Family members, advocates hold State Capitol vigil for people who died in Alabama prisons

By: - March 7, 2023 8:00 pm
Families and friends hold pictures of loved ones who died in prison.

Families and friends stand on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol on March 7, 2023, holding pictures of loved ones who died in prison. (Ralph Chapoco/Alabama Reflector)

Dozens of people gathered at the steps of the Alabama State Capitol on Tuesday to memorialize the hundreds of people who have died in in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The crowd included family members who could tell stories of their loved ones, and advocates for criminal justice reform.

“To keep awake and to keep watch during the period that is typically reserved for sleep, that is why we are here today,” said Lauren Faraino, director of The Woods Foundation, the organization who hosted the event. “We are here to wake up our politicians, and to wake up the citizens of Alabama to the human rights crisis that is happening on their and our watch.”

The program was separated into two parts. During the first half, dozens of people gathered on the steps leading up to the State Capitol, where Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey delivered the State of the State address on Tuesday. 

They faced away from the building, with family members of those who died in prison holding photos of their loved ones. 

Alabama’s prisons have become some of the most dangerous in the nation.   Beth Shelburne, an investigative reporter who tracks prison deaths, estimates that at least 37 inmates died from violence, suicide or suspected drug-related deaths in 2021. 

In many cases, the families were not even made aware of the incident by the ADOC. Instead, they were told about the death of their loved ones on social media sites such as Facebook, or from phone calls from inmates who told them what happened.

“On Tuesday my ex-husband got several phone calls from the warden, but he didn’t answer them,” said Sharon Harris, a Springfield resident whose son, Christopher Fulmer, died on January 31, 2023. “He didn’t know it was the warden. She told him that my son had passed away. He had shown up to the infirmary complaining of pain in his side. He passed in the infirmary.”

Harris and others headed to the prison looking for answers but received none. There were multiple accounts of what happened, she said. An autopsy was done but the results were not released.

“Five different stories,” she said. “The warden’s story was totally different than what the investigator said. An inmate, who was in the same dorm as my son, said that he laid there for two days in pain.”

The violence, driven by overcrowding and difficulties in staffing prisons, has led to a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice. DOC also faces lawsuits over medical and mental health care of prisoners. 

The protestors stood on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol for 5 minutes before walking to the front of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, a block from the Capitol. 

“These are human beings,” said Elaine Burdeshaw, policy associate with Alabama Appleseed, whose staff also participated in the event. “We cannot keep sending other human beings into a war zone essentially, and expect them to come out rehabilitated and better than when we sent them in.” 


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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.