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Alabama Appleseed featured in NFL spot

Alabama Appleseed was successful in freeing Ronald McKeithen after serving 37 years of a life sentence.

Carla Crowder of Alabama Appleseed.

A Montgomery nonprofit that works to address systemic inequalities in the state’s criminal justice system is highlighted in a new NFL commercial. Carla Crowder, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice’s executive director, is featured in the spot, which begins airing this week. Alabama Appleseed in May was once again awarded a grant from the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative

“We engage in litigation and public policy campaigns to confront the bad laws that have driven high incarceration rates in this state,” Crowder says in the segment. 

Alabama Appleseed was selected as one of nine organizations to receive a portion of the more than $160 million in grants the NFL has awarded to dozens of nonprofits nationwide since 2018. The Alabama nonprofit first received an NFL grant in January 2020 after a coalition of players suggested Alabama Appleseed be selected. 

With the help of the nonprofit’s first grant from the NFL, the group filed its first post-conviction petition on behalf of Ronald McKeithen, who the nonprofit was successful in freeing from incarceration in March after serving 37 years following a 1984 conviction on first-degree robbery, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under the state’s Habitual Felony Offender Act.

McKeithen was also featured in the NFL spot. 

“It just overwhelms me. The possibilities I’m realizing, that I didn’t think possible when I was in prison when it comes to my potentials,” McKeithen said. 

Buffalo Bills’ tackle Dion Dawkins, who has a brother in prison and a brother who works as a prison guard, is also in the commercial. 

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“From seeing both side of the fence, and what inmates and people that go through the system go through, it’s a struggle,” Dawkins said.

“I cannot overstate how surprised and honored we were to be selected for this opportunity. The last thing I expected at Appleseed, where we love to talk about evidence-based policies and data-driven research, was to appear in a video with an NFL lineman,” Crowder said in a message to APR on Tuesday. “And the finished product is just incredible. It really weaves together the urgency of the NFL’s work on criminal justice reform with Appleseed’s efforts to raise awareness about the unfair and oppressive treatment of older people sentenced to death-in prison sentences under Alabama habitual offender act.” 

“We also see so much hope and insight from Ronald McKeithen, the real star of this video. It’s incredible to think he had only been out of prison 3 months when this video was made,” Crowder continued. 

Crowder said just as the video was released she walked into her office to see the nonprofit’s staff attorney Alex LaGanke working with a 69-year-old client just released from prison who already has a job offer at a local church.

“We’re trying to convince him to slow down and secure his identification, but he’s ready to contribute to our community. Without NFL support, this man would have never gotten out of prison,” Crowder said. 

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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