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The UAB-Donaldson Lecture Series is a 30+-year-old innovative collaboration between UAB and the Alabama Department of Corrections William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility. Donaldson is a maximum-security men’s prison in rural Jefferson County that largely houses inmates with life sentences or those classified as violent repeat offenders. UAB-affiliated faculty and staff members give talks at the prison on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from September through May.

Donaldson prison seen through a high chain link fence with razor wire.Alabama has the fifth highest incarceration rate in the country. Donaldson is one of 15 prisons in Alabama and one of only two maximum security facilities. In total, over 30,000 individuals are incarcerated in Alabama prisons on any given day. Perpetual overcrowding and the limited number of educational opportunities have serious consequences within the facilities. Depression and loneliness are cited by the men as the hardest part of their time inside, driven, in part, from the lack of opportunities available to them.

The success and longevity of this series is due to the continued interest and support from Donaldson and the Alabama Department of Corrections, the generosity and support from UAB’s volunteer faculty and staff, and the courtesy, enthusiasm, and inquisitiveness of the Donaldson inmates. The series has led to the creation of a book discussion group, an acting workshop, and new partnerships with classes at UAB.

When it is time for me to go, I say, “I wish that there was more that we at UAB could offer to you.” A young man on the front row looks me in the eye and says, “Ma’am, you show us that there is another way to live.” — Amy Hutson Chatham, Director

Interested in Giving a Talk?

Talks are usually given at Donaldson on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 6:30pm from September through May. The best volunteer lecturers push aside any stereotypes about maximum-security inmates and talk to them like ordinary people. A potential lecturer is encouraged to select a topic about which she/he is passionate and knowledgeable. Volunteers are required to submit to a background check and undergo brief training.

The call for lecturers is open. For more information or to sign up for a lecture, please contact UAB Service Learning.

About the Series

The UAB-Donaldson lecture series was born from a professor-student relationship. The following resources give you a look inside the program.

Donaldson Lecture Series Past and Present Directors

  • 2021-present: Gareth Jones, director of the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research
  • 2016-2021: Amy Hutson Chatham, previous director of the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research
  • 2011-2016: Libba Vaughn, previous director of the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research
  • 2007-2011: Alison Chapman, professor and chair of the UAB Department of English
  • 2004-2007: Michael Sloane, director of the University Honors Program and an associate professor in Departments of Psychology and Ophthalmology
  • 1988-2004: Ada Long, founder of the series and founder and former director of the University Honors Program

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