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Wearing prison guard's uniform, incarcerated Alabama man describes conditions that led to 'security incident'
Chaos, violence, and death.
Derrol Shaw said those are the realities of everyday life in Donaldson Correctional Facility, a state-run prison in west Jefferson County, Alabama.
Shaw described the conditions in videos posted to social media on Sunday. As he spoke, Shaw wore a correctional officer’s uniform, the name G. Downey and a badge embroidered on its top.
“It’s just complete chaos. It’s absolute chaos every single day,” he said. “Chaos, violence, and death, every single day.”
In a statement issued to Tread, a representative of the Alabama Department of Corrections called what happened Sunday a “security incident,” saying that the facility had been placed on lockdown but that there was no threat to public safety.
In an update, the department confirmed that Shaw, 35, had been arrested in relation to the “incident.'“
“The security incident took place early morning at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” the update said. “The facility remains on lockdown for the safety of the staff and the inmates, but there were no injuries to correctional staff and there is no threat to the public.”
Sources inside the facility told Tread that Shaw took a gun and uniform from an officer during an altercation. A third video also shows Shaw with what appears to be a gun in his hand. ADOC correctional officers inside prison facilities are typically unarmed, according to department policy documents. ADOC has not provided an explanation for how the gun entered the facility.
Shaw said in one of the videos that he made clear to prison staff that no one would be harmed.
Shaw said Alabama prisons are like warzones, with individuals dying at high rates from violence and neglect. The conditions have left many of those living in the facility traumatized, he said, including himself. Shaw has so far served nearly 17 years in Alabama prisons.
Over half a dozen incarcerated individuals have died in Donaldson so far in 2023. A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report published in 2019 concluded that the conditions in Alabama’s overcrowded prisons are unconstitutional, leaving both incarcerated individuals and prison staff at risk. The DOJ later sued to force the state to improve conditions — a legal battle that is still ongoing.
The 2019 report cited violence at Donaldson as a particular problem. In March 2018, for example, an inmate at the facility had to undergo emergency surgery to remove a broom from his rectum after an assault.
“Four prisoners were identified as suspects and received disciplinary violations for Assault on an Inmate with a Weapon and Sexual Assault (forcible),” the report said. “Yet no ADOC staff member was aware of the assault until the seriously injured victim sought out a correctional officer for help.”
The violent assault was one of many, DOJ investigators concluded.
“This incident is just one of hundreds of similar incidents that are documented by ADOC throughout Alabama’s prisons,” the report said. “Prisoner-on-prisoner violence is systemic and life-threatening. ADOC is failing to adequately protect its prisoners from harm, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
Years later, though, little has improved in Alabama prisons. In fact, by most measures, the situation has gotten worse.
Shaw said that he believes Alabama’s carceral system has a specific function, both historically and today.
“They really believe that in Alabama — modern-day slavery,” Shaw said in one of the videos. A bandage is wrapped around one of Shaw’s arms, blood clearly visible through the material. “If you ever read the 1901 constitution, this is the continuation of slavery.”
The purpose of Alabama’s constitution, according to its framers, was “to establish white supremacy in this State.”
UPDATE: In a statement sent after this article’s initial publication, a representative of ADOC denied that a hostage situation occurred at Donaldson on Sunday. The statement did not provide details about how Shaw obtained the guard uniform and gun visible in the videos circulating online. The representative still did not answer questions about the level of force used to subdue Shaw but said he was treated for “minor injuries.”
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