Tyson was studying women and the history of philosophy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville when she took a class about philosophy on death row, where she read and discussed philosophy with the prison’s condemned. Just being able to walk out of the prison into the Tennessee sun was the turning point in her work. “In that time on death row, I was thinking that nobody should live like that,” she said.
Tyson was facing the dilemma of reconciling what feminist dogma had taught her was the solution to violent crime—lock up the bad guy and throw away the key—with what she had seen in prison, and her knowledge of the prevalence of sexual assault in the prisons themselves. “It seemed to me that we had a contradiction then, in that we’re relying on a system in which there is so much sexual assault, as an answer to sexual assault,” Tyson said. “It became a really pressing contradiction for me that I couldn’t live with.”