Unheard Voices calls for Alabama Corrections Commissioner Dunn to meet with prisoners

This photo of a crowded dorm at Staten Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama, illustrates a November 2019 story in the Nation magazine headlined “If Prison Conditions Don’t Improve, ‘It Will Be Our Blood Running Through the Water’” and sub-headlined “Meet Swift Justice, the incarcerated organizer fighting to transform Alabama’s prisons.” – Photo: Kim Chandler, AP

Meeting requested between commissioner and incarcerated individuals alleging patterns of retaliation for speaking out

by Nikki Davenport, Free Alabama Movement (FAM) Queen Team and Unheard Voices of the Concrete Jungle (OTCJ), and Mona Song, Unheard Voices OTCJ

Montgomery, Alabama – Nonprofit organization Unheard Voices of the Concrete Jungle (Unheard Voices OTCJ) has issued a memorandum to the public, press and Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Commissioner Jefferson Dunn requesting a meeting take place between the commissioner and two incarcerated individuals with their counsel.

This meeting would focus on the ongoing pattern of retaliation against those who are incarcerated and peacefully working to expose the corruption within the ADOC. By initiating this request, Unheard Voices OTCJ also joins the call made by Alabamians for Fair Justice in their press release of Jan. 29, 2020, to require that the commissioner include the voices of those currently incarcerated in any task force on ADOC accountability.

The memo details a pattern of intimidation, threats and retaliatory actions issued from all echelons of the ADOC, including the ordering of continuous transfers, trumped up disciplinaries, the use of solitary confinement, the fabricated listing and validation of “enemies,” and the planting of false rumors among inmates in order to provoke physical and potentially fatal altercations.

Summarizing the actions of the ADOC in regards to two incarcerated individuals, the memo argues that “the ADOC and Commissioner Dunn and his administration … have demonstrated that they are intent on silencing the voices of those exposing conditions and advocating for common sense solutions instead of working with them to end the violence and corruption within the ADOC.”

The organization makes it clear that absent any response or action to this request, they will call on the public, including those allied organizations advocating for accountability for the abuses within the ADOC and to come together to demand the removal of Commissioner Dunn, his deputy and associate commissioners, and Cheryl Price.

Unheard Voices OTCJ states: “Should our request be ignored or denied, our demand for these removals from office remains the only action available to provide immediate relief from the months, and years, of retaliation endured not only by these two individuals, but by countless others who have spoken truth in the face of ongoing unconstitutional conditions inside Alabama prisons. They have made sacrifices that those of us who have never been incarcerated cannot truly understand – all in order to seek accountability, to end prison slavery, and to stop the construction of new prisons that will take from us our children and grandchildren.”

Memorandum regarding pattern of ADOC retaliation against Inside Voices

Individuals within the confines of the Alabama Department of Corrections for years have been peacefully pushing to expose the deep-rooted corruption that remains ongoing, including those practices that have been either ignored by or kept hidden from the broader, tax-paying public.

Among those individuals are nationally recognized figures Kinetik Justice Amun and Swift Justice, known not only for their efforts within the prisons of Alabama but also their support and leadership in the organizing of national protest in prisons across the country to end legalized slavery under the multibillion-dollar industry called the prison industrial complex.

However, the actions taken by those inside to expose the truth are not without a price – despite the fact that they are fighting to change conditions peacefully and with the goal of making society and our communities safer upon the return of its incarcerated citizens.

While these brave individuals within Alabama prisons have consistently stood true to their commitment to educate and protest in a way that is protected by the US Constitution, the ADOC has continuously and deliberately chosen to retaliate against them. This retaliation takes many forms, including those listed below:

  • The creation of false disciplinary actions and inevitable guilty verdicts executed behind closed doors in internal kangaroo disciplinary hearings;
  • Threats and acts of violence by officers;
  • Long term solitary confinement;
  • Continuous transfers from facility to facility;
  • The intimidation by officers within ADOC and ADOC’s I & I Division (Investigations and Intelligence Division) against family members and supporters; and
  • The planting of dangerous rumors by ADOC officers among the ranks of inmates and other officers that those speaking are actually undercover I & I.

The following sections demonstrate a timeline of retaliatory actions against two incarcerated individuals, Robert Earl Council and Kenneth Traywick, in the months following the release of the Department of Justice report finding unconstitutional conditions within Alabama prisons. These two individuals and Unheard Voices OTCJ assert that the ADOC and Commissioner Dunn and his administration (deputy and assistant commissioners and Cheryl Price) have demonstrated that they are intent on silencing the voices of those exposing conditions and advocating for common sense solutions instead of working with them to end the violence and corruption within the ADOC.

Robert Earl Council

Robert Earl Council, aka Kinetik Justice, is known within Alabama, the ADOC, and nationally, as the co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement, which promotes non-violent protests and work stoppages and educates fellow incarcerated individuals about the political situation of prisoners and modern-day slavery in the form of the prison industrial complex.

Because of his public position and leadership on these issues, the ADOC has targeted Council for the peaceful and nonviolent 2014 work stoppages at Alabama prisons. Council endured five consecutive years of solitary confinement. Following those years, Council has been retaliated against through the form of continuous transfers, bogus disciplinaries leading to more time in segregation, and isolation from being able to communicate with his family and loved ones.

Kinetic is co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement, which promotes non-violent protests and work stoppages and educates fellow incarcerated individuals about the political situation of prisoners and modern-day slavery in the form of the prison industrial complex.

Council, however, has refused to stay silent in the face of this insidious pattern of retaliation against him. In April and May of 2019, Council, along with another incarcerated individual named Kenneth Traywick, worked to expose the ongoing use of an illegal practice called the “bucket detail” at Limestone Correctional Facility [articles here and here].

By educating other incarcerated individuals on their rights and encouraging them to come forward to the press, particularly in the wake of the Department of Justice report issued April 2, 2019, Council and Traywick exposed and halted the use of the bucket detail practice. This also resulted in the exposure of the corrupt practices of Capt. Robinson – including extortion and orchestrating an illegal gambling ring – who the ADOC pushed into retirement, as well as the removal of Warden Estes.

Supporters of the Free Alabama Movement and organizers with Unheard Voices OTCJ believe that the retaliation against Council in the months following the bucket detail exposure and to this day are related not only to the legal work and advocacy he consistently engages in, detailed below, but also inevitably connected to the removal of Robinson and Estes as a form of “payback.”

Inspired by the courage of Robert Earl Council, aka Kinetic Justice, eight other Alabama prisoners declared a hunger strike in March 2019 when they were transferred from Clair Prison to Holman and placed in solitary confinement without being given any reason for the punishment, having committed no infractions. They are Tyree Cochran, Mario Avila, Marcus Lee, Kotoni Tellis, Antonio Jackson, Corey Curroughs, Earl Manassa and Earl Taylor. – Photo: Alabama Department of Corrections

In May of 2019, Council filed a complaint on the illegal use of C Dorm as solitary confinement. Inmates housed in C Dorm were neither on restriction nor did they have closed custody status, yet they were confined to their cells 24 hours a day with no 45-minute walk and no access to a phone.

In June, 2019, Council assisted another inmate in filing a complaint on Lt. Bright for his practice of throwing away the paperwork and legal documents of incoming inmates for arbitrary reasons (liquid stains, rips, tears) without making copies or offering solutions. In this instance, the inmate filing the complaint ultimately had taken from him the legal documents needed to prepare for an upcoming appeal, resulting in a violation of his constitutional rights to due process.

In July, Council assisted another inmate, Travis Griggs, AIS 212909, in filing a lawsuit against Sgt. Pelzer. Griggs was in solitary confinement and handcuffed while Pelzer assaulted him, causing bodily harm. The assault was verified by another CO who was present and came forward at a later time. Sgt. Pelzer indicated on the incident report that Griggs attempted to reach for his pepper spray in an attempt to justify the assault.

In October, Council communicated with the media and reported to the I & I Division of the ADOC that Capt. McKenzie and Sgt. Pelzer were involved in an illegal gambling ring and extortion at Limestone Correctional Facility.

On Oct. 29, Council was placed in solitary confinement following a search of his cell allegedly uncovering drugs. Council’s supporters point out that it was Officer Justin Brewer who allegedly found drugs in his cell.

During a conversation on Nov. 23, 2019, between Council and the second officer involved in the Oct. 29 “shakedown,” CO Brandon Cotram, Cotram stated that he did not see any drugs himself during the shakedown. Just over a month later, on Dec. 30, 2019, Cotram would communicate to Council that he was never questioned by the captains or wardens about the incident.

Council’s family, friends and supporters immediately uplifted the fact to the public that he has no history of drug use or possession throughout the 25 years he has been incarcerated. Instead, he has a reputation among prisoners and staff for being a positive influence and is often called on by officers to resolve conflicts between other prisoners.

Following his placement in solitary, Council went on a hunger strike from Oct. 30 to Nov. 12, 2019, naming the threatening and unlawful actions taken against him as well as his friend and supporter outside of the prison, Nikki Davenport. Days before, Ms. Davenport received word of threats made against her safety and the safety of her children by the aforementioned Sgt. Jeremy Pelzer.

A sworn affidavit written by an inmate at Limestone Correctional reads that Sgt. Pelzer stated directly to him that he was prepared to retaliate against Robert Earl Council because he knew Council was working on something that could jeopardize his job. Pelzer threatened that Council would “regret it” and went on to tell the inmate about his brother being a “drug dealer” and that he himself had a reputation on the streets for “violence” and further indicated the retaliation would be in the form of involving Ms. Davenport “because he knew where she lived and knew she had kids.”

On Nov. 7, Council served a 208 Complaint upon the wardens at Limestone calling into question their preliminary investigation into specific details of corruption and retaliation efforts by Sgt. Jeremy Pelzer and Officer Justin Brewer, both of whom were acting under the direction from Capts. Stephen Langford and Denise McKenzie.

On Nov. 12, 2019, Council came off of the hunger strike following a conversation with Wardens Deborah Toney and Scarlett Robinson, both of whom confirmed that the 208 Complaint had been received and would be investigated. A letter from Council’s attorney, David Gespass, dated Nov. 8, was also sent to Gary Willford, the assistant attorney general for ADOC Legal Division, detailing the sequence of events and evidence of retaliation against Council and Ms. Davenport.

Council, his attorney and his supporters expressed grave concern over Council’s welfare in segregation and the failure of the Limestone administrators to follow up on his complaint. That failure is underlined by the aforementioned Dec. 30, 2019, conversation between Council and Officer Cotram.

On Jan. 6, 2020, Council initiated another hunger strike. In a letter to supporters and his attorney, Council declared:

“There has been a clear showing of causation, from my legal and constitutional practices to the targeting and retaliation (planting drugs, lying, falsifying reports, false gang validation, and placement in segregation) by certain correctional officers and the coverup of these unlawful actions by the captains and wardens at Limestone. Therefore, once again, on Jan. 6, 2020, I appeal to the ADOC in the most peaceful means available to me and commit to a hunger strike protest due to the corrupt, unlawful, unconstitutional practices of the Limestone administration.”

A sworn affidavit written by an inmate at Limestone Correctional reads that Sgt. Pelzer stated directly to him that he was prepared to retaliate against Robert Earl Council because he knew Council was working on something that could jeopardize his job. Pelzer threatened that Council would “regret it.”

He continued by declaring a fear for his safety and issuing demands reflective of both the ADOC’s inaction as well as the inaction of the I & I Division of the ADOC:

“Due to a clear and present danger to my safety and well-being I will refuse all meals until the following issues and requests are addressed:

  • Full investigation into the lawsuits I have filed for other inmates and lawsuits exposing staff corruption to the media;
  • Limestone administration’s failure to take my allegations seriously by failing to conduct a preliminary investigation, placing my well-being and the well-being of my friend in jeopardy and covering up for the officer involved;
  • I & I’s failure to conduct an investigation into allegations of staff corruption and retaliation;
  • Removal of false allegation of 62 Brim security threat group placed into my institutional files by Jeremy Pelzer, abusing the power of his position as sergeant;
  • That all involved in corrupt retaliation and coverup actions will be held accountable.”

On Jan. 13, 2020, a coordinated and collective national action by prison abolition and prisoners’ rights groups resulted in hundreds of calls into the office of Cheryl Price and ADOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn. These supporters demanded that Price follow through on the request sent by Council’s attorney and the ADOC segregation board that Council be immediately transferred to another facility.

On Jan. 14, Day 9 of his hunger strike, Council was informed by medical staff at Limestone infirmary that should he continue his strike he would require dialysis because his kidneys had been pushed to the limit. Council ended his hunger strike.

On Jan. 21, 2020, Council was set to be released back into population because that was the date he was to have completed the mandatory segregation time issued following the trumped up disciplinaries written in October. However, a few days prior, Council was notified of two alleged enemies and told that he would remain in Administrative Segregation indefinitely.

Council was able to obtain the alleged enemies’ names and determined that one is no longer in ADOC custody (he was released on Jan. 21, 2020), and the other was someone that Council had assisted with legal work. Council was able to obtain a written affidavit from the second person stating he had never spoken to classification about Council and if his signature was on any form saying different, someone had forged it.

This information was submitted to the warden, captain, and classification officer. To date no action has been taken on ADOC’s part and Council remains in segregation without reason.

This photo of an armed guard marching a chain gang to work at Limestone Prison in Harvest, Alabama, illustrates the May 2019 Truthout story, “People in Alabama Prisons are Shackled to Buckets for Days on End” that put an end to the torturous “bucket detail.” Truthout comments: “The main whistleblower, Kenneth Traywick, continues to face retaliation.” – Photo: Andrew Holbrooke, Corbis

Kenneth Traywick

Kenneth Traywick, who was involved in the exposure of the bucket detail, has continued to speak out in the months since he went on two hunger strikes and was subsequently transferred from Limestone to Fountain Correctional Facility.

On Sept. 9, 2019, ADOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn and Cheryl Price ordered that Kenneth Traywick be removed from Fountain Correctional Center after Traywick exercised his US constitutional right to access the media and share information with the Montgomery Advertiser and other media networks in relation to the ongoing corruption, violence, overdoses, negligence of medical attention and other rights violations.

Before Traywick was removed during that raid conducted by multiple law enforcement agencies, Traywick contacted the Montgomery Advertiser, advising them that multiple ADOC staff members warned him that he would be targeted by ADOC for contacting the media. Traywick recounts that Cheryl Price was present during the raid and that she specifically recognized him and pointed him out, exclaiming that officers needed to “get him to lock up.”

Traywick was transferred to Holman Correctional Center for 48 hours, where he was stripped naked and placed into a suicide crisis cell. Traywick has made it clear to supporters and the media that he was never suicidal and the transfer, made under false pretenses, was a form of retaliation that came directly from the orders of Cheryl Price.

Traywick was subsequently transferred to Kilby Correctional Facility, where he has continued to expose the corruption that takes place around him. He has reported on and informed other inmates of their right to report on multiple assaults by officers on inmates. A number of these reports were facilitated by Unheard Voices OTCJ and sent directly to I & I Agent William Caulfield.

However, Agent Caulfield made it clear in two phone conversations with Unheard Voices OTCJ, as well as in person with Traywick, that the I & I Division was not interested in investigating assault cases that didn’t measure up to a certain standard – a standard which he failed to articulate or justify, aside from stating unprofessional judgments as to the severity of visible wounds resulting from officer assaults. Instead, Caulfield attempted to intimidate and deter Unheard Voices OTCJ from reporting assaults, and insisted that the organization should focus instead on the “bigger” cases of “corruption,” specifically the alleged involvement of officers in bringing in contraband.

When pressed to follow through on the officer-on-inmate assaults being reported out of Kilby, and following other inmate efforts to contact him, Caulfield made verbal threats toward Traywick, which were recorded.

Additionally, in the weeks and months following this specific conversation, I & I responded to requests for investigation by inmates at Kilby by focusing on Traywick himself rather than the incidents they were called to investigate. On at least two occasions, I & I investigators have questioned those inmates reporting assault regarding their connection with Traywick and advised them to stay away from him.

In one case, we have recorded testimony from an inmate who recounts that he was shown a picture of Traywick by two investigators. This inmate relates that the investigators were uninterested in the incident of assault but were instead focused on convincing him to drop the matter.

That same day, prior to the formal interview by investigators, the inmate was subject to an “informal” chat with Agent Caulfield, who had also communicated with the inmate’s father. The father subsequently passed along to his son I & I’s advice that he buck up and move on from the incident.

Following the publication of a Montgomery Advertiser article dated Dec. 13, 2019, that included information alleging the failure of ADOC supervisors to provide immediate medical attention to an inmate having a seizure at Kilby, Warden Streeter published in a newsletter to all Kilby staff that they must be mindful of not engaging in activities that could be reported.

The newsletter continues: “There is an inmate that is giving information to Montgomery Advertiser of whatever he sees or hears in his dorm.” Traywick’s involvement in communicating with that news outlet has been public and few Kilby ADOC staff would be unaware of the identity of the inmate Warden Streeter was referring to.

Since the release of this newsletter, ADOC staff, either by their own initiative or by the directive of their supervisors, have taken extreme measures and spread false rumors through the ranks of other officers and inmates, stating that Traywick was undercover with I & I. This has created the opportunity for other inmates to act out in aggressive manners of violence towards Traywick.

It is believed that the ADOC’s purpose or motive in spreading this false information is to either influence other inmates to attack Traywick or to provoke an altercation that would create the opportunity for the ADOC to place Traywick in solitary confinement in order to silence him.

All materials – recordings, affidavits and newsletters – are available upon request.

To learn more or get involved, contact Nikki Davenport of the FAM Queen Team and Unheard Voices OTCJ at nikki@unheardvoicesotcj.com or Mona Song of Unheard Voices OTCJ at mona@unheardvoicesotcj.com.