelings of isolation for inmates like Takiya Radford, a 22-year-old repeat offender who is serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery.
“I feel that we were a part of the population when we was free and now all of a sudden it’s like isolation,” she said. “It’s not just about segregation. It’s about us not feeling human just because we have a blood disease.”
The women of Dorm 8 have taken a few classes within their confines including high school equivalency, self-esteem, parenting and anger management. But they know that women in the general prison population enroll in job training classes at a nearby vocational school, and they want to know why they can’t take classes like cosmetology, welding and mechanics.
In northern Alabama, the men’s prison at Capshaw integrated its HIV-positive inmates into the regular educational and vocational programs in January, leaving Tutwiler the only prison that totally isolates its HIV population.
Mississippi and South Carolina are the only two other states that keep HIV inmates in their own sleeping quarters, but they do integrate the prisoners into educational and vocational programs.