Barely recharged from the day before, we woke up early, packed our gear, and got back on I-80. Ten minutes later, we were driving through the streets of Mitchellville and were soon greeted by the wire fences surrounding the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women. Once inside, we were greeted by our caretaker for the day, who led us to our first room, where we were allowed to set up our gear and prep for our first interviews. Our first interviews were with Correctional Officers at the prison. Both shared with us stories about working at the prison and thoughts about the institution.
We were then finally able to start meeting with women from the Feminism course. It was incredibly emotional to see these women again and hear their stories. While teaching in the prison, it is common practice to not look up or know anything about why these women are in prison. Some shared their sentence length or part of their story in class, but other than that, we knew nothing about these women. During the interviews, the women were very open about their lives, crime, and their lives in prison. All their stories definitely fit into the “grey area.”
During the mid-day head count, we were taken to the dining hall for lunch. We were served what the women ate that day: turkey with mayonnaise, seasoned (salty!) fried potatoes, a roll, coleslaw, and canned fruit. The women are allowed one glass of milk–we had water. While we ate, the kitchen staff were out in dining hall for the head count. During the first run-through, one of the women was missing and the Correctional Officer leading the headcount was not very happy about having to run through the count once again once the missing woman joined the group. The way he expressed his frustrations did not seem at all helpful in a prison environment.
After lunch, we were taken for a tour of the dormitories (without the camera, of course). Women sleep 2 to 4 in a small, cramped room. There is a toilet near the entrance with a sink–out in the open with no privacy. It looked a lot like a very tiny college dorm room. Most women had TVs in their room. The way the women so happily greeted us and shared with us their photos and anything else they had in their rooms, it was easy to forget that these women are in prison. When head count was over, we were allowed to start the interviews once again.
During the course of the three days in Iowa, we conducted 23 interviews and have an additional 20 hours of footage to add to the already daunting 70 hours already filmed.