“I never thought it would go this far”: Tifton whistleblower reflects on ICE complaints one year later

Ocilla whistleblower awarded
Published: Sep. 17, 2022 at 10:27 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2022 at 10:28 PM EDT
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TIFTON, Ga. (WALB) - A Tifton woman is being recognized for filing complaints against the Irwin county detention center in 2021. She alleged that they were performing hysterectomies on migrant women without their full consent.

Dawn Wooten was a 3-year licensed practical nurse at Irwin County Detention Center. Her efforts to highlighted poor and unfair treatment of women in the center.

She also filed documents accusing the center of poor safety precautions surrounding Covid-19. After Wootens’ complaint was filed, she was written up and demoted.

“I never thought it would go this far,” she said.

After her complaints came to light, the center was closed. Irwin county made national headlines, and Wooten was named as a whistleblower against the government.

One year later, Wooten is being honored with the First Amendment Award in Washington D.C. Although HMH Foundation bestowed her the honor, Wooten said community support has been scarce.

According to the founders of the HMH foundation, The annual award recognizes brave individuals whose efforts help protect and enhance First Amendment rights for all Americans and raise awareness on modern-day challenges to freedom of speech and expression.

Wooten said although using the expression of freedom of speech cost her a 10 year nursing career, she doesn’t have any regrets.

Wooten is now using her platform to advocate for black women who feel their voices are not heard.

“You never know in using your voice the life you’re going to save at that point, the lively hood, somebody’s mental welfare, somebody’s physical welfare, somebodies health.” she said.

Wooten is a single mom with five children. She said it’s been a struggle even now to find work because local medical centers look at her as a threat to their company. She said she’s filled out over 90 job applications locally; that have all been denied.

“As a black woman where our voices are so not heard, we’re good at raising children here in the south and we’re good at being parents. We’re good at working, as long as we can follow suit. I struggle but it makes me feel really liberated,” she said.

Wooten added that she’s honored to be able to receive the award but didn’t realize that one voice could take her this far.