Thursday, October 9, 2014

'Protection money' common for inmate families

Mothers say their families paid thousands of dollars to keep gangs from hurting or killing their sons Jerry Mitchell/The Clarion-Ledger

Jerry Mitchell, The Clarion-Ledger10:28 p.m. CDT October 4, 2014

(Photo: Special to The Clarion-Ledger )
Families have paid thousands of dollars in "protection money" to inmates, gangs and guards to keep their loved ones from being harmed or killed behind bars.

Days before last Christmas, Janet Stewart got a telephone call, asking if she wanted to see her son alive again.

The caller wanted $400 and identified himself as an inmate at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility — the same prison where her son was serving time.

She took the threat seriously. Gang members had already beaten her son Dec. 1.

"When somebody says he has your kid for ransom, you're going to pay," she said. "You're going to do everything you can to keep them alive."

She sent $400 to the inmate by way of Green Dot, a prepaid credit card service that inmates use.

Days later, gang members stabbed her son anyway.

Upset, she texted the inmate and asked why.

He texted her back: "Those are just growing pains."

Three days later, the family sat around a tree, minus the yuletide cheer. "My kids did without Christmas," she said.

Sabrina Clanton, whose young son was behind bars for several years, said her mother sent up to $350 a month to inmates through Green Dot cards. "It was to pay these gang members off so he could stay alive," she said.

Her family had every reason to fear.

After her son arrived at Walnut Grove Correctional Facility at age 17, gang members stabbed him 32 times, leaving him blind in one eye, she said. "I cried for a week."

Three more assaults followed, including another stabbing, this one at Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

With each threat, Clanton felt more helpless, her family having to pay a ransom by a deadline or "he would be killed," she said. "His family and friends were all sending money."

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