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“He was a human being”: Family hopes son’s death at Holman prison not in vain

Eddie Burkhalter

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Antonio Bell (design by Chip Brownlee/APR)

After a decade behind bars, all that came out of Holman prison was Antonio Bell’s body and a pair of new white Nikes, still wrapped in plastic. 

Before he died on Jan. 9 of a likely drug overdose, 29-year-old Antonio told his family that it’s the guards who most often smuggle drugs inside. The family awaits a toxicology report, but statements to the family by prison staff indicate it was likely an overdose that killed him. 

Bell’s family wants to know how a man being kept in a cell alone could have gotten the drugs that likely killed him, and have for years asked prison officials to look into two incidents in which they say correctional officers assaulted Bell. In one, nine other incarcerated men say they watched as an officer dragged a handcuffed Antonio down a flight of stairs. 

Antonio Bell

Jason Britt, Antonio’s father, said his son made mistakes, but that his 20-year prison sentence on an escape charge “shouldn’t have been his death sentence.” 

Now that he’s gone, his family continues to ask questions about how it happened, and hope that his death and the attention brought to it might help others still inside. 

For Bell, though, he’s still angry about a system that failed to keep his son alive long enough for him to serve his time, and a system so broken that even getting his son’s body was an ordeal. 

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When the family was notified of Antonio’s death, Britt said he was told someone would call him the next day to walk him through the process of getting Antonio’s body and belongings, but that no one called. Britt said he called the prison later the next afternoon, a Thursday, and was told his body had been sent for an autopsy. 

“So I was waiting on them to call me back to say his body is ready to we can make arrangements to get him home, but no one called,”   Britt said. 

He called the prison again on Monday and was told that his son’s body had been ready since Friday evening. 

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“That’s very frustrating. Where are your processes?” Britt said. “An inmate is still a human person.” 

Britt retired from the U.S. Army after 20 years of service. He’d been in Antonio’s life since 1992, when his son was just a year old. 

“He was outgoing even as a little bit baby. Full of energy and spirit,” Britt said. 

When he was little, Antonio had a speech impediment and couldn’t pronounce words with “TR” well, Britt said. 

“He was afraid of big trucks. When he’d see one he’d say ‘big ruck! big ruck!’” Britt said with a laugh. Speech therapy helped. 

“Once they cleared that up he was a talker. From five or six years old he could hold a conversation with the oldest, most intelligent adult,” Britt said. 

Antonio loved football. He was a middle linebacker, and big. At 6 foot and 190 pounds as a freshman, his high school coach asked him to play with the varsity squad. 

Antonio traveled with the family from Britt’s first assignment at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, to Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia, then to Fort Carson in Colorado and on to the Atlanta area. 

Antonio was an avid reader. Before the family moved to a new city, he’d read up on the place and tell the family what they’d need to see, where they could go, his father said. 

In 2003, Antonio went to live with his grandmother, Elizabeth Wynn, in Tallahassee while her son was deployed to Iraq on one of several overseas tours.  

Wynn said her grandson would travel with her for her job with the Florida Department of Children and Families. That summer, the two traveled to Jacksonville, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale together. 

“He was just thrilled. He would help at the reception desk at the meetings,” Wynn said. “He will be there with the person handing out the name tags and talking to people, getting to know people. He just enjoyed that.” 

She’s since moved to Atlanta, and said former coworkers and church members still ask about Antonio, and remember the bright, confident, curious young man whom they met in 2003. 

As he got older, Antonio began getting into trouble. Minor things, his father said, but in 2009, it got worse. 

On July 4, 2009, Antonio was speeding while driving through Abbeville in Henry County, headed to visit family in Florida. The car was stolen, Bell said, although police later determined that Antonio wasn’t the person who stole it. He was arrested, taken to the Henry County jail and later charged with speeding, eluding, possessing a firearm and receiving stolen property, according to court records. 

“So my wife and I thought, and this is the hard part to talk about, we decided that it would be best not to bail him out. Maybe it’ll teach him a lesson,” Britt said. 

Seventeen days after being arrested, Antonio hit a sheriff’s deputy in the county jail and tried to escape, according to court records. He tried to escape again in November using a makeshift key to try and remove handcuffs while at a court hearing, according to those records. In August 2010, Antonio pleaded guilty to the escape charge and was sentenced to 20 years, according to court records. 

Antonio spent about a year in the Limestone Correctional Facility, spent time at the William E. Donaldson prison and at St. Clair prison in Springville, before being transferred to the notoriously violent Holman prison. 

“We would talk to him and he’d say ‘Daddy. I can’t even begin to explain to you how it is here. The stuff that we see on TV. That’s not real, Dad. You’ve got to be ready at all times. Everybody has weapons,’” Britt said. Antonio also worried that there weren’t enough correctional officers to keep peace, and told his father that understaffing was increasing the dangers for everyone. 

Antonio’s concerns were mirrored in an April 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Justice detailing the agency’s lengthy investigation of state’s prisons for men, which showed the state was failing to protect men from rampant sexual assaults, violence and homicides. Federal investigators noted understaffing and an inability to keep contraband out of prisons. 

Alabama’s prisons are full of dangerous drugs, the U.S. Justice Department found, which noted in the report that “ADOC prisoners are dying of drug overdoses and being subjected to severe violence related to the drug trade in Alabama’s prisons.”

Synthetic cannabinoids, known as synthetic marijuana or “flakka”, was prevalent in prisons, investigators found. Between December 2016, and August 2018, the federal agency found that 22 incarcerated men died of synthetic cannabinoid overdoses, and in the first half of 2018, when the ADOC stopped producing documents for the Justice Department, at least 10 men died from the drug. 

An ADOC Intelligence and Investigation Division investigators told federal authorities that “without a doubt” the largest way drugs were entering prisons was by staff smuggling them in. Correctional officers weren’t being searched upon entry into prisons, the report found, and ADOC policies weren’t able to control the problem. 

Drug use at Holman prison was out of control, federal investigators found. 

“Two shift commanders of death row and segregation at Holman estimated that 50- 60 percent of their prisoners were using drugs. One shift commander over general population at Holman estimated that 95 percent of that facility’s prisoners were using drugs,” the report reads. 

During a joint state House and Senate budget hearing on Jan. 23, Dunn was asked by a legislator how contraband was getting into the prison, Dunn said that it was coming in in a variety of ways. 

“Some of it is thrown over the fence; We have challenges in the visitation area; and there is an aspect where we have staff that are engaged in criminal activity by bringing in contraband,” Dunn said. 

Dunn said during the hearing that over 70 correctional officers have either been arrested or dismissed for bringing in contraband in the previous three years.

“We do routine searches in our parking lot and our staff as they come in and out of the facility,” Dunn said during the hearing. “We have increased that.”

Asked how many correctional officers had been arrested for crimes related to contraband between 2017 and 2019, ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Banks wrote in a response to APR on Feb. 20 that 15 correctional officers had been arrested during those years on charges related to contraband. 

“We aggressively will investigate all allegations of corruption, including contraband trafficking, as soon as we are made aware. We hold each member of our staff to the highest standards of law enforcement. Any ADOC employee who commits a violation will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Banks wrote. 

Asked for clarification on Dunn’s statement to legislators that 70 correctional officers had been arrested or dismissed during those years for contraband, Banks on Monday told APR that Dunn’s figure included correctional officers and prison staff arrested for any crime, not just for contraband. 

Banks said Monday she was uncertain how many of the 70 may have been fired but not charged with crimes related to contraband, and that ADOC staff would have to research the matter more.

Antonio had hoped that he could get out of the violent prisons on parole, and in a letter he wrote to Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Board members in June 2016, just 17 days before his case was to go before the three-member board, Antonio pleaded for them to look beyond what his paper record might show. 

“In these twenty-five and a half years of my life, I’ve learned that just because a person has eyes doesn’t necessarily mean they can see,” Antonio wrote in the letter. “…I think you all should be provided a closer look into the minds of Alabama State Prisoners and the environment they are subjected to; because it isn’t just for the sake of the people like me or our families, it’s for the sake of the betterment of society as a whole.” 

“Young men are coming to prison and are leaving in worse shape than they came. That really saddens me. The Alabama Department of Corrections needs changing and I’m dedicated to helping it,” he wrote. 

Antonio’s words likely never made it to Parole Board members. Days before his hearing, he got into a fight with another inmate and his parole hearing was canceled, Britt said. He did get a parole hearing in 2017, but was denied. 

Britt said he was scheduled for another possible parole hearing in September of this year, and that “we thought he had a good chance.” He was being kept in segregation, he said, so there was less chance of him being caught up in a fight, but it wasn’t to be. 

The Britts received a call at home from another incarcerated man in May 2014, who said that they needed to come check on Antonio. 

Soon after, the Britts were allowed to visit him in prison, but were told only one of them could do so, so Britt said his wife, Terrell LaRita Britt, entered to see that Antonio’s head was bruised and bandaged. He had cuts to his face and told his Mother that correctional officers had beaten him, Britt said. 

The family asked prison officials and investigators with the ADOC’s Investigations and Intelligence Division to look into the matter, Britt said, but never received a response. 

Three years later, on March 8, 2017, Britt said Antonio was again assaulted by correctional officers at the Donaldson Correctional Facility. 

A disciplinary report signed by correctional officer Zackery McLemore on March 9, 2017, states that the day before Antonio was ordered to “lock down inside your assigned cell” and failed to do so. He was charged with failing to obey a direct order, according to the document. 

Statements signed by nine other inmates and given to APR by the family describe the incident in detail. Those inmates say they witnessed Antonio trying to “lock down” in his cell but that he was called outside the cell by a correctional officer, who pepper sprayed Antonio, handcuffed him and hit him along with other officers before one officer dragged him down a flight of stairs while in handcuffs. 

“He was helpless, and didn’t do anything to be beaten in that manner,” wrote one of the incarcerated men. “To restrain a person is an orderly procedure, but to beat a person is brutality, and from what I witnessed (on March 8, 2017) was police on inmate brutality.” 

Another incarcerated man wrote that a female correctional officer working in a cubical came out once Antonio was handcuffed “ran up the stairs and kicked inmate Bell in the face three times” while two other male officers punched him repeatedly. He wrote that another correctional officer “grabbed inmate Bell around his neck (while handcuffed behind his back) and drug him down the flight of stairs. After being drug out of my sight I then heard inmate Bell screaming in agony.” 

APR is not naming the other incarcerated men who signed statements to prevent any possibility of retribution against them. Antonio considered, but never filed, a lawsuit in the matter.

Britt said he again contacted ADOC’s Investigations and Intelligence Division and asked that they look into the incident, but that he never got an answer.

His parents bought him the pair of white Nikes on Nov. 27, 2018, through the prison purchasing system, but soon after, they stopped hearing from him. 

In early 2019, after being kept in segregation for many months,  Antonio stopped responding to letters and wouldn’t take calls. 

Wynn said she kept writing to her grandson regardless, but he wouldn’t respond. 

“I would say, ‘even if it’s not a letter, just something on a piece of paper in your hand writing,’ I just need to know, you know?” Wynn said. “I always would tell him, ‘you know I got money on your books. You can call me. Call collect.’ I don’t know what happened.” 

She kept all of his old letters, and in one, written while he was at the Limestone prison, Antonio wrote about all the classes he was able to take there and that he was told he was going to be sent back to Holman prison where he’d previously been, and was worried about it, Wynn said. She encouraged him to try and stay at Limestone for as long as he could. 

“After he got back down there he did write me this letter. He said, Grandma. You were right. I should have stayed at Limestone as long as they would let me, because Holman…was not like it was then, so that gave me a clue that it is terrible.” 

In a letter to his grandmother on Nov. 30, 2015, Antonio wrote to thank her for a birthday card he’d gotten with a special note from her, which he said had “been read several times.” 

“Lately, I’ve been keeping a journal mainly for the purpose of understanding my thoughts & feelings,” Antonio wrote. “I’ve been incarcerated since 7-4-09 and I’ve yet to accept that. I constantly frustrate myself because my mind is everywhere but here.” 

“I can’t continue to put myself through this Grandma, so I’ve decided to let go. Dying before I get the chance to do everything I want to do in life has always been one of my fears,” Antonio  wrote.”But I’ve learned the painful lesson that I’m probably not going to do a third of what I want to do.”  

On Oct. 3, 2019, the Britts wrote a letter to Holman prison warden Cynthia Stewert, Gov. Kay Ivey, ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn and to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division expressing concern that despite their attempts since August to reach their son, or someone at the prison who could put their minds at ease, they’d received no return calls to verify that he was alive and well. 

“Please respond to us via letter and/or telephone call regarding Mr. Bell’s welfare and let us know for certain that he is not in any way incapacitated such that he cannot respond to our letters nor place collect telephone calls,” the Britts wrote. “We just need to know that he is alive and well! Again, we are gravely concerned that something has happened to Mr. Bell and we, his family, has not been notified.” 

Not long after sending the letter Antonio’s mother received a call from prison staff who said that Antonio was on the line as well. 

“Ma, I love you to death. You hear me ma? I love you to death,” Antonio told his mother, adding that he wasn’t a “dope fiend.” 

Britt said that after his death prison staff told the family that Antonio had given all his belongings away, except for the shoes. 

He’d had many books the family sent him over the years, Wynn said, and they knew he kept a journal. Surely he’d have given away the shoes as well, she wonders. 

The family can’t be certain, however, that Antonio, who was being kept in segregation, received the shoes from prison staff before he died. 

“He was a human being. He was not just one of those numbers, and I think that’s how people see it,” Wynn said. “Put all of the prisoners in the same boat, you know. They deserve it.” 

Wynn said her grandson was a young man when he entered Alabama’s prisons, and that the years went by “in an environment that was not rehabilitative. Just warehousing people.” 

“We are hurt. Devastated,” she said.

The family asks that those who wish to do so donate in Antonio’s name to the Montgomery nonprofit legal advocacy organization Equal Justice Initiative by visiting here.

 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Governor establishes Prison Repurposing Commission

Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn have said that as many as 11 of the state’s 13 existing men’s prisons could close.

Eddie Burkhalter

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St. Clair Correctional Facility near Springville, Alabama (VIA GOOGLE)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed an executive order establishing the commission that will be tasked with deciding what to do with the state’s existing men’s prisons, once three new prisons are constructed, at a cost that’s been estimated to be more than $2 billion. 

According to the order, the 15-member Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission will have until Sept. 1, 2023, “or 90 days after the Commissioner certifies to the Commission that construction on the final prison is complete” to submit a report detailing their recommendations for the state’s prisons. 

Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn have said that as many as 11 of the state’s 13 existing men’s prisons could close. Ivey’s order Tuesday states that the commission is to determine which prisons could be renovated and used as prisons, which could be renovated for other purposes for ADOC and “which should be repurposed to serve a new function, whether by another public entity or the private sector.” 

“The Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission will provide recommendations based on in-depth facility analysis considering both the impact on the state and local community as well the financial ramifications to potentially repurpose or decommission some of our current prison infrastructures,” Ivey said in a statement. 

“As our Alabama Prison Program moves forward in building three new prisons to provide additional safety for correctional staff and inmates, we will simultaneously need to smartly and safely repurpose or decommission these outdated, aging prisons, many of which were never designed or constructed to be correctional facilities for their current use or capacity,” Ivey continued. “I’m confident this commission, which is comprised of a broad, experienced and diverse group of individuals who represent all regions of our state, will accomplish its mission effectively on behalf of the people of Alabama. This process will allow both public officials as well as members of the general public to have a meaningful voice in the future of our existing prison infrastructure.”

Ivey’s order states that the commission should hold at least one public meeting “in a local community near each existing male prison” but that “other meetings of the Commission shall be open to the extent practicable but shall, in all events, be closed to the extent necessary to protect information related to the Department’s ongoing or anticipated security operations and other confidential information.”

Ivey on Sept. 3 announced the two developer teams that are to build the state’s three new mega prisons, and said those prisons are to be located in Bibb, Elmore County and Escambia counties.

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The private prison company CoreCivic is to build and lease back to the state two of the three prisons, according to Ivey’s office; one in Elmore County, where several locations are under review, and the other to be located near Bell Fork Road in Escambia County.

The prison to be located near AL-139 and County Road CR-2 in Bibb County is to be built by a group called Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, made up of Star America, BL Harbert International, Butler-Cohen, Arrington Watkins Architects and Johnson Controls Inc.

ADOC has said the department won’t release financial details of the more than $2 billion prison build-lease plan with the private companies until after the deals are signed. Once those leases have run their course, the state won’t own the three prisons, Dunn told state legislators in June. 

The Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission members include:

  • Neal Wade (Chair) is the former director of the Alabama Development Office, the precursor to the Alabama Department of Commerce, and currently serves as the Managing Partner of Advanced Economic Development Leadership for the National Economic Development Education Program.
  • Sen. Greg Albritton is Chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee and was elected to represent District 22 in the Alabama Senate, which includes Baldwin, Clarke, Escambia, Monroe, and Washington counties. Senator Albritton previously served in the House of Representatives and is a retired Commander in the U.S. Navy.  He is an attorney and a graduate of the Thomas B. Goode Jones School of Law.
  • Ben Baxley currently serves as Chief of the Opinions Division in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. He previously served as the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division in the office of the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. After graduating from the University of Alabama School of Law, Baxley began his legal career with the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office and worked as Chief Deputy District Attorney for Dekalb and Cherokee counties.
  • Ted Clem is the Director of Business Development for the Alabama Department of Commerce.Clem joined Commerce in February 2014 as a senior project manager and played a key role in two projects in Opelika that involved $340 million in capital investment and nearly 400 new jobs. Clem began his career in Evergreen, as the first Executive Director of the Conecuh County Economic Development Authority. He later served with the Covington County Economic Development Commission before moving on to a business development post at the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, followed by a stint the Bay County Economic Development Alliance in Panama City. Clem holds the Certified Economic Developer certification and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Troy University, and received a Master’s degree in Economic Development from the University of Southern Mississippi.
  • Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison was elected to represent District 20 of the Alabama Senate, which includes Jefferson County. She previously served one term in the Alabama House of Representatives and three terms on the Birmingham City Council. She recently retired from the City of Birmingham as the Americans with Disabilities Compliance Administrator. Sen. Coleman-Madison received her Bachelor of Science degree from Alabama A&M University, and her Master of Arts degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  She serves as the Ranking Minority Member of both the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund and Governmental Affairs Committees.
  • Harold Crouch is currently the mayor of Chatom where he has served for 24 years. He was previously on the City Council for two terms. He has also taught government, history, and economics.
  • Darius Foster is the CEO & Co-Founder of H2T Digital. He received a BS in Business Administration from Miles College and a GC in Business Strategies for Social Impact from The Wharton School. He is a current member of the Board of Directors for the Business Council of Alabama as well as a former Commissioner of the Alabama Commission of Higher Education.
  • Annette Funderburk is the President of Ingram State Technical College which serves a 100 percent incarcerated adult population that delivers career technical, GED and job skills training at six locations across Alabama. She previously served nearly 10 years within the Alabama Community College System where her most recent role was Director of External Affairs. Before working within the two-year college System, Funderburk served in several roles related to local government including a Municipal Consultant, responsible for securing grant funds for infrastructure and development projects, as well as a County Administrator for the Tallapoosa County Commission. Funderburk has a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Montevallo and a Master’s in Public Administration from Troy University.
  • Rep. Kelvin Lawrence was elected to represent District 69 of the Alabama House of Representatives which includes Autauga, Lowndes, Montgomery and Wilcox counties. He previously served as the Mayor of Hayneville and worked as a home builder as well as owning several Subway sandwich shop franchises.  He serves on the Ways and Means General Fund and State Government Committees in the House of Representatives.
  • Merceria Ludgood currently serves as a Mobile County Commissioner, District One, attorney and civic leader. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alabama, followed by a Master of Arts degree. She earned her law degree from the Antioch School of Law An avid supporter of higher education, Ludgood also earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Alabama Interdenominational Seminary in 1990.Ludgood is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including being selected for Leadership Mobile, Leadership Alabama and the prestigious Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship. The commissioner has distinguished herself as a member of the inaugural class of “Herstory of Mobile,” a Museum of Mobile project recognizing the outstanding contributions of women to the social, economic and cultural heritage of the Gulf Coast region.
  • Walter Givhan, Maj. Gen., USAF (Retired) currently serves as Senior Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Economic Development at Troy University. He is also the Commander of the Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education and Vice Commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base. The center is responsible for the research, development, and production of Air Force doctrine and input for joint and multinational doctrine development activities. The center is also responsible for advocating the proper doctrinal representation of airpower in exercise scenarios, war games, models and simulations, and providing policy and guidance of Air Force doctrine through education and focused outreach. Air University is responsible for Air Force enlisted and officer professional military education, professional continuing education and graduate education, as well as officer commissioning through Officer Training School and the Reserve Officer Training Corps. General Givhan, a native of Safford, Ala., graduated from Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala., and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was a National Merit Scholar. 
  • Allen G. Peck, Lt. Gen., USAF (Retired) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Airpower and General George Kenney Chair at the United States Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). In addition to instructing the Airpower Studies courses, Peck has taught the Joint Warfighting and Leadership Development core curriculum courses at ACSC. He also serves as co-facilitator for the joint Air War College/ Air Command and Staff College Airpower Vistas Research Task Force joint elective. Peck served for 36 years on active duty in the USAF, flying the air-to-air and air-to-surface variants of the F-15. He was a key planner for NATO’s Kosovo operation, and later served as Deputy Combined Force Air Component Commander at Al Udeid Airbase, Qatar. Peck holds an MS in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology, an MA in International Relations from Salve Regina University, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
  • Rep. Connie Rowe is the Vice Chair of the Majority Caucus in the House of Representatives.  She also serves as Vice Chair of both the Rules Committee and Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Representative Rowe was elected to represent District 13 of the Alabama House of Representatives, which includes Blount and Walker counties. She previously served as Police Chief for the City of Jasper as well as a criminal investigator for the Walker County District Attorney’s Office.
  • Kyes Stevens is the Founder and Director of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project at Auburn University.  Starting in 2001, she has worked to design and build an innovative and sustainable outreach program that works with the underserved adult prison population in Alabama. Stevens oversees all aspects of APAEP programming. She has served as a grants reviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Alabama State Council on the Arts, was an inaugural member of an emerging arts administrators organization in Alabama, and works in advisory capacities nationally for individuals and programs seeking to develop arts and education programming within prisons. She is the fourth generation of her family to work in Outreach at Auburn University and was awarded an Auburn University Young Alumni Award for her efforts building APAEP. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Lillian E. Smith Writer in Service Award and continues to publish poems.
  • Willie Williams, Lt. Gen., USMC (Retired) is a senior consultant and Owner/President of Williams Consulting, LLC based in Huntsville assisting the Department of Defense-supporting contractors and industries in strategic business development. Williams previously served as the Chief of the Marine Corps Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, where he was responsible for day-to-day operations at headquarters, coordinating decision-making association activities across internal and external staffs of, in addition to the Marin Corps, principal assistant and adviser to the Commandant and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps as they led and managed its 200,000 members, and their military readiness effectiveness. Willie was commissioned into the officer ranks after earning his Bachelor of Arts (Cum Laude) in Business Administration from Stillman College. He also holds a MBA from National University and a MS in Strategic Resources Management from Industrial College of the Armed Forces at National Defense University.
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Thieves targeting food stamp recipients via text messages

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Human Resources on Wednesday warned the public that thieves are targeting people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit cards, commonly known as food stamps, through text messages. 

The text messages typically request personal information, including Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and SNAP electronic benefits transfer card or PIN numbers, the department said in a press release.

Some text messages also falsely claim people have been selected to receive food stamps.

“Identity thieves are using new tricks in hopes of catching SNAP recipients off guard during this time of heightened uncertainty,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner in a statement. “It is so important to take the precautions necessary to protect your identity, along with the integrity of this vital program. Following these simple but effective tips can greatly reduce your risk of harm.”

DHR recommends these tips to protect against the scam:

  • Never provide personal information to an unfamiliar person or organization.
  • If a text message seems like a scam, delete it. Do not reply. 
  • Do not click on any links in an unexpected text message.
  • Beware that scammers often pressure victims to “act now!”
  • If an offer or claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do not trust caller ID. Scammers can use “spoofing” technology to disguise their phone numbers.

SNAP recipients who are unsure if a request for information is legitimate should contact their local DHR office at a verified phone number. Contact information is available here.

The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama. More information about the program can be found here.

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John Paul Dejnozka, the “Southwest Molester,” dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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John Paul Dejnozka, 76, died on Sept. 9. (VIA ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS)

John Paul Dejnozka, 76, died on Sept. 9 after testing positive for COVID-19, becoming the 21st Alabama inmate to have died after being confirmed to have the disease.

Dejnozka, who was dubbed the “Southwest Molester,” was convicted in 1980 in connection with the assault of at least 18 women in their homes, attacking, torturing and raping some of them, according to news accounts. He was sentenced to 830 years on convictions of two counts of rape, two counts of assault with intent to maim, one count of burglary and assault with intent to ravish, 11 counts of first-degree burglary and one count of second-degree burglary.

Dejnozka, who was serving at the Holman Correctional Facility, was tested for COVID-19 after exhibiting symptoms of the disease, according to a press release from the Alabama Department of Corrections. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment, where he remained until his death.

ADOC also announced that six other inmates at Holman prison and one at Ventress Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19. In total, 393 Alabama inmates have tested positive for coronavirus, of which 45 remain active, according to ADOC. As of Sept. 6 the state had tested 1,886 of Alabama’s approximately 22,000 inmates for COVID-19.

There have been 372 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Alabama prison workers, while 340 have since recovered, according to the department. Two workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women died after testing positive for the disease.

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Governor announces grant to aid domestic violence victims amid COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced approval of a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help domestic violence victims access help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence is using the funds to provide direct services and support during COVID-19 for victims of family, domestic and dating violence, Ivey’s office said in a press release.

“The global pandemic has made many aspects of our lives more challenging, including the ability to seek help due to domestic violence,” Ivey said in a statement. “I commend the work of the staff at the coalition who are working every day to help those in need during the additional challenges posed by COVID-19.”

The coalition supports shelters throughout Alabama and operates regional 24-hour crisis telephone lines for victims needing information or seeking to escape violent situations. It also provides training and technical assistance for police and others who encounter domestic violence situations and helps develop public policy to reduce domestic violence and ensure victims receive proper services.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available as part of the CARES Act.

“ADECA stands with Gov. Ivey in support of the coalition and other likeminded organizations as they work throughout the state to provide vital help to domestic violence victims,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said in a statement. “The partnership between ADECA and the coalition helps ensure that this level of assistance will continue to be available throughout the state even during a pandemic.”

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