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(Part 2) Mid-Sentence Prison Transfers in Alabama: Growing up in Alabama Prisons

G has lived in all but a couple of Alabama’s adult male prisons throughout his single sentence, which started when he was 15 years old, for a crime he claims he did not commit. 

With no parents, no legal guardian, no money, no formal education, no meaningful legal advocacy, and “no help” or resources in general, he tells HTR, he was tried and convicted as an adult when he turned 16 in the early 1980’s, and has lived in Alabama’s adult prisons ever since. He is currently in Ventress. 

In G’s experience, “They don’t transfer no more like they used to. They used to just send you from prison to prison” randomly and frequently, through most of the time he’s been incarcerated.

“They’ve kind of slowed that down now,” he continues. “Only ways to get transferred now are, basically, you get into something – you know – catch a stabbing case, or have some type of … issue.” 

Over the decades, G has observed that the constant, random transfers “slowed down once [the prisons] got overcrowded.” 

He elaborates: “See, when I first came down [to prison] in the 80’s, it wasn’t as crowded as it is now. It’s so crowded now, we are stacked on top of each other, man, and it’s – just … They ain’t lettin nobody out, Parole Board ain’t letting nobody out – you know – and there’s a lot of guys, man, that have done a lot of time, and deserve to be out.” 

G says mid-sentence transfers started decreasing “about 2007, 2008, 2009, somewhere along there.” 

According to a Sentencing Project chart on the number of state and Federal prisoners from 1925 to 2017, the number of Americans indeed peaked, and stayed at its highest, just before, during, and after the years G cites here. 

G explains that, by then, the prisons “had to slow down, because they got so many people to deal with, Classification [Officers] got so many people to see – you know – and so many people to try to move, till – you know – they just can’t move everybody at one time, so they started slowin down on them transfers … started moving two or three people at a time.” 

G “got locked up” in the early 1980’s. “I was 15 years old when I first came to prison.” 

He reflects on the first couple of times he was transferred from one prison to another mid-sentence as a child in adult prisons. 

“I first came to Kilby,” still the “processing center” for all Alabama prisoners before the prison in which they’ll first do time, and when they go there, are decided. 

At 16, G was transferred out of Kilby, and “They sent me to … a maximum security prison,” he recalls. “It was rough up there, because it was … my first time ever being in prison, first time ever going to a max camp, and – you know – it was kind of hard for me. You know?”

He elaborates: “I was real young, and I wasn’t used to being in prison, and I wasn’t used to being around those types of guys – you know – because you got all types of guys in a max camp.” 

He pauses, then adds, “I was a kid. I was scared.” 

He stayed at the first camp to which he was transferred from Kilby “for about six months,” at then was transferred yet again, “and my third transfer was … anywhere between four to six months” after the second, “because they would just move me around. You know?” 

For the first decades of his sentences, most of his transfers from prison to prison took place in the “four to six month range.”

Asked what types of experiences were scariest to deal with as a child in adult prisons, G reflects, “Well – you know – they were raping people. Guys were gettin raped. Guys were gettin stabbed up and down. You know. It was just so much goin on.”

For the most part, these things didn’t happen directly to G as a child, he says, “because I just so happened to have some older guys pull me over to – you know – took me up under their wings, and raised me, and taught me the game. You know?” 

But by ages 16 and 17, he’d already seen more than any man should. 

As a child in adult prisons, the scariest experience, “Well,” he remembers, “it was seeing people get stabbed. I’d seen one guy get stabbed in the neck, [who] almost died, and I’d seen another guy got his – got his head almost cut off. So, I’d just get – it was just different stuff. You know what I’m sayin?”

He witnessed both of these events, and more, in adult prisons before turning 18. 

Now, with the hindsight of middle age, G believes that “transferring from prison to prison was a good experience, because – you know – I got a chance to see a lot of different stuff, and experience a lot of stuff.” 

While incarcerated in one of these prisons during the early years of his sentence, he got his G.E.D. For a brief time, he was “taking trade [classes] and working on a farm” in prison as well. Now, he frequently laments that many educational and other programs have been cut, and sees a widespread problem of boredom, restlessness, lack of hope, and lack of structure instead. 

Taking classes at the prison and working on a farm outside, decades ago, he says, “learned me how to work – you know – how to be more responsible, and to have more responsibilities.” 

G has been in Ventress Prison around a couple of years, and by now, he says, “I would like to be transferred to a different one, because this one is just too far gone, man. You know? The respect to disrespect [ratio] number is too messed up.” 

In G’s experience, the process of a transfer goes as follows: 

“They’ll wake you up early in the morning, bout three or four o’clock, take you through the ICS, then they wait on the transfer van to come get you, and transfer you to the next prison. Then, once you get to the next prison, you’ve got to – you know – wait until they process you in. Then they give you a bed, and then – you know – you just go from there.” 

Asked how many times he’s been transferred from one prison to another, “Psshh,” G sighs, “I can’t even count em all, but I know it’s at least 20, 25 times. 

“I don’t ever get comfortable” in a prison, says G, “because anything could happen, any given time. You know? They can just snatch you up at any time, and transfer you.”

When G wakes up to learn that a prisoner who he’s known a long time has been transferred, “It’s good,” he says. “I like to see prisoners get transferred out, especially if they’re going to Work-Release, or honors camps, or somewhere they can get out of prison. You know? But going from one prison to another, that ain’t good, because you ain’t getting out of prison. You know what I’m sayin?” 

G has “had a few friends [who] didn’t want to leave the prison they was at” in the process of being transferred to another one, “but they didn’t have no choice, because they was on transfer, they’ve got to leave … just to go into another prison.” 

G concludes: “I ain’t have no bad transfers. All my transfers are good – you know – because, just like I said, I ain’t doin nothin but going to another prison, because I just – I’ve got to go, whether I want to go or not.”

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