A building behind a tall fence with razor wire: the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility.The UAB-Donaldson Lecture Series is an innovative collaboration between UAB faculty and staff and staff members from the Alabama Department of Corrections at the 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. The partnership is now in its 30th year.

Alabama has the 5th highest incarceration rate in the country. Donaldson is one of 15 prisons in Alabama and one of only two maximum security facilities. In total, nearly 30,000 individuals are incarcerated in Alabama 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 the 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 Badham, Director

History

The UAB-Donaldson lecture series was born from a professor-student relationship. For the interesting history, see “Life Sentences” from UAB Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2011 issue and The Prison’s Professors by journalist Beth Shelburne.

 

Donaldson Lecture Series Past and Present Directors:

  • 1988 – 2004: Ada Long, Founder; Founder and Former Director of University Honors Program
  • 2004 – 2007: Michael Sloane; Director of University Honors Program, Associate Professor in Departments of Psychology, Ophthalmology
  • 2007 – 2011: Alison Chapman; Professor and Department Chair of the UAB Department of English
  • 2011 – 2016: Libba Vaughn; Previous Director of the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research
  • 2016 – Current: Amy Badham, Current Director of the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research

 

A lecture-speaker talking to prisoners at Donaldson. Interested in Giving a Talk?

Talks are usually given at Donaldson on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from September - May at 6:30pm. The best volunteer lecturers push aside any stereotype 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 brief training.

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

 

Additional Information

The Prison’s Professors – Beth Shelburne
Lectures Behind Bars - Ashley Creek 
Life Sentences - Jo Lynne Orr
Professor's prison outreach teaches the freedom of words - Marie Sutton
Milton's Captive Audience: Teaching Paradise Lost in a Maximum Security Prison - Alison Chapman
Note: All the names of all inmares in this essay have been changed
The Dhamma Brothers