Interview with Tameca Cole
by Sarah Chacich
Here's a conversation with Birmingham, AL resident Tameca Cole. When we spoke she'd just gotten out of prison weeks before. Tameca opens up about the every day difficulties of reestablishing herself in her native Alabama and the way she has come to use creativity and art while she was in prison. In addition to her visual art Tameca is a vocal & lyrical contributor to Die Jim Crow, a concept album about racism in the US prison system.
How long were you in prison?
13.5 & 11 years
homicide/ drug related, collateral damage—was in an all women’s prison Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.
Where are you now?
Are you originally from Birmingham?
Tell me about your transition out of prison-
I was on Birmingham work release, but due to past crime I was unable to work- when I was still in prison I started shopping my resume to people and places where I thought I could get work through people who were also released- I started sending it out through them
The problem is re-entry starts way before you actually leave prison- once you’re out you should carry on and have prepared before you got out- but the way it’s set up they’re not even acknowledging all the work you’ve already done. When you’re released on parole you go to the class at the Board Day reporting center 5 days a week from 8 am – 4 pm- but it’s stuff you already know- they provide you lunch 2 days a week and they do not provide transportation- no financial assistance for the fact you have to miss a lot of opportunity to work during this time.
The problem is that they don’t treat you as individuals they group everyone into generalized categories—so the class is completely a waste of time. I got a proper ID for $12 on my own; I paid off all my fines. I didn’t learn that it in the class- I could be working and establishing myself, getting my driver’s license.
*When we spoke Tameca was just laid off of job at Fish Market due to complications with transportation and also being able to get there in time after a mandatory class she has to attend 8 am -4 pm each week day through the Board of Corrections. She was trying to get a drivers license – needs to find someone to driver her to get a drivers license- in order to establish herself-
Where were you staying when you first got out?
I was staying with my mom but we had a conflict. Then I found the Dannon project- through people I knew who also just got out. They give you a grace period- they understand your financial situation- but you’re still obligated to pay some rent. You get a room- there’s a light, a refrigerator, a bed, and air conditioner, you have access to a washing machine. There’s a small amount of rent- they help you get a phone. I didn’t have a phone for a month when I got out- you get a phone with food stamps, but I applied for food stamps February 6- I didn’t get access to them until MarchAt the Dannon project they helped me with the application for food stamps, they helped me get a bus pass. They also give you a lunch every day.
What kind of job background do you have?
Maintenance, electrical, carpentry, painting, but I’m open to graduating to a full time artist, I really want to be a filmmaker. I was pretty interested in art when I was really young, but I didn’t have the kind of role model to encourage it. But we had art classes here, it really opened me to a different part of myself. Once I connected to my creative side;…creativity, being able to tap into myself to grow as a person, it challenged me, it gave myself confidence, what I want to do with my life, I’m truly passionate about that stuff- the stuff I have to do with my responsibilities with the other stuff, that’s what you have to do to be a responsible adult. Creativity helps me deal with stress, inner demons, it puts me in touch with god and emotions.
What kind of materials do you like to work with?
I’m gonna be exploring a lot more materials there were a lot of magazines laying around in prison, that’s why you’re a creative, you have to take what you find and create.
What is a typical day for you like now?
I’m at home at night- now that I have a phone I might read stuff on the internet. I haven’t got a library card yet. I get up early in the morning to get to the daily center in time. Basically people come in and talk about stuff I already know. My mind starts wandering around. In the night I’m trying to get the bus to get to my job- it was stressful- I might see if I can get a ride- this is taking a toll I got laid off- no benefit for the class- it’s a bad predicament- I’m on parole until I can get a pardon- they don’t tell you how long phase 2 is.
What’s the one thing you learned in prison that no one could have prepared you for?
You want to have people to depend on I consider myself a dependable person. People are gonna let you down. I knew a positive attitude. I’m still seeking I still I want to make things happen. For some reason I had saved my time something so small- I make up my mind, I came up against somethings and I tried to move on.
Special thanks to Fury Young of Die Jim Crow for all your help in coordinating this conversation and making it happen. Also more of Tameca's visual art can be seen at die artwork.com/tameca-cole.