As AL.com reporter Ivana Hrynkiw was preparing for a scheduled execution at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, she pulled on a skirt she’d worn to several other executions. That particular day, Hrynkiw would be watching Joe Nathan James Jr.’s execution by lethal injection. According to The Guardian, James Jr. was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the 1994 killing of 26-year-old Faith Hall, who James Jr. had dated briefly.
In a Twitter thread, Hrynkiw recounted that a prison official pulled her aside and refused to admit her into the death chamber with the rest of the proceeding’s witnesses due to the length of her skirt. “I tried to pull my skirt to my hips to make the skirt longer, but was told it was still not appropriate,” the award-winning journalist said. “At 5’10” with my heels on, I am a tall and long-legged person.”
After a photographer offered her a pair of waterproof Columbia fisher’s waders, the suspenders of which Hrynkiw says she attached to her shirt to keep from slouching to her ankles, the agent finally permitted her to enter the room where she could proceed to do her job.
After publicly humiliating her for a skirt choice deemed unthinkably slutty, the prison official found yet another reason Hrynkiw’s presence might draw offense: The reporter’s open-toe heels apparently also violated the prison’s dress code—one that previously, if it existed at all, had not been enforced. Hrynkiw went back to her car to grab a pair of tennis shoes and returned to the room, outfitted like a fisherman working part-time gigs at the cannery, the Nike Store, and Goldman Sachs.
“I felt embarrassed to have my body and my clothes questioned in front of a room of people I mostly never met,” Hrynkiw said. “I sat down, tried to stop blushing, and did my work.”
A prison official similarly subjected Kim Chandler, an Associated Press reporter in Alabama, to a full-body inspection, during which the length of her garments were checked before they were deemed appropriate. Chandler wrote on Twitter that over the course of the two decades she’s been covering executions, the length of her articles of clothing has never been scrutinized in such a manner before.
Following the incident, AL.com reported that the Alabama Department of Corrections provided a link to a “prison visitation dress code,” mandating that “all dresses, skirts, and pants shall extend below the knee (females only)” and that “Splits/Slits must be knee length or lower (females only).” The Alabama outlet reported the code did not reference banned high heels or open-toe shoes. AL.com has since filed a formal complaint with the department, and according to the Washington Post, Associated Press Executive Editor Julie Pace sent a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey (R) demanding she “ensure such behavior is not tolerated and does not occur again.” In it, Pace wrote:
“...[singling out] female reporters for arbitrary clothing inspections is humiliating, discriminatory and simply unacceptable behavior toward professional journalists trying to cover one of the most serious events they are called upon to witness.”
Corrections spokeswoman Kelly Betts told the Post the dress code was the policy baby of Holman prison’s new warden, Terry Raybon, who was previously fired by The Alabama Department of Public Safety in 1999 for “beat[ing] a woman mercilessly,” and becoming “ensnared in an affair with a convicted felon that culminated in another incident of domestic violence,” according to court documents. The Department later issued a statement apologizing for the outfit inconvenience and vowed to include the dress code in “future media advisories” to “avoid this situation.”
Trans-exclusive language like “females only” aside, the most unnerving part of this story is its proposed resolution: not that women would no longer have a yardstick taken to their thighs, but that they would simply be warned in advance that they might have a yardstick taken to their thighs, as commanded by a prison warden so unsafe to women he could no longer be employed by the goddamn Department of Safety. In a state like Alabama, where people who can get pregnant have watched their rights evaporate into thin air, the hypocrisy of a dress code like this is enough to make even Ivana Trump laugh in her grave.
While I’m sure both women reporters looked entirely professional (though I’d be remiss not to mention that the idea of professionalism or sensibility is often defined and awarded through a white cis lens), even if they were dressed like slutty single girls on their way to coerce men into buying them Birkins and cosmos, all women should be afforded the right to do their jobs regardless of their appearance. The least we could do is let the guy see some pussy one last time before he dies.
And to the officials at Holman Correctional: I’m gonna take your dress code and shove it up my tiny skirt. Who’s offended now, officer?