Trailer music by Tyson Stock.
Trailer music by Tyson Stock.
Today, two women who took part in our documentary are getting their first commutation hearings. Tracey Dyess and Yvette Louisell will both go in front of the Iowa Board of Parole. When we were back in Iowa during April, we were able to meet with both Tracey and Yvette at ICIW. Tracey Dyess has a 45-year sentence, with a 17-year mandatory and has served 6 years. Yvette Louisell has a life without parole sentence and has served 23-years. Both women come from similar backgrounds of abuse and trauma. Both came to prison when they were 17.
Tracey Dyess, April 2011
The commutation process, from what we know, is a very long and difficult process. Both women will meet with the Board of Parole for anywhere from 30-minutes to 2-hours. If the Board reaches a unanimous decision, they will then submit the information to the Governor with their recommendation for commutation. Governor Bransted then has 3 months to make a decision. Even with a unanimous decision by the Board of Parole, the Governor does not have to commute a sentence. Applicants with a life without parole sentence must wait 10-years before they can again try for commutation.
Governor Bransted has only been in office since January. Most Governors tend to grant commutations when they are exiting office, as it can be detrimental to their career in office, especially if they are looking for re-election. When Governor Culver left office, he commuted the sentences of two inmates. Since Governor Bransted took office, commutation hearings have been on hold and these are the first of his term.
We hope for a positive outcome for both Tracey and Yvette.
Yvette Louisell and Noga (Director), April 2011
On July 15th, Yvette Louisell (#0805144) will be going in front of the parole board for her first commutation hearing.
In your letters, please emphasize that Yvette was 17 at the time of her crime, that she is remorseful for the terrible consequences of her actions, that both her judge and prosecutor support her release, and that she has worked very hard throughout her incarceration to grow, learn, and become a better person.
If you would like to send a letter in support of Yvette’s commutation, you can send letters to the following address:
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.