Professor presents research on the rehabilitation of women inmates
As a classroom began to fill with students and faculty members, a panel of women sat quietly at the front of the room. Unknown to those who crowded in to hear the research presentation, was that among them was D'Anna Leuke who had once been a drug dealer, Eloise Edmunds who was imprisoned for over 80 counts of burglary, Iyabo Onipede, a former lawyer convicted of white-collar crime and the focus of the event, Emma Cunningham, who was once on death row.
What was even more telling about these women than their time in prison, were their tales of survival and eventual redemption.
Dr. Ruth Carter, professor of government and sociology, invited these women, along with Georgia College students, faculty and staff to learn about her research on the Emma Cunningham case.
The presentation on Feb. 7 was one in a series of Faculty Colloquium sponsored by the Department of Government and Sociology under the direction of Chair Dr. Costas Spirou.
Cunningham’s story began in 1979 when she was implicated in the murder of a prominent Lincoln County man by her then husband. The only evidence against her was circumstantial. Her death sentence was commuted to life with parole after a second trial on appeal. Cunningham was released in 1990, and in Carter’s creative non-fiction manuscript, “Emma’s Journey: From Death Row to Redemption,” she chronicles Cunningham’s story of survival in and outside prison.
Carter also invited Rev. Susan Bishop, chaplain of Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Ga., to the event. Bishop was a driving force in organizing the program that helped rehabilitate Cunningham and the other women on the panel.
“The joys of my work come from helping these women with the issues that brought them to this point,” said Bishop. “But discovering these talents, skills and abilities that they have and finding out how to apply those is the greatest joy.”
Cunningham, along with other women who served time in the prison system took turns relaying their stories to the packed classroom. Onepide, born to a wealthy family in Nigeria, shared her viewpoint.
“It doesn’t matter your status of where you come from, “ said Onepide. “It’s about the choices you make.”
Ashley Prince, sophomore psychology major, found meaningful insight from the presentation
“It was really fascinating to hear their stories,” said Prince. “It was even more interesting to see how they grew and changed from their time in prison.”
Carter, who worked on her research for more than a decade, says experiences like Cunningham’s are more than just personal stories.
“All of these women have been to the wall and back,” said Carter. “Their stories are ones of triumph over adversity and the exaltation of spirit far beyond the enforced limitations of their lives."