Kastellio Vaughan served five years out of a twenty-year sentence at The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) when disturbing images of Vaughan were released a few weeks ago. In the photos, Vaughan is excessively worn and skinny, his eyes rolling back into his head. It is plain to see that Vaughan is facing a severe health crisis and needs immediate intervention. Unfortunately, these images were released by an alleged inmate out of concern that the ADOC was not only neglecting Vaughan’s care but putting him and others in harm’s way.

Vaughan had sustained a gunshot wound to the abdomen in an attempted home invasion in 2013. Vaughan entered a home with a ski mask on and arrived at the house armed with a gun. Vaughan demanded money from the male homeowner. The homeowner, who also owned a gun, was able to retrieve the firearm and shot Vaughan, injuring him while he was fleeing. Vaughan was sentenced to 3 years in prison for one count of first-degree robbery. The injury Vaughan sustained during this incident is the injury that you can see in many of the photos of Vaughan. His sister, Kassie Vaughan, informed the media that Vaughan’s current health crisis is due to not only malnutrition and poor treatment but untreated complications from the gunshot wound in 2013.

Presently, Vaughan is serving another 20-year sentence for armed robbery and is completing that sentence in the ADOC. Alabama prison officials have released Vaughan’s health information per Vaughan’s written consent to the public. The ADOC claims that Vaughan was admitted to Jackson Hospital in Montgomery on August 3rd, 2022, and needed bowel obstruction surgery from complications from his previous gunshot wound. The ADOC has said that Vaughan chose discharge against medical advice on August 10th. He was taken back to Jackson hospital on September 3rd for post-surgical complications. Once again, the ADOC stated that Vaughan left against medical advice (AMA) on September 7th while refusing all medication. I have; personally witnessed patients undergo bowel obstruction surgery, and the recovery process is complicated and painful. According to the literature, one wrongful death attorney has even stated that bowel obstruction surgery is one of the riskiest surgeries to be performed. The ADOC claims they cannot force inmates to receive medical care and that what has happened to Vaughan is of his own accord. They also state that Vaughan has been treated medically “at least 11 times since July 2022 up until September 2022″.

Kassie Vaughan, Kestellio’s sister, claims on her Facebook that her brother was in no condition to make informed decisions. The emaciated photos of Vaughan were released in early September, so it is evident that something is not adding up. If Vaughan received the care the ADOC claims, should he be in the physical state he is in now? Currently, he is emaciated, his feet are swollen along with discolored feet and legs, and he is fighting multiple infections. Per Vaughan’s sister’s Facebook, as of September 29th, 2022, Vaughan could not walk. It was announced that the Vaughan family hired attorney Lee Meritt to help Vaughan and ensure the ADOC is held accountable for any wrongdoings. Since then, the Vaughan family has been in contact with Kastellio daily, and he is slowly progressing in his recovery.

Alabama is currently experiencing a historic state-wide inmate strike in the wake of what has happened to Vaughan. The strike is now in its second week, and inmates are working with Both Sides of the Wall and have ceased working. Inmates have halted their operations because they have not been compensated for their labor. Since the strike began, the ADOC has downplayed any ramifications, and there have been major discrepancies between inmates and the DOC on what is really going on. The inmates have taken to social media and new outlets to express their concerns about current conditions and share what they are experiencing. Inmates have informed the Montgomery Advertiser that staff has made comments that if the inmates do not work, they will be starved. Many inmates have made videos about the lack of food they are receiving and explained they are being starved. Apparently, prison staff is dropping like flies after an already strained and shortened staff. The ADOC has stated that they are on a “holiday schedule” when it comes to serving food due to the strike and lack of staff. This would include two cold meals a day that inmates are claiming to not be receiving. Whether the inmates are striking or not, it is still the facility’s responsibility to ensure the inmates are properly fed.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey expressed to the media that the corrections department has things “well under control.” Inmates have made eight demands that include;
1. A guarantee of parole to all eligible prisoners
2. Repeal of the habitual offender act
3. A retroactive application of relaxed sentencing laws
4. Abolition of life without parole
5. Reduction of the 30-year maximum sentence for juvenile capital offenders to 15 years
6. Mandatory parole review for all inmates who have served 25 or more years
7. Streamlined review process for medical furlough or release of elderly
8. The creation of a conviction integrity unit to investigate possible cases of wrongful convictions

The governor said, “Our number one goal is for public safety, pure and simple. And the demands they’re giving are just unreasonable, and would probably require whole other legislation, cannot just be mandated unilaterally,”. To the governor’s point, the requested demands could not be fulfilled immediately, and that doesn’t mean they cannot ever be filled. They can get the ball rolling on several of the demands. Wanting fair treatment and prison reform is not unjust, nor is it unattainable. Alabama could utilize what is occurring to make an actual change to not only the Alabama prison system but all of America’s prison system. These demands sound like the reform people have been asking for in our prison system for years. Our justice system must allow investigations of those who claim they are wrongfully convicted. Since 1972 over 15,000 Americans have been executed, and 187 of them were later exonerated. It is estimated that approximately 11% of all people committed in America have been innocent. This is a massive failing of our judicial system that does need to be fixed immediately! The Supreme Court has also doubled down and ruled in April of 2022 that individuals convicted on the State level cannot re-try their case in Federal Court. That means that the wrongfully convicted that perhaps had an incompetent lawyer are out of luck and stuck in prison when they should be free. This is also another way to keep individuals in prison and use them for free labor.

It also makes complete sense that these demands need to be reviewed and a plan of action needs to be put in place to reform the Alabama prison system. There are videos all over social media platforms, such as TikTok, of Alabama prisoners showing the conditions they are living in and expressing their concerns. They do not have everything “under control.”

It does make sense to have prisoners be a part of the working system in prisons. Not only can prisoners learn skills such as cooking, carpentry, barber skills, and more, they help keep the prison running and inmates busy. Many establishments outside of the prison system operate this way. However, America’s prison system, including the ADOC, has completely failed to implement prison labor appropriately and fairly. First and foremost, no inmate should be harmed when completing their work duties. We know that within our prison systems is another layer of justice, and when inmates commit new offenses or act out, there are consequences. The 13th Amendment states; “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Although the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the exception to this is when slavery and involuntary servitude is used as a punishment for the “duly convicted.” In simpler terms, if you are imprisoned, you could be required to perform free labor and services that are deemed appropriate by the judicial system.

However, the 8th Amendment PROTECTS prisoners against cruel and unusual punishment. This protects prisoners and gives them a “minimum standard of living.” This means that the inmates need to be compensated for their work while in prison, and the conditions need to be safe.

Many prisons implement a “pay to stay” system where inmates have to pay to stay. If they are unable to pay their appointed dues, they will leave the facility already in debt. How are inmates supposed to stand a chance once released from prison if they owe the facility that incarcerated them?! It is tough to gain information on every company that utilizes prison-made goods and at what cost. Companies that use this non-disclosed labor do so to avoid backlash and marketing issues. We have a right to know where our goods are coming from and that the people making the goods are being compensated appropriately. Labor around the world is highly problematic, and America being as progressive as it is, should have a much higher standard and zero tolerance for free labor and dangerous working conditions. Prisoners still have rights that should be upheld while working in the prison system. This is a fantastic way for America to get away with free labor that is subsequently comparable to slavery.