An incarcerated man died in August and was buried at a prison facility, according to his daughter, who says she and the rest of her family were never notified until they called the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) this week.
Lisa Burgee said her father, William Vinson, was 83 years old and incarcerated at St. Clair Correctional Facility. William is now buried at Limestone Correctional Facility’s cemetery in a pauper’s grave and Burgee said she nor anyone else in her family was notified of his death. Burgee believes the person(s) in charge of contacting the family did not do their due diligence or try hard enough to contact their family before proceeding with his burial without their consent.
Burgee said the contact number on her father’s file was old and disconnected but that was no excuse for not trying harder to contact her family.
“They didn’t try hard enough,” Burgee, a real estate agent, said. “A quick Google search of my name would bring me up, along with my personal number and my business. They’re plastered on the internet.”
Burgee told APR that during Thanksgiving she was discussing with family that she had not received a letter from her dad in several months and it was about time he usually sent one. Burgee’s sister Lora Vinson looked on ADOC’s inmate search and found he was missing which often indicates an individual has died.
“We were like that was very strange because in 28 years he had always been there,” Burgee said. “But we knew something was wrong, or something was really strange.”
Williams was incarcerated at St. Clair Correctional Facility and Lora called the facility on Nov. 26, a Saturday, and was transferred around 4 times before speaking to someone. Once a staff member answered the phone Lora was told the next of kin who is on the authorized contact list would have been notified regarding William. Lora was not on the authorized list and she was not given any specific information regarding her father but inferred that he was deceased.
Burgee, who is on the authorized list began calling on Sunday and said she was told by a representative “they could not tell me anything”. Burgee said this was shocking because she was on the authorized list and she had called many times before and was given information about William’s status. Burgee continued to call on Monday but received rude responses before she was finally told by a guard to call Montgomery DOC.
Burgee was taken aback at how the staff seemed so annoyed and “inhuman” to her trying to get information about her father who she just found out was likely dead.
“Finally, one of the guards told me to call the Montgomery DOC,” Burgee said. “If I had questions they were not nice, they were not sympathetic. I was just a pain for calling. I can tell. They were like not sympathetic or even concerned, to be honest with you.”
Burgee said she eventually talked to Ms. Steele, a warden secretary at St. Clair, but Steele told Burgee that only a chaplain or warden could answer inquiries about William. Burgee stated Steele appeared sympathetic but after leaving a message for the captain and warden she still waited hours because they were in meetings.
Tired of waiting Burgee called Montgomery DOC and was finally confirmed by a respondent that William was dead. A formerly retired ADOC captain eventually called Burgee and also confirmed her father’s death and blamed the lack of notification on the individual in charge of Constituent Services.
Burgee said she asked the captain how hard they tried to contact her or her family.
“So, they don’t go any further,” Burgee said. “They dialed that one number, that one disconnected phone number from 20 years ago, they closed the file and said there’s no one? And he goes, ‘Yes, that’s what they did.’”
ADOC confirmed to APR that William was buried at Limestone and that staff “repeatedly attempted” to contact the William’s emergency contacts listed.
“It is the inmate’s right and responsibility to complete and update the Emergency Contact Form on file. They are given every opportunity to update this form. The ADOC staff at St. Clair Correctional Facility repeatedly attempted to contact the emergency contacts listed by inmate William Vinson, following his death, without any success.”
Last year, APR reported on a similar story involving a 22-year-old incarcerated man, Cameron Holifield, and his family who were not notified before Holifield was interred at Limestone in pauper’s grave too.
The captain also did not state how specifically William died and Burgee said they still are not sure about her father’s cause of death. The captain also informed her that William’s personal papers were destroyed because her father was deemed to have no relatives in his file.
Burgee said her father had five living children including herself.
“So we don’t have any token of him,” Burgee said. “Just any personal or sentimental thing. They were destroyed.”
Burgee said the entire ordeal was gut-wrenching and her family had the moment to bury her father and receive closure “stolen” from them by ADOC. She said her father had bought a burial site in Carrolton, Georgia, where her family is from, to be buried but now he is unlikely to be moved there. The family is still pursuing an autopsy or death certificate to know how exactly he passed.