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(Part 3) “Railroaded”: Incarcerating Family

(Part 3) “G” – Railroaded

“Family plays a major part in everybody’s life,” says G, who is referenced in Part One of this series.

G is close with his aunts, but has no other family. G has been incarcerated nearly four decades, since age 15, for a crime he claims he did not commit. He has been incarcerated in almost every one of Alabama’s Prisons during his sentence. In early and mid-April, he interviews on how mass incarceration impacts family life, both for him and other prisoners.

G was “railroaded” into prison, he says, because he had no legal or financial resources or other support. He is an only child. His mother died several years ago during his sentence.

“The thing about family is,” G continues, “these folks will keep you in prison for so long that your family will die off. And then – you know – you ain’t got nobody. I done lost my momma since I’ve been in here, and I’m an only child … I need to be the one to take care of myself. Like I said, they’re keeping me locked up so long that everybody dies off.”

G discusses death and dying, loss and grief, in prison. Over the decades, he’s seen many prisoners “lose their brothers, their sisters, their mommas, their daddies.”

Asked if death and loss have been difficult aspects of life in prison for him personally, G answers, “Well, no. It ain’t really been hard with me, because – you know – I know one thing: It ain’t nothing too hard for God. I just pray and try to leave it up to God. Let him deal with it.”

Like many Alabama prisoners interviewed for stories on mass incarceration in recent weeks and months, G’s religious faith sustains him through his time in prison. He describes himself as “a strong believer in God.”

G hasn’t seen any family members for about 15 years, he says, but is in close touch with his “aunties, my mother’s sisters,” his only remaining family. When G’s mother died, he says, his aunties “knew they were going to have to step up.”

G got married while in prison and stayed married for several years, he says, to a woman he knew in childhood. But when he was not released as he’d hoped and planned for, midway into the 2010’s, “She said she had to move on with her life… So, I let her go,” G recalls.

He is not bitter that she wanted a divorce, was respectful and supportive of her decisions throughout the divorce process, and remains grateful for the years they had together, he says.

“I had to let her go, but she rode with me for five years long.”

G was first incarcerated at age 15. The Judge waited to hear the case until G was 16, at which point he was tried as an adult. G directs the interview to his childhood.

“I had a kind of rough childhood,” he says. “I was bad. I used to steal, rob, drink – you know – I used to do a lot of stuff. But they railroaded me, man. You know? … I didn’t tell on the guys that did it, so they gave me a life sentence. But if you’re on your own, they railroad you.”

He says the people who actually committed the crime of which he was convicted were older than him, and, he explains, “I didn’t know what they could do to me. I didn’t have my momma with me [at trial, or elsewhere]. I didn’t have a guardian. So, they railroaded me.”

Other than his ex-wife, G has had no contact with childhood friends from before prison. He doesn’t worry about them now, he says. “You just try to do your time and get on out of here, man.”

No friends from childhood have written or called him since he got to prison.

He did not know his biological mother well at the time of his trial. Having little to know resources when she became pregnant, she had another woman help raise G when he was born, and that woman was “the only momma I knew for a minute,” he says, “until I got a chance to really know my real momma.”

Asked if he misses his mother these days, G says, “Yeah, she’s dead. My step-momma’s dead too. My step-momma died last year, or the first part of this year.”

Asked what the experience of losing his mother in prison was like, “Well, I knew I had to stay strong and get up out of here, man, because that’s what she wanted me to do,” he answers. “You know. She wanted me to stay strong and make it out.”

He adds: “I thought I was going to get a chance to see her” after her death, referring to the wake and funeral.

G couldn’t financially afford to have an officer accompany him to attend any of the services for his mother’s death, so he couldn’t go.

Going to the wake or funeral “costs too much,” he explains. He and other Alabama prisoners have no money, and no right to earn money, with the exception of some on work-release.

He elaborates, “They’ll charge seven, eight, nine to take you to the wake. Back in the day, they used to take you to the funeral home, let you see your people – you know – let you visit with your dead relatives. But now it costs us too much money.”

Prisoners and their families have had to pay to attend the services of deceased family members ever since G’s been in prison, he says, “but it’s way more expensive now than it was.” And now, the few who can afford it are only allowed to view the body for an hour while accompanied by an officer. They have not been allowed to attend wakes or funerals for years.

“And you said it’s, like, seven, eight, nine bucks to do that?”

“Nah, nah. Back in the day, it was about $500. Now it’s … about eight hundred, nine hundred, 10 hundred,” he answers.

“Oh, hundreds. Sorry, I misunderstood. Just to attend your mother’s funeral?”

“Nah, nah, not the funeral,” he clarifies again. “Just the wake. You don’t go to the funeral. You just go to the funeral home, view the body, and then they – they just put you right back, lock you back up. Yeah, so I ain’t get a chance to go to my momma’s funeral.”

“Man, there’s no words for that.”

“Yeah,” G replies. “These people don’t care, man. They’re here to do a job. They ain’t here to help us. They’re here to hurt us, here to harm us. They ain’t here to help us. You know?”

In email response to a request for comment on questions about Alabama prisoners’ claims regarding the financial aspects of attending the services of deceased loved ones outside of prison, ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose largely confirms what prisoners in this series describe. The ADOC permits prisoners, writes Rose, “with approval from their warden, to pay respects privately to a deceased loved one” for “one hour.”

Rose confirms that “inmates are not permitted to attend funeral/visitation services or visit/socialize with family and friends,” because of “security concerns,” and that prisoners traveling “offsite to pay respects privately to a loved one are responsible for the associated financial costs.”

Rose explains that prisoners apply for an “escorted visit” with a deceased loved one by submitting “a formal request to their respective warden.” If approved, “security detail and transport arrangements will be coordinated by the ADOC.”

Asked whether prisoners are cuffed by either the wrists, feet, or both at any point in the process of visiting a deceased loved one, and if they are allowed not to be cuffed at any point, Rose answers, “The level of security and/or restraints required to safely and securely transport the inmate offsite is dictated by the inmate’s security level,” but will not answer directly.

Rose also would not respond directly to an inquiry about whether there are any organizations, programs, or government services in place for prisoners who want to attend the services of deceased loved ones but cannot afford to do so.

She also does not comment on whether the process has always been the way it is now, or, if not, when it changed.

On the financial costs to prisoners of viewing a loved one’s body, she adds, “Correctional officers assigned to transport an inmate to and from the funeral home/visitation site are not removed from their post or standard duties in order to accommodate these requests, and as such are paid an hourly rate by the inmate that is equivalent to the hourly rate paid to them by the ADOC.”

Rose does not offer an average or estimate of the cost of these visits, adding at the end, “The associated financial cost of this activity to the inmate is not static, can vary widely, and is dependent upon factors unique to the individual including the number of security personnel required to safely and securely transport the inmate and the length of travel to and from funeral home/visitation site.”

After a pause, toward the of the interview, G adds that the increased challenges to visiting deceased loved ones for prisoners does not seem unique to other trends he’s observed over the decades in Alabama prisons.

“We used to get six magazines, everything,” he continues. “They took all that away. We used to get a dollar a day. Everything we used to get, they took it away. We don’t get nothing no more. [Prisoners] are picking up cigarette butts off the floor – you know – families are sending in food, smokes, all that type of stuff…Back when I first got to prison, cigarettes were cheap. But they’re high [priced] now.”

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