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IPR News

Incarcerated Iowans Donate More Than $11K To Families Of Anamosa Victims

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Kate Payne
/
IPR
There has been an outpouring of grief and support in the wake of the killings of Nurse Lorena Schulte and Officer Robert McFarland allegedly by two inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. The deaths have shocked Iowans inside and outside the state's prisons.

Incarcerated individuals across Iowa’s prisons have donated more than $11,000 to the families of staffers killed at the Anamosa State Penitentiary on March 23. The total represents a significant amount for people making well below a dollar an hour for their work. The fundraising effort is part of a larger outpouring of grief and support from across the country in the wake of the killings of Nurse Lorena Schulte and Officer Robert McFarland.

Inmates from all nine of Iowa’s prisons have pitched in to memorial funds established for the families of Schulte and McFarland, according Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson Cord Overton.

“[M]ore than $11,000 has been donated by the inmates though direct donations and fundraisers,” Overton said in response to questions from IPR. “Donations have been made at all prisons.”

The donations have come in the weeks following the gruesome killings of Schulte and McFarland. Investigators believe that inmates Michael Dutcher and Thomas Woodard beat the staffers to death with prison-issued hammers as the men attempted to escape the sprawling stone fortress in the city of Anamosa.

Ducther and Woodard are slated to go to trial June 22 in Jones County.

The killings of prison employees by inmates are thought to be the first in decades in the state, and have shaken incarcerated individuals and staffers alike.

"Yes there are people who belong in prison. And yes there are also people who are good people in prison who have made mistakes and who…who have just as much compassion and just as much empathy as a lot of us out here."
-Sue Hutchins, Living Beyond The Bars

Sue Hutchins of the advocacy group Living Beyond the Bars says many inmates knew the victims personally, and their donations demonstrate their compassion.

“Yes there are people who belong in prison. And yes there are also people who are good people in prison who have made mistakes and who…who have just as much compassion and just as much empathy as a lot of us out here,” Hutchins said.

The more than $11,000 total is significant for inmates who typically make between 27 and 87 cents an hour for their work, according to a 2017 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative.

Many have also seen their work opportunities cut back during the past year due to rolling lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus behind bars.

Even in normal times, many inmates must carefully budget their meager salaries in order to afford to phone family and friends, to send emails, and to buy books, deodorant, shampoo and additional food, as well as pay off restitution, fines, fees and taxes.

“My understanding is that because the [federal coronavirus] stimulus checks have recently come in for people, a good number of the inmates are donating more than they normally would be able to given their salaries,” Hutchins said, “which shows to me that they really do have compassion and they really do care.”

Donations have also flooded in from across the country to support the families of the victims. According to a GoFundMe established for the McFarland family, staff at other correctional facilities have donated as well.

“We are saddened by this senseless loss. Michigan's correctional family stands with you during this difficult time,” reads a message from the Michigan Department of Corrections Honor Guard. “Our thoughts are with the McFarland family, and Robert's friends and coworkers as they struggle to understand and cope with this loss.”

Fidelity Bank & Trust in Anamosa has also been receiving donations on behalf of the Schulte and McFarland families. Executive Vice President Doug Edel declined to specify how much the funds had raised but said individual contributions have ranged from $25 to $1,000 each.

Scores of well-wishers have sent in their support from all across Iowa, as well as from Minnesota, Connecticut and as far away as California.