- The family of a 30-year-old man who was incarcerated in an Alabama prison learned of his death through a text.
- Denarieya Smith died October 1 after getting stabbed by an inmate. There were no guards around, according to the lawyer.
- An inmate texted Smith’s father and told him “somebody killed” his son and there had been “no security” around.
The family of Denarieya Smith, a 30-year-old man who had been serving a life sentence at a prison in Alabama, learned he died after another inmate used Smith’s phone to text the family, telling them there were no guards around when he was attacked.
Smith was killed on October 1 during a prison fight after another inmate stabbed him at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County, Alabama, according to his parents and the agency that oversees the prison.
During the fight, Smith — affectionately called DL by his parents — had cried out for help but there were no guards around, according to Smith’s father, Alfagus.
Alfagus told Insider he learned his son had died in prison through a text message.
In the early morning hours on October 1, the inmate texted Alfagus and told him “somebody killed” DL and there had been “no security in the dorm” where it had happened, according to screenshots of the text message exchange shared with Insider.
“He sat in here and lost to [sic] much blood before they got him out of here,” the unidentified inmate wrote. The inmate added that he had been asleep during the prison fight but woke up when he heard a commotion. Then he saw DL “covered in blood” and heard the other inmates “hollering for the police to get him to the infirmary but the officers was nowhere to be found,” the inmate said in a text.
The inmate also urged them to get copies of security footage and file a lawsuit against the prison.
Joel Caldwell, the Smith family lawyer, told Insider that there should have been security guards around to prevent DL’s death.
A string of deaths at Donaldson
DL is the 14th inmate to have been killed at Donaldson this year, according to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit focusing on mass incarceration.
Complaints about widespread violence at Alabama prisons, including at Donaldson, prompted the Justice Department to launch an investigation in 2016. Nearly 80 people are known to have been killed while serving a sentence within the Alabama prison system since the launch of the investigation, according to the EJI.
After investigating, the Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit, which alleged that “the conditions at Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Constitution because Alabama fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.”
Watching the news at home, the Smiths said they wondered whether it was DL who died each time they learned another inmate had been killed at Donaldson.
“All these murders, all these murders. And we know that we got a son up there,” Alfagus said.
The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), which oversees Donaldson, “routinely fails to inform families or other parties about deaths in its custody,” the EJI reported.
Caldwell told Insider that his parents didn’t receive notice from any of the correctional officers or facility wardens that their son had been killed.
“Why haven’t nobody reached out to us? The chaplain called us, not even the warden,” Alfagus said. “The warden didn’t even call, didn’t let us know nothing. Still haven’t.”
In a statement to Insider, ADOC said it’s customary for either a prison warden or chaplain to notify “anyone on the inmate’s Emergency Contact List” in the event of an inmate death.
Family attorneys say DL’s life was cut short
DL had been serving a life sentence on an attempted murder charge, Caldwell told Insider. When he was 22, DL saw the car of a man who beat him up and decided to confront him. DL and his friends believed the man was in the car and drove up to it, and his friend shot at the car from the passenger seat while DL drove. The man did not turn out to be in the car.
“The person who actually did the shooting was only 17,” Caldwell said. “DL was charged as an adult, but his friend was charged as a minor.”
DL, despite the life sentence at Donaldson, could have gotten out early one day, his family lawyer told Insider. He had a chance of early release and getting out on parole, Caldwell told Insider.
According to the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, many factors such as the “ability to earn good time” can affect an inmate’s eligibility for parole.
“That possibility has been taken away from them,” Caldwell said.
“He was in prison serving his sentence, but his sentence wasn’t death,” he added.
Even though DL wasn’t the one who fired the gun, his parents say he had tried to repent. Alfagus and mom Linda Smith said he told them he’s since apologized to everyone involved in the incident.
“He had remorse for his mistake,” Alfagus said.
Now the family is struggling to come to terms with DL’s death. At his funeral on October 7, Alfagus delivered the eulogy.
“Me and my wife, we sit here now. We say DL is gone and he’s gone,” Alfagus said.