My son lost his life to the festering wound, that is our criminal justice system. The injustices, and extreme risk of injury and death ooze like puss throughout the entire infected establishment. The rampant violence, contraband, and corruption, untimely medical care, the staffing crisis, inappropriate prisoner placement, and lack of supervision, to name just a few, have turned our correctional institutions into dead zones. Criminal Justice Reform is Black Lives Matter, and those of us who have been directly affected by the criminal justice system – from police interactions to sentencing – know first hand, that Criminal Justice Reform is indeed worthy of a movement.
On March 20th of this year, I had received the devastating news of Carrington’s murder, not by the warden or any other prison official at Macon State Prison, but from another prisoner several hours later. The words will probably still haunt me when I’m on my deathbed, giving in to my last breath, “Ma’am, please call up to the prison and check on your son. He got stabbed, and they said he was dead.” I fell to the floor and crawled my way to my oldest son’s room; afraid to depend on my legs to hold me up. A collage of images – from me giving birth to Carrington; to him at nine years old offering me his allowance to use for gas money; to me being in prison with him jumping in front of the wielding knife – flooded my mind like the waters of a broken levy. I called Macon State Prison; screaming, shaking, afraid, and feeling foreign inside my own skin; awaiting the warden to confirm what I already knew to be the horrific end.
Carrington was barely seventeen years old when he was arrested and given harsh prison time, as if he was a poster child for criminal offenses. To further assassinate his young character, the police hyped up, and over exaggerated the details of his offense to several news outlets in Georgia. If someone was to Google Carrington’s name, they’d think he did everything but kneel on a man’s neck and snuff the life out of him. And to make far worse losing him at seventeen to prison, was to literally lose his young life…to prison. Carrington made an unfavorable decision when he was just a teenager that cost no-one their life, or even quality of life; but he paid for the choice he made as a boy with his own life. Carrington was just about home, and looking forward to embracing his new start in society. We had discussed plans and made provisions to assist him in his journey. Instead, I found myself preparing my son for his final resting place.
The day of Carrington’s murder, there was said to had been only one guard to control and oversee the safety of 188 inmates in the dormitory that day, with this one guard situated inside of a booth. These factors made it impossible for the female guard to regulate or even de-escalate any situation that would have posed a threat, not only to the safety of others, but herself as well. If there had been adequate security staff, and proper supervision and surveillance; maybe the drug-fueled assailant would have thought twice before he carried out an ambush attack on Carrington’s life. Even the security camera in the area might had been beneficial in picking up any brewing tension had it not been left obscured with Vaseline. Prisoners had to plea with the guard to allow Carrington through into the sally port; where he laid bleeding out awaiting the critically limited crew. Carrington had succumbed to stab wounds of his neck and chest. He was a few months short of his release from prison, and three months shy of his 24th birthday.
Having my son away in the Department of Corrections often meant sitting, and listening in horror to stories that sounded like he was describing events out of a movie. Although, Carrington’s resilience was tested often, for the sake of my sanity, he was careful not to show me worry. I remember vividly him describing to me the “scene” of being inappropriately placed in a cell with much older, former Olympian boxer, and convicted murderer, Yathomas Riley. For my emotional protection, Carrington told me the series of events after they had taken place. I sat across from him at visitation one weekend gripping his hand. My eyes wide and wet. Mouth open.
“Ma, these people put me in a cell with this dude, Yathomas Riley. You heard of him, my dearest?”
I swiftly shook my head.
“He boxed in the Olympics. They said he killed two wives. All he does is shadow box, day in and day out. But anyway, I guess he didn’t want me in the cell with him because he cussed and threatened me the whole time while he bounced around and punched the air…for three days.”
“Oh my God, did he hurt you, Son?” I could now feel my heart beating in my throat.
“No, my dearest, he didn’t. But it could’ve been bad, Ma. I prayed to God to protect me, and not let it get messy.” He continued, “God, don’t let him hurt me or force me to have to hurt him.”
I was fearful, angry, and felt helpless in knowing what to do to protect my child. But in that very moment, I was even more proud to had birthed Carrington into this world.
It wasn’t until Yathomas Riley and Carrington engaged in a physical altercation that made guards remove Carrington from the cell. The placement of my son, in a cell with someone of Riley’s status was reckless, and endangering in several aspects. Yathomas Riley is a skilled and trained boxer; as the skill of professional boxing gives Riley a lethal weapon in his possession at all times. The experience, size and strength of Yathomas Riley were much more substantial than Carrington’s. This gave him an advantage to overpower my much younger, and disadvantaged son. Carrington was sentenced to eight years with 10 years parole for aggravated assault on a defendant he was engaged in several physical fights with. Yathomas Riley was given life without parole, plus an additional forty years for murder, among other things. Carrington, and Yathomas Riley as cellmates with these staggering differences in sentences was negligent on every level; as Yathomas Riley is an offender with nothing to lose.
Carrington is only one of many casualties of the recklessness of Macon State Prison this year. Around the time of his death he was one of five prisoners murdered at this particular prison, with more prisoner deaths within the following weeks to months behind his. Every turn is a death trap, not only in Macon State Prison, but in the entire Georgia Department of Corrections. The thread of corruption, and poor prison conditions, coupled with contraband and reactive criminal thinking in America’s prisons from both, prisoner and staff alike, loosens the fabric of our entire justice system.
We can’t talk Black Lives Matter without Criminal Justice Reform. A new revolution has to be ignited, that carries and raises each torch to an unequivocal and uniform height. This is life and death, so we can no longer afford to pick and choose our battles; the stakes are too high. Because it is the appreciation for life that is the core of existence; at every age, every stage, and every phase of life. Criminal Justice Reform, to our society, has to be more than a concept; and Black Lives Matter beyond a catchy phrase. Just as Carrington’s life…and his death should be worth far more than just a hashtag and a memory.
Rest in perfect peace, son. The weight of this world is no longer yours to bear.