An End In Sight

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Episode 9: In October 2022, Deven was given an eight-hour notice that she would be leaving Tutwiler. She was transferred to a temporary facility to prepare for her upcoming release. Five years after John’s death, she’s finally able to start looking towards the future – but first, she needs to reckon with the ghosts of her past.


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John’s mom, Gloria Riviera, Dan, Deven’s Family, Desi, Liz Flock, Speaker 1, Mel Hoff, Mariame, Kristen, Deven, Joan, Darla, Jean

Gloria Riviera  00:01

This show contains violent content and scenes of domestic abuse.


Jean  01:17

How are you? […] sweetie, I’m just glad we had a chance to see you and talk to you honey.


Liz Flock  01:35

You’ve heard Deven talk to her family members before but this video call is different. Because Deven is no longer at Julia Tutwiler prison. She’s at a correctional center called the Alabama therapeutic education facility. And she thinks she’s close to getting released for good. She’s talking to her dad, Jean and stepmom, Joan. And they’re all emotional as they think about finally getting to see each other in real life.


Joan  02:01

Ah, we love you so much.


Jean  02:05

You’re getting close.


Joan  02:06

We missed you back.


Jean  02:10

There pretty soon. You need a finish line, sweetie. Think about that, you’re near the finish line.


Liz Flock  02:17

The finish line, her release. One evening and October 2022. Deven was given an eight hour heads up that she’d be leaving Tutwiler behind. This was a big surprise and pretty upsetting for her at the time, because she had built a support system with the women inside that prison. But she was also excited about what this transfer meant for her.


Deven  02:44

[…] Yeah, I can do much better.


Joan  02:49

Makes me feel good, I tell you. Let me ask you this, what’s the what’s the process like while you there?


Deven  02:57

We’re just in a bunch of classes all day, you know getting ready to get out and get ready for the real world as.


Joan  03:04

Oh yeah, you’ll be right.


Liz Flock  03:13

The Alabama Department of Corrections created the Alabama therapeutic education facility or ATF to provide classes and counseling for men and women ahead of their reentry to society. I know of a couple of women who killed their abusers and were transferred to ATF for the last part of their incarceration. Because of this transfer, Deven thought she was getting out soon. Soon was relative though. It’s supposed to be a six month program. But sometimes people stay at a tab for years. You think something as important as a release date would be set in stone. But there’s never a lot of clarity when you’re dealing with the Alabama Department of Corrections. So as Deven got classes and counseling ahead of her uncertain release, I went on the hunt to find out when she would finally see freedom. This is Blind Plea and I’m your host Liz Flock.


Liz Flock  04:22

After Deven lost her parole hearing she had a projected release date of April 2024. Her sentence had been reduced because of her good behavior in prison. It’s called good time and that new release date was her North Star. But then she got that transferred to ATF and thought maybe she’d get out even sooner. At ATF Deven had a bit more freedom. There she took courses on life skills and relapse prevention, went to Bible study and was enrolled in the trade school for carpentry. And we talked more often since it was easier for her to get a tablet for messaging and calls, and this facility is where Devin started to really heal. It’s where the gravity of her past and future began to sink in. ATF is far from the ideal place to process trauma. It is still a state correctional facility with monitored calls and inmate counts. But it is all Deven had. Because in America, we don’t know how to treat survivors of domestic violence who have defended themselves. We don’t have a space for them to be understood to go unpunished and to heal. And yet, in true Deven fashion, she looked on the bright side, she took the transfer as a glimmer of hope and a way forward. Well, Deven was still in Tutwiler, she heard a lot of other women inside talking about something called a mandatory release. It’s an early supervised release program meant to reduce overcrowding in Alabama prisons, and the hushed excitement spreading across the cellblocks was infectious. I got on the phone with Deven and our senior producer Kristen, to learn more.


Liz Flock  06:06

By the way, Kristen, Deven clarified that in April is what did you call it? Deven you’re?


Deven  06:12

It’s our mandatory.


Liz Flock  06:14

Mandatory so people have been getting out on their mandatory dates not there, what’s the other one called?


Deven  06:19

WS or innocent?


Kristen  06:22



Liz Flock  06:23

You said everyone else that you know at the prison is beginning out on their mandatory?


Liz Flock  06:27

Yeah, then that’s like six months or something?


Deven  06:31

Yeah, a little, a little over six.


Liz Flock  06:35

Not that you’re counting.


Deven  06:37

Not that I’m counting or anything.


Liz Flock  06:40

So if Deven got out on mandatory, that would mean a release date of April 2023. Not 2024. a year ahead of schedule. That’s huge, I looked up this mandatory program and found out that while it had been on the books for years, it was just starting to take effect for the entire prison population. And I heard that some law and order conservatives were actually okay with the program, because anyone getting released early would have to wear an ankle bracelet. Alternatively, if Deven served until the end of her sentence, she wouldn’t be supervised at all. No ankle bracelets parole officers nothing. Deven seem pretty confident about getting out early on mandatory because she said prisoners administration had told her so and updated her timesheet. But I knew Alabama and I fear that any program that involves releasing incarcerated people early would eventually see a backlash. I was worried she was getting our hopes up over something that wouldn’t come to pass. Especially since nowhere online to did specifically say Deven was getting out then, on the Department of Corrections lookup page for Deven, I only saw her release dates stated as 2024, you might think something called a mandatory release date would be mandatory. But like most things in the criminal legal system, it was up in the air. As Deven waited for more clarity on her release, she was spending more time writing a huge milestone was approaching the five year anniversary of the shooting. And I hit her like a ton of bricks. She kept thinking about the fact that she could be out of prison soon. But without John left alone to pick up the pieces.


Deven  08:30

Honestly, like John has been on my mind so much lately. And I talked to Simone yesterday and I was telling her that I really miss is kind of a strong word, but I don’t understand. I don’t know how I’m gonna be able to deal with him not being around when I can and I don’t know, I don’t know how I’m going to process that and, you know, after all, this happened. I got locked up so I wasn’t able to really process like being out in the world without him, and I don’t know, I don’t know how I’m gonna react. I don’t know how I’m gonna respond and that scary.


Liz Flock  09:13

Deven knows that she can live in a world without John. But the reality is he was a big part of her life. And at a certain point, he was her life. For over five years he had cut her off from her family and friends. And she had stuck by him throughout all that time, hoping her love would somehow be enough to stop the violence. As Deven continued to share her feelings with me on the phone that day, her emotions shifted.


Deven  09:42

I’m just angry, I was angry because like, I did not want to have to do that to him. I didn’t want to do that to us. That I get mad at you don’t because it’s like, why did why did you I feel like why did you forced me to do that why did you make like that, like, why did you have to put me in a position where I had to do that to you had to do that to us, you know, to our daughter, you know, because it’s just like, I loved him so much. And I know that sounds crazy, but it hurts my feelings you know.


Liz Flock  10:29

Deven is angry that she felt she had to kill him to protect herself. But at the same time, she also misses him. That’s why domestic abuse is so complicated. years after leaving, survivors often still miss their abusers. It’s part of their coercive control that can linger for so long. John was violent and controlling, but also caring and kind. And he’s the father of her daughter. But now, Deven is a single mom.


Deven  11:02

But also like seeing my, you know, seeing my daughter, seeing her and it’s gonna be great. I miss her so much, but like, she’s a reminder to, you know, and it’s not, not her fault. And I’m not blaming her like a no means like, she’s a blessing. But it’s just another level of, you know, me and John could be like, you know, together with her and having the life that we should have had in like being around her and she’s doing so good. And she’s just, she’s just made such progress and stuff and it’s like, I would have loved for it to see how could […] See how good she’s doing and see how, yeah, she is now.


Liz Flock  11:59

I got off this call with Deven feeling like she was finally opening up about her true feelings about John, the messy, complicated, fucked up parts. When we first started talking, we just covered the basics on our calls, how her day was going how her daughter was doing her prospects at parole. We didn’t even talk about the details of the shooting until a year after we met. But now she trusted me enough. And she had processed enough to share that she missed her abuser. And I got it because I knew what that was like. After I left my abusive relationship, I still missed him for years. Despite being fully aware of how harmful the relationship had been. It was confusing as hell, but acknowledging those feelings was a step toward healing. In a perfect world though Deven wouldn’t be processing her fears with me. Deven says the mental health counseling available at ATF is pretty basic, nothing beyond the surface. But she takes a lot of medication, pills for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and migraines. She told me there were only six counselors for the 150 women incarcerated there, so she didn’t get the time or space to let out all of the feelings she had brewing inside. She was struggling, so I worried about Deven returning home. The classes she was taking there could hardly compare to the challenges of the outside world.


Liz Flock  15:15

The holiday season past painfully Deven used to celebrate Thanksgiving in a big way with her family. They would always watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade and dog show. So Deven found a TV to do that inside. ATF also made the women a special meal for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But Deven just wanted to get home. Meanwhile, I was nervous about the lack of updates we were getting from the Alabama Department of Corrections or ADOC about Devon’s paperwork for her suppose mandatory release, the websites still showed her getting out in 2024. Amid my anxiety over that, a pretty scary update came down the pipeline, the governor of Alabama signed a new Act into law. It stated that incarcerated people who use the deadly weapon to kill someone would be ineligible for good time, meaning much longer sentences for a lot of people convicted of manslaughter like Deven. The ADOC was rather secretive about if the law was retroactive. So I called Deven’s former lawyer, Dan.


Liz Flock  16:37

Hey, Dan, how are you? I’m good. I just wanted to follow up with you about that law about manslaughter. So did you get any more clarity on if that would affect Devon’s case?


Dan  16:56

No, because I don’t know how to get any clarity. I mean, I think, you know, there was nothing in the face of the wall when I glanced through it, which seemed to make it retroactive. But I do see you can kind of do whatever they want. So that’s kind of why I didn’t want to bring it to anybody’s attention down there.


Liz Flock  17:15

So the law says that Alabamians like Deven, who are convicted of manslaughter may become ineligible for good time. And good time.


Dan  17:24

Basically, if you’re convicted of manslaughter, and it involves a deadly weapon, she’s of course got jail Credit Plus a bunch of good sound they’ve already given her credit for so I don’t think it should be applied retroactively because that’s just stupid but the way we do things around here, it wouldn’t surprise me if they try to apply ressurect.


Liz Flock  17:45

Was the law just for newly incarcerated people going forward? Or does it also apply to people already in prison? Dan didn’t have the answer. So I imagined the worst for Deven. Good time often cuts people’s sentences and half without her good time accrued, could Deven spend an extra 11 years behind bars, because she’d only served a little over four years of her 15 year sentence so far. If this law was, in fact, applied retroactively. She might not be out until 2036. After months of following all the changes in Alabama’s laws on mandatory releases, and then on good time. I talked to Deven about my concerns.


Liz Flock  18:32

Dan was saying he thought before that it could have affected you. You don’t think that right?


Deven  18:38

No, I don’t really. I don’t really see how because the same size. I don’t know what I mean. I don’t know.


Liz Flock  18:50

When I called Dan, he was like he was like this is a new law that will basically mean that anyone who is convicted of manslaughter, their good time doesn’t count toward their sentence. And he was like I don’t. He basically said I don’t want to call the parole office because I’m scared that then they would remember Deven’s case and try to apply this law retroactively, like backwards.


Deven  19:21

That illegal, only here like that’s illegal.


Liz Flock  19:25

Changing the terms of someone’s freedom at the drop of a hat sure does feel like it should be illegal. But it’s not. After our conversation, I was still unsettled. But Deven didn’t seem worried. She told me that she had a meeting with her parole officer and a couple of weeks, and that that had to mean something. That ADOC seemed to be sticking to the plan to release her with her good time applied, and maybe even earlier, and mandatory release. Over the next couple of weeks I waited to hear about Deven’s meeting with her parole officer and whether or not she had gotten any news about a finalized release date. At the same time, I kept refreshing Deven’s ADOC page. One day, I noticed that there was a new entry. It stated that Deven’s mandatory release was scheduled for April 2023. The date Deven said prison administration had told her the date she had been hoping for and depending on and it was in just over a month.


Speaker 1  20:31

I don’t ask you before but I just want to but I want to buy a plane ticket if it’s okay.


Deven  20:36

Yeah, of course, I would love to see you and like, have yay in real life.


Speaker 1  20:46

Yeah, I’m an AI robot actually, forgot to tell you.


Deven  20:52

My imagination, you’re not some M Night Shyamalan movie that I’ve been.


Liz Flock  20:57

Oh my god, that’d be crazy.


Liz Flock  21:01

Deven told me she had received official paperwork for her release. They plan to give her an ankle monitor like they did for everyone on mandatory and she would get assigned to a parole officer in Baltimore, where she planned to return to live with her dad and stepmom, Joan and her daughter. Over the next few weeks she formulated more of a plan. Joan’s aunt Sheila would pick her up from prison. And because it was in the middle of a work week, her aunt Lesley bought her an overnight train ticket from Alabama to Baltimore. Were all of her family would meet her at the station. It was all suddenly very real.


Deven  21:38

But what date are you getting out now? Now it’s gonna be the 25th April 25. Yeah, okay.


Liz Flock  21:47

Devin was scheduled to be released from prison on Tuesday, April 25 2023. My engineer Andy and I booked our plane tickets to Alabama to meet Deven when she got out. To be honest, I was still skeptical. I think it’s all of my years of covering the criminal legal system. I just didn’t trust it. I didn’t want to get too excited for her and her family. But I held out hope it would all work out.


Gloria Riviera  22:38

As Deven prepared for her release, and was left to supposedly rehabilitate during her final days at ATF, I was left with these questions. What do we tell ourselves prisons are actually for? And should Devon have ever been in there in the first place?


Mariame  23:51

I mean, certainly for Deven’s sake, prison isn’t the place that she should have ever been. She needed to fight back and defend herself to survive. We should have taken that up and taken her up and taken her up with her family and provided them the therapy and counseling that they probably wanted and needed.


Liz Flock  24:15

That’s activist and prison abolitionist, Mariame Kaba, who you heard from earlier in this series, she’s helped lots of people in Devon situation through her organization survived and punished. She says we’re not going to solve the crisis of domestic abuse, or get people the help they need through a system that punishes survivors of trauma, a system that doesn’t recognize them as survivors in the first place.


Mariame  24:41

Interpersonal violence in our country is mirrored by structural and systemic violence. These things are, they’re co constitutive in some ways of each other. And unless we address it as a holistic, cultural, societal, individual way, we’re not going to get at it and we are not going to dissolve it through the criminal punishment system, which is itself violent.


Liz Flock  25:04

Instead, Mariame says people like you and I have to make the change, to protect, empathize with and create spaces for survivors.


Mariame  25:13

If you wake up and you think, Hmm, it just in my little world, how might I lessen suffering today? By paying attention to dynamics that happen in my own family, in my own community around abuse and violence? How do I lessen suffering there, if you spend your time doing that, that you will see change? I have seen some I’ve supported so many people who have been in violent situations, who have gotten out of those situations. I have helped with others coming together to help free people from prison. I have helped with others, to help prevent people from going in in the first place. That’s a life that’s living. So I help people do that. And I hope people hear this story and think not like, I’m going to change the legislation and what, but they hear the story of Deven, and they look for the Deven’s in their own community. And they try to lessen suffering. If you can help make that happen, that will have been a victory.


Liz Flock  26:24

Mariame is saying, look around your community for a story like this, because they do exist. Don’t just walk away from the show. Don’t just pick up Deven’s story and put it back on the shelf.


Mariame  26:38

This is not a true crime thing. This is a story of a person and their struggle. And I want you to like to understand that this isn’t a story for you to consume. But rather, this is a journey for you to take alongside this person.


Liz Flock  26:57

Whether it’s Deven or someone else, you know, organizers like Mariame Kaba are trying to imagine a better world for domestic violence survivors, one where they are supported so they can stand on their own two feet, with the help of their community. And that’s exactly what Deven was doing in her final days incarcerated. She was trying to imagine a future where she would fit in. When Deven was in college, she majored in communications and wanted to be a journalist. Now she’s thinking about writing a book.


Deven  27:32

It’s women, like me that are behind bars. To solve a problem. This should be brought to people’s attention. And it shouldn’t be something that people really understand, it’s real. It’s not just like in movies, so they have scary men, and then brave men come save today. Like that’s not how that works. Like brutal, you know, I want to be able to give people like a voice. We just don’t always pick the right person to love.


Liz Flock  28:05

Not choosing the right person to love. It happens more often than you might think. One in three women and one in four men will experience some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. If you include emotional abuse, it’s even more prevalent. Those stats were on my mind all throughout my reporting on the story. So many people related to this case had been touched by domestic abuse. Like John’s mom.


John’s mom  28:36

I was scared to death that this man was going to come to me.


Liz Flock  28:40

And Alexa says Mom, Darla.


Darla  28:43

He had picked up a TV but he had smashed it on my head. And all I kept thinking everything was black. And I kept thinking to stay on your feet. Just stay on your feet. I didn’t have any resources. I didn’t have any help, I had nobody, I had nobody to call.


Liz Flock  29:04

Or Desi, John’s friend.


Desi  29:07

My ex would throw things through the law. He would never physically hurt me. But he would just hurt everything around me.


Desi  29:12

Even detective Mel Hoff who hadn’t believed Deven.


Mel Hoff  29:16

I mean, I grew up in domestic violence, understand domestic violence probably from watching my mother getting beat. I think it was her second husband. They chased me down with a knife. I was eight years old.


Liz Flock  29:28

And of course, John.


Speaker 1  29:31

Why do you think he acted the way he did? Like why do you think he was violent? How do you make sense of that?


Deven  29:38

He had like he had a shitty childhood, you know what I mean? Like you really did, I know that. The men that came after Henry were abusive because John used to tell me that he would be scared to even go use the bathroom and he would like end up being the bad because he’d be so scared to leave if the room because these men were beaten upon his mom, before me, all the women that he cared for him was like kind of just, you know, let him down.


Liz Flock  30:11

A lot of people let John down. He witnessed so much violence growing up, and then he let Deven down too. It made me think of a line. Miriam Kaba said in our interview, quoting the criminal justice reformer, Danielle Sarid that no one enters violence for the first time by committing it. If that’s true, violence is always perpetrated against us first, and then hurt people hurt people. Deven remain conflicted about how she saw John as both a victim and someone who deeply hurt her as a perpetrator.


Deven  30:49

Like, you know that it was wrong, you know that it was bad. You know, like, the way that you fell after those things happened to you. What would you want me to feel those? You know yeah.


Liz Flock  31:03

But John is no longer here and Deven would be getting out of prison very soon. To help her come to terms with John’s abuse, she needs support. She needs her community, her family, she needs access to affordable resources, like housing and counseling for her and her daughter, especially as she works out her own feelings of guilt.


Deven  31:28

I mean, I definitely have remorse. Because I never wanted to do that. You know, I took his life. That’s not something that you can just, you know, replace. I hate that, it got to that point. And I don’t know what I would say to his daughters. I really don’t I don’t really know anything else I could say. I am apologetic, and I am sorry, and I hate that it happened.


Liz Flock  32:10

About a month before her release and 2023 Deven turned 31 When she walked into the Shelby County Jail, she was only 25.


Deven  32:20

Hello, Happy birthday.


Deven  32:24

Thank you. I’m sorry I’m late. I had to wait on the video call from my dad.


Liz Flock  32:30

Deven got a cake from the other inmates. They sang to her and gave her presents with handmade cards. She says she made everyone prison teriyaki and nachos. We talked about our March birthdays me being an Aries and Deven a dreamy, temperamental Pisces. This was going to be Deven’s last birthday in jail. She started counting down the weeks than the days. She told me ATOC would transfer her from the therapeutic facility to Tutwiler prison and release her from there. Deven had a full itinerary, and Sheila would pick her up from the prison, then we’d meet up with her for an in person interview. Then she planned to return to the Vance family property to get her things, and to say a final goodbye to the trailer. And this chapter of her life. From there, she boarded a train to Baltimore to go home to her daughter and family.


Deven  33:26

Only one week left, oh my god. Yeah. I’m so ready is ridiculous I’m so ready. It’s been a long time.


Liz Flock  33:47

I guess I’ll see you in a week. And in the meantime, just let me know if anything changes. I sent you the info on our hotel for where she could drop you off so just let me know if that works for her.


Deven  34:00



Liz Flock  34:01

I couldn’t believe that I was actually finally going to meet Deven in person. For the last three years. I spoke to Deven every month, then every week, and at some points every day. Mostly she told me about her life, but occasionally I told her about mine too. Like when my niece was born when I wasn’t feeling well enough to call and even when.


Liz Flock  34:25

I want to tell you that I’m actually pregnant so.


Deven  34:31

Oh my God, that is amazing!


Liz Flock  34:36

They so before like.


Deven  34:39

Are you excited?


Liz Flock  34:45

I am but I’m so sick that’s why.


Liz Flock  34:47

It was moments like this that had taken us past the standard relationship between a journalist and their source. But this wasn’t your standard story. When interviewing someone for this long something shifts. And it’s not just about the facts anymore. It’s about a person. You just want to be okay. I got to really know Deven and she got to really know me. I regularly worried about her. I cared about her, and I was excited for her future. And the morning of Deven’s release, that excitement continued, until I got a distressing call from Deven’s family


Liz Flock  35:34

Have I talked to her? No Have you?


Deven’s Family  35:36

No, because I’m hearing that she’s still in prison.


Liz Flock  35:42

Next time on Blind Plea, how Deven’s release didn’t go as planned.


Deven  35:47

Because there’s no paperwork or anything that says she’s supposed to get out for that and send anything over to release her so she’s still incarcerated.


CREDITS  35:57

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at the or call 1-800-799-7233. There’s more Blind Plea with Lemonada Premium, subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content. Like an interview with John’s dad, Henry and more excerpts from Deven’s detective interview the night of the shooting. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Blind Plea is production of Lemonada Media. I’m your host Liz Flock. This episode was produced by Kristin Lapore, […] Evans and Tony Williams, Hannah Boomershine and Rachel Pilgrim are also our producers. Story editing by Martina Abrahams Ilunga. Mix music and sound design by Andrea Kristinsdóttir  with additional mixing and engineering from Ivan Kuraev. Naomi Barr is our fact checker. Jayla Everett is our production intern. Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, evoked media, Sabrina Merage Naim and myself, Liz Flock. This series is presented by Marguerite Casey Foundation. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow me at @LizFlock. And for more stories of women and self-defense, check out my book The Furies from Harper books available for preorder now. Find Lemonada at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, and follow Blind Plea wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership. Thanks so much for listening.

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