By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Over the last three days, violence at Alabama’s Holman Prison in Atmore has made national news. On Monday, March 14, the Alabama Political Reporter (APR) spoke with a former inmate, who asked not to be identified, about conditions in the troubled Alabama Corrections System.
The prisoner, who we will call “Ralph,” blamed corruption among the guards for much of the problems within the Alabama prison system. Ralph told APR that guards supply the phones and drugs to prisoners for a profit.
Ralph said a phone typically sells for $200. “There are more drugs in prison than there are outside.” Prisoners sell drugs supplied by the guards to other prisoners. Ice and meth are readily available in Alabama’s prisons.
APR asked how the prisoners have the cash to buy drugs and phones? Were they using cigarettes as a means of exchange?
Ralph said, “They use ‘Green Dots.’” The guards and prisoners have accounts using Green Dot Debit cards. The prisoners pay for transactions by transferring the money from the buyers account to the sellers account. They keep their account numbers on sheets of notebook paper. Guards often supply the account numbers. Ralph said that drug dealers who operate in the prisons have relationships with the guards, who, in turn, are the suppliers.
Ralph blamed the phones and the drugs for much of the violence in the prison. Prisoners punish failure to pay with violence.
One of Ralph’s friends was murdered in front of him, stabbed to death over a drug debt.
The inmates in the Alabama Correction System are not unique in using Green Dot cards. The Baltimore Sun reported this in the Baltimore City Jail: “US Attorney Rod Rosenstein said Green Dot cards have become the primary source of payment among gang members and other inmates in the city jail. Using a simple code number to make transactions makes the cards hard for authorities to detect.”
Rosenstein said, “Once a person has a Green Dot account number, people can add money to the account in many ways without anyone being able to trace it.”
Business Insider’s Vivian Giang reported one prisoner’s tale of using phones to speak with people outside of the prison. They convince outsiders, often women they meet on Facebook, to send them money. A prisoner with a phone can make $2000 a week renting minutes to other prisoners.
Ralph said that once, prisoners took an inmate hostage and called his family and told them they were going to kill him unless his family deposited money into their account. They did.
APR asked what gangs were operating inside of the Alabama prison system. He said, The Disciples, The Southern Brotherhood, and there are various Latino gangs.
Giang’s inmate source also said that prisoners used the Green Dot Reloadable prepaid cards to do business with each other. “Once the people ‘on the outside’ purchase money packs to put on the prepaid cards, they’ll receive a security code, and the people ‘on the inside’ can use these codes to purchase whatever they want. Their sellers will then call a 1800-number, give them the code, and have the money downloaded into their own credit cards.”
Giang’s source said, “A lot of stuff in here is run by the gangs…there’s the Mexican gangs, the Bloods, the Crips. They all run their own sh*t. They keep their business pretty good and they don’t F*** each other over.”
Ralph said sometimes gangs of prisoners will pay a guard to let them gang rape a prisoner in the showers.
APR asked how much does it cost to rape a man.
Ralph said the guard received between $100 and $150.
The guards themselves can also be very brutal. If a prisoner is caught with a cell phone or smoking, even though they often had supplied it, that prisoner would be beaten down by the guards. Prisoners beaten down by the guards did not move to the infirmary, instead, they were treated and then immediately placed in isolation where a nurse would visit them as they recovered.
One time, a mentally ill prisoner masturbated in front of a female guard. Two guards attacked him and beat him down. His mental illness was never treated. Ralph said that there are a lot of people with untreated mental illness in the Alabama prisons.
One of Ralph’s friends was found hanging.
Even the conditions could be brutal. In one of the prisons where he was housed, there was black mold growing in the showers. People would get sick from it. Prisoners are supposed to get one hour a day in the yard, but that doesn’t always happen.
Ralph said that some of the dorms had 140 bunks in them. The guards were supposed to walk the length of the dorm to check on the prisoners, but often they came in, looked around quickly, then left.
APR asked Ralph: We have been told by prison experts in the legislature, that most of the prisoners in Alabama’s prisons are hardcore, repeat offenders, or they are violent criminals.
Ralph said, “That is a lie…Alabama treats drug manufacturing as a violent crime. Tons of people are in prison for manufacturing or for stealing to support their drug habit. As a child, he did not plan on becoming a criminal. I never used drugs or alcohol. When I was 20, I fell off a roof I was working on. I hurt my neck. The doctor prescribed drugs for the pain and I got hooked. Ralph said that when he couldn’t get the drugs legally anymore he started buying them off the street. Eventually things got so bad that I started stealing. I got caught. To try to stay out of prison Ralph agreed to become a drug informant and helped law enforcement build cases. “I made more money as a drug informant than I ever made actually working.”
APR asked: Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has proposed replacing a number of facilities, including Holman, with three new 4,200 capacity super prisons would that help the situation any?
Ralph said, “No, it would not solve anything. As long as you can not stop the drugs and the corrupt guards, nothing is ever going to improve.”
On a positive note, Ralph credits the Alabama Corrections System with turning his life around.
“Prison got me clean. I stopped using drugs when I went to prison.” He also credits getting in the detox program at Jacksonville. Ralph believes that Alabama needs to provide more drug treatment and mental health treatment for its prisoners and also favors sentencing reform.
APR asked Ralph about the situation in Holman.
He said, “Only the most dangerous felons are at Holman…they have nothing to lose.”
Governor Bentley and State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) visited Holman on Tuesday to address the situation where the warden, a guard, and a prisoner had all been stabbed, while the inmates seized control of a dormitory on Monday.
Original reporting by Justin Fenton, Ian Duncan and Kevin Rector with the Baltimore Sun, and Vivian Giang with Business Insider contributed to this report.