Monday, September 19, 2005

Alabama Inamtes Raise $5000 for Katrina Victims

I was very moved by this story of Alabama prisoners raising money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It goes to show that not everyone in prison is evil, bad, mean and heartless.

Kilby inmates raise $1,100 for Katrina victims
Montgomery Advertiser
By Samira Jafari
The Associated Press

Edward Flynn, center, and Frank Rudolph, inmates at Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery, talk Wednesday to Helen Carroll of the American Red Cross about the donation of $1,112.37 their faith-based dorm collected from fellow inmates and made to the organization.
-- Karen S. Doerr/Advertiser

Iron bars and cinder blocks separate Edward Flynn from the rest of the world, but as a Mobile native he can relate to the hardships of Hurricane Katrina victims who've lost homes and loved ones in the Gulf Coast wreckage.

Shocked and hurt by the images unfolding on the old television he shares with 120 other inmates in his dorm at Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery, Flynn decided they could do more than watch. Together, the prisoners raised $1,112.37 for the American Red Cross from their own cash-strapped prison accounts.

"We're neighbors in here and we were able to help our other neighbors,"
Flynn said, reveling in a rare moment of pride. "It's a strange thing to say, but it made me feel proud of the neighborhood I live in -- even though my neighborhood is in prison right now."

An estimated $5,000 has been raised by prisoners statewide, said state corrections spokesman Brian Corbett, who stressed that the inmates made the contributions independently.

"My heart is so full that these men have chosen to give out of their own needs. This is a sacrifice for them," said Helen Carroll, account manager for the Red Cross of Central Alabama.

The effort began in Kilby's faith-based dorm, which accepts inmates of any faith who have clean disciplinary records and offers them special programs such as publishing a monthly newspaper for the general population.

Flynn and his fellow inmates aren't blind to the irony of their situation. Flynn himself is serving a life sentence for a manslaughter conviction and has already been denied parole once.

Cellmate William Slagle is serving a life sentence for murder, though he is eligible for parole.

His buddy Frank Rudolph has spent most of his 64 years behind bars -- mainly for theft, drugs and attempts to escape prison -- and likely will have to complete his life sentence.

But the devastating storm stirred their faith. They insisted that had they been home, they would have helped out even more.

"When you think about it, most inmates don't have very much money. When someone gives everything they've got in their account just to help someone -- that ought to maybe at least ... neutralize the image that we get," said Slagle.

They're quick to add that improving their image wasn't the main goal of their weeklong fundraiser -- but it didn't hurt.

"Regardless of our state in life, this storm was devastating to a lot of people. It touched a lot of guys. I mean, we weren't really expecting to get the money," Rudolph said.

Department of Corrections officials said they had little to do with the inmate contribution program and assisted only by allowing Flynn and other organizers to hang posters announcing their drive and gauging their progress in the other dorms and chow hall.

"This was not something we solicited from them. This was something they did on the their own," said Kilby Warden Terrance McDonnell.

The staff at the Alabama Department of Corrections has set up its own relief effort to help prison employees in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Flynn said raising more than $1,100 is significant to inmates, especially in a 1,400-population prison where 65 percent of the inmates are temporary. Kilby is the entry station for all the state's convicts, most of whom are shipped to other prisons after processing.

Even more amazing to organizers is how deep the participating inmates reached into their own pockets. Inmates typically rely on struggling family members to deposit cash in their prison accounts, which prisoners can only use toward the prison commissary -- a delicious haven amid faded uniforms, stiff rules and a dull routine.

The donations from the faith-based dorm and neighboring cells at Kilby ranged from 7 cents to $100. Flynn said inmates simply gave what they could, quickly realizing they had more than many victims.

"I think sometimes it makes you appreciative of even the small things we have in here," he said. "Sometimes we think we don't have everything in here, but when you see people who don't have water or shelter -- that little bed we lay on is not too bad after all."

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