Stuck in the System

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Episode 10: After five long years behind bars, the day has finally come for Deven to leave prison. But hours before she’s set to go home, a breakdown in the process throws Deven’s release into jeopardy, which leaves her and her family scrambling for answers in the tangled bureaucracy of the Alabama prison system.


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News 3, Lesley, Janice, News 1, Liz Flock, Deven, Christine, Simone, Ivana, Andy, News 2, Cam Ward, Security, Officer, System

Liz Flock  00:01

This show contains mentions of suicide and domestic abuse.


System  01:25

This call is from a correctional facility and is subject to monitoring and recording. Thank you for using global telling.


Liz Flock  01:33



Deven  01:34



Liz Flock  01:34

Hi, how are you?


Deven  01:39

Good, thank you for calling, how are you doing?


Liz Flock  01:42

I’m good, I’m anxious and ready to go.


Deven  01:49

Yeah, 24 hours.


Liz Flock  01:52

Yeah, I know.


Liz Flock  01:54

24 hours until Deven’s mandatory release date, April 25 2023. 24 hours until she could leave prison and behind forever, you can tell that she’s more anxious than excited. Because at this point, Deven has spent over five years behind bars, ages 25 to 31, missing her daughter, her family and her freedom. The following day, she’d have the chance to close that chapter of her life. According to the terms of her release, she’d have to wear an ankle monitor and check in with a parole officer for one year. It was a lot to process.


Deven  02:32

I think my nerves won’t kick in until it like actually becomes like a real thing. I don’t know, it’s just like a it’s like a lot of mixed emotions that I’m feeling right now.


Liz Flock  02:45

In preparation for her release, Deven had given away almost all of her belongings in prison. And she was also leaving behind friends. So she said her goodbyes to the people that mattered.


Deven  02:56

They’re counting down with me. And so it’s kind of it’s been crazy.


Liz Flock  03:03

Yeah, yeah.


Liz Flock  03:08

This is Blind Plea, and I’m your host Liz Flock. On my first call with Deven three years ago, I never imagined we’d get to know each other this deeply. We’ve racked up hundreds of hours and calls to each other. From all of it, those calls conversations with her family and friends and my reporting. I’ve come to root for Deven. When we got off the phone, I thought this might be the last time I’ll have to talk to Deven on a prison line. And then another thought that for the first time I’d get to meet Deven in person, because I was on my way to Alabama to see her on the day of her release.


Deven  03:51

We’re ready to sit back, relax and enjoy this two hour and 11 minute flight over to Birmingham.


Liz Flock  03:58

Every time I’ve been to Alabama I’ve been stung by the natural landscape. Driving from the airport. You can see thickets a forest and gurgling rivers. It’s beautiful. But just under that beauty lies a darkness a darkness, Deven’s still had not escaped. I met up with my audio engineer Andy at the bed and breakfast we booked the fox and pheasant is run by a woman named Janice, here’s what you need to know about Janice. She’s the sort of person that will call you sweetheart. And you feel like one. She was a motorcycle chick in a past life. And she’s kind. She even drove all the way out to the airport to pick up Andy.


Janice  04:38

Nice to meet you.


Liz Flock  04:44

And at the b&b she was chatty, sharing local gossip and stories from her love life.


Janice  04:51

You know, the reason we broke up he said was because he seeking enlightenment.


Andy  04:57

This is the one who.


Janice  04:58

The karate guy.


Liz Flock  04:59



Liz Flock  05:01

That evening, Andy and I went over our plan for the next day. And Sheila would pick up Deven from prison and what’s Helga and take her back to Clara. Then Andy and I would meet up with them to see Deven face to face. After all of that, Deven would hop on a train from Birmingham to Baltimore, where she’d reunite with her family at last. As I drifted off to sleep that night, I thought about how Deven wouldn’t be locked in that darkness any longer.


Liz Flock  05:37

The next morning, I woke up to Sunshine streaming through the windows feeling at ease, because by 10am, Deven would be out of prison. That’s what correction staff had told her. By around noon she said she’d call me from an Sheila’s phone to tell me they’d gotten home. But hours passed, and there was no call. I kept staring at my phone, wheeling it to ring. Then around 2pm I got an incoming call from Aunt Lesley, who is back in Baltimore with Devon’s family anticipating her release.


Lesley  06:12

Hi, have you talked to Deven?


Liz Flock  06:15

Have I talked to her? No, have you?


Lesley  06:17

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


Liz Flock  06:21

Not only was Devon still in prison, but aunt Sheila, who was supposed to pick her up was lost somewhere in the middle of nowhere, unable to find the facility.


Liz Flock  06:31

Is she still in prison because she was not there or she?


Lesley  06:35

Because we don’t know.


Liz Flock  06:37

Lesley, trailed off I could hear she was talking to someone else in the room. Deven’s sister Simone, who is normally the most chill person ever. Lesley handed the phone to her.


Simone  06:48

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.


Liz Flock  06:59

This wasn’t the chill Simone. I knew she was pissed. Because there was a paperwork issue. And she and Lesley hadn’t received any information about what it was. They were left totally in the dark about Deven situation.


Simone  07:13

We just figure this out because I’m trying to call the VOC. And, you know, ask what’s going on?


Liz Flock  07:27

That’s Alabama’s department of corrections that oversees everything.


Lesley  07:30

Let’s see if we can get some money because this is criticism, don’t give me a lot I can’t believe this. Oh, God, I got a call for Sheila back. Okay all right.


Liz Flock  07:43

It was the worst case scenario. And as concerned as I was, I felt myself shifting into reporter mode. Like Simone said, we needed to get in touch with the Alabama Department of Corrections or aboc. I’d also try ATF, the facility where Deven was staying most recently, as well as Tutwiler, the prison, I started dialing.


Liz Flock  08:10

Yeah, hi. I’m calling because inmate Deven Gray was scheduled for release today, but I was just talking about there because inmate Deven Gray was supposed to be released today but they are just missing paperwork that wasn’t filled out by staff. I was hoping you could help me figure out what’s going on. My number is seven seven dead end after dead end. I still didn’t even know where Deven was at this point. So Andy and I pulled up the atoc website to do some sleuthing. They have a database of everyone who was incarcerated in Alabama. a month or two prior it had updated Devens release date to April 25 2023.


Liz Flock  08:52

Murray Gray, Alabama therapeutic educational facility are mandatory isn’t on here, it was before. Now it just says minimum release date of April 19 2024, that’s really weird.


Andy  09:09

Why would it? Yeah.


Liz Flock  09:11

I called ATF again since the website said that’s where Deven was. This time I actually got in touch with someone. Do you know what’s going on? I was just trying to figure out what’s happening.


Security  09:23

Now you would have to talk to Tutwiler.


Liz Flock  09:25

Okay, so she’s that Tutwiler now?


Security  09:28

No, you would have to call to a lot of his scouts. I’m Department of Corrections, no idea as to what might be going on before services. Our best of luck information.


Liz Flock  09:38

All right, I’ll do that. Thank you. So I called Tutwiler again. I was transferred twice and put on hold. It was like it’s been like half an hour was. My God was going on, after all. That’s when I got a really scary text from at Lesley. She said I don’t think she will be released. One of the inmates called and said she is in medical for suicide.


Lesley  11:51

Hey there, he has been calling the whole Alabama system.


Liz Flock  12:17

When Lesley called me I was feeling so shaken up by her text. I asked her what the hell was going on.


Lesley  12:24

So she went crazy and said she’s gonna kill herself. So he’s not even at the rehab and they usually do a 24 hour hold until Oh, God.


Liz Flock  12:38

I had so many questions. Deven become suicidal after she learned she wasn’t getting out? Or was she just upset and said she wanted to die? How serious was it? But Lesley didn’t know any more about it. While we waited to learn more, I asked Lesley if she’d learned why ATOC wasn’t letting Deven out.


Lesley  13:01

They’ve been trying to get a hold the John’s mother has not been able to get a holster and they cannot release her because they let her know that she’s being released.


Liz Flock  13:15

Okay, okay. The reason Devon wasn’t getting out was because the prison had failed to get in touch with John’s mom, Christine. Under Alabama’s early release law. The prison has to contact victims families when people who committed violent crimes are released, which theoretically could be a good thing. But since they hadn’t made contact with Christine yet, the law prohibited Deven from leaving the facility.


Lesley  13:40

Is only based on John’s mother, she never answers the phone, she’ll never get out.


Janice  13:48

Oh my god. Does John’s mom know that?


Lesley  13:50

I don’t know.


Liz Flock  13:52

I thought it was weird that AOC hadn’t been able to get in touch with Christine. Because every time I’ve called her she’s answered right away or called me right back. But I was more worried about how Deven was doing. She’d have to get a new tablet to message me. So I kept asking Lesley to confirm Deven was all right. So is Devin okay, what’s the?


Lesley  14:14

Okay, she just said she was going to kill herself.


Liz Flock  14:17



Liz Flock  14:20

Something I’ve noticed about the gray family is that they tend to be cool headed, even in the face of the most devastating news. In this moment, I couldn’t help but think about all the women I’d watched go through the system before.


Lesley  14:36

This is what prisons always do, which is like so much bureaucracy, nothing is communicated nothing is transparent. It’s crazy. Guys, your screen is crazy right now.


Liz Flock  14:51

Like Lesley said Devin was stuck in prison until ATOC got in touch with Christine. At least that’s how I interpreted the victim notification law at the time, I’d later learn that in practice, it wasn’t so cut and dried. Worst case, Deven could be in prison for up to another year until April 2024.


Lesley  15:13

All right.


Liz Flock  15:13

Okay, take care I’m so sorry.


Lesley  15:17

Thank you 100%.


Liz Flock  15:19

All right bye. The whole situation felt so delicate. I wasn’t sure if Christine even knew the prison needed to get in touch with her. To be honest, I wanted to do whatever I could to get Deven out. But as a journalist, I didn’t want to divulge information to Christine. That wasn’t mine to tell.


Christine  15:47



Liz Flock  15:48

Hey, do you have a minute?


Liz Flock  15:50

So I called up Christine, my senior producer for advice. So I got more information from Lesley. She just called and gave us the full update. Apparently, the reason she’s not getting out is because they tried to reach Christine for a long time and they haven’t been able to reach her. And if the victim’s family isn’t notified, they can’t let you out. I updated Kristen on everything Leslie had told me. Yeah, I was just calling you because I’m trying to figure out the ethics of whether I can call Christine and ask her if she’s even gotten these calls.


Christine  16:24

Do you think that she is purposely avoiding the call?


Liz Flock  16:29

I don’t know, because.


Christine  16:30

It’s usually good about picking up your phone call.


Lesley  16:33

She picks up all of my calls, usually on the first ring, or if not, she calls me right back.


Christine  16:38

The only thing that could potentially go wrong, is it by you telling her this? It convinces her to continue to not pick up the phone?


Liz Flock  16:47

Right, exactly. We decided it would be okay for me to call Christine. But I had to keep it short.


Liz Flock  16:55

Okay, can you hear me?


Christine  16:57



Liz Flock  16:59

Nothing, I was just checking in with you. I heard from the Alabama Department of Corrections. And they said they were trying to get in touch with you. Have you talked to them at all?


Christine  17:12



Liz Flock  17:13

Okay, I don’t know. They said they tried to call you a bunch.


Christine  17:17

My phone has been messed up in the last couple of days the battery is dying. And I haven’t been able to get usually been able to get the phone service. Shit, is she out?


Liz Flock  17:31

I didn’t tell Christine, they were calling about Deve getting out. And it was pretty clear, she had no idea what I was asking about. She hadn’t gotten their call. ATOC should have had Christine’s email and mailing address, but they didn’t notify her in those ways either. Their office was closed by the time we talked. So Christine told me she planned to call them the next day to see what was up.


Christine  17:55

You know, I’ll let you know what I hear.


Liz Flock  17:57

Okay, sounds good.


Christine  17:59

All right, done.


Liz Flock  18:00

You take care. All right.


Liz Flock  18:04

As a journalist, I try not to let my emotions get in the way. But at this point, I was worried about a lot of people who I’d gotten to know Aunt Sheila who was not feeling well and drove several hours to pick up Deven and got totally lost on the way, Deven’s dad Jean, who had been preparing Deven’s daughter for her mom to come home, Simone who had entirely lost her chill. And of course, Devin. I don’t know exactly what went down at atoc, and maybe I never will. But I was so frustrated by how much the mishap had affected everyone. So I took a walk and unloaded all of my thoughts into a voice memo. They don’t care about the impacts that these policies have, like the fact that they have to notify Christine. When did they start calling Christine, Christine said her phone has been messed up for a couple days, which means they only started calling her like yesterday today, because she said she hasn’t gotten a call from them. And she sounded genuinely surprised. Which means they only gave it 24 hours to contact the victim’s family. Why didn’t they send her a letter by certified mail? Why did they send her an email? There are so many ways they could have contacted Christine and they didn’t they waited till release day. Deven thought she was gonna get out today. They told her that. Lots of staff told her that she made all the preparations, her family bought an expensive train ticket. I was worried about Christine too, the law was set up to honor the wishes of the victim’s families. Yet it didn’t seem like ATOC had tried to reach Christine until the week of Deven’s actual release. This is the system in a nutshell, which is that little bureaucratic cross seas that allegedly are making all of us safer, are causing so much damage and pain in our communities and they don’t care. No communication, no transparency, no awareness. No nothing is disgusting. Over the next few days, as I waited to hear from Deven, I kept calling ATOC to learn more. Our entire team sent emails to their department. In an effort to get their attention. Someone from their office did respond to some of our emails asking for Christine’s contact information. Information ATOC should have already had our team shared it with them. I also called a bunch of high up officials to try to find out more about what was going on. Our team had previously interviewed Cam Ward, director of the Alabama bureau of Pardons and Paroles, and I figured it was worth asking him about Deven’s situation directly, since I couldn’t get in touch with anyone else. Cams gonna be like.


System  20:59

Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system at the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up or press one for more options.


Liz Flock  21:11

Hi Cam, my name is Liz Flock. And while we waited for cam to call back, our team did some digging into Deven situation and discovered she’s not the only inmate was faced this problem. Alabama’s victim notification system has been underfunded and racked by problems for years. And it got worse with all the mandatory releases that we told you about last episode. Because so many more people were getting out early under that law. There were a lot more victims families to notify all at once. In January 2023. Approximately 400 people were due to be released ahead of schedule. The system already dysfunctional, was overwhelmed by all the notifications they had to make. A few days before the big release, ATOC had contacted fewer than 20 families.


Ivana  22:02

And that is what caused general chaos at Alabama.


Liz Flock  22:07

Ivana Hankyu is a reporter who covered the debacle. She works for, an Alabama news site that won two Pulitzers this year.


Ivana  22:16

There is conflicting accounts on on who dropped the ball. Some people will blame that on the lack of a victim notification system. Some people will blame that on the Department of Corrections for not properly notifying. Some people blame that on again victims of victims families not having proper enrollment into a type of victim notification service, whether it’s through the prison or through an electronic system. Nobody has taken full responsibility for what exactly the problem was. But the general public did not know there was a problem until about the day before that law was set to go into effect.


Liz Flock  22:56

And the general public kind of freaked out. It probably didn’t help that TV news was really playing up the fear factor.


News 1  23:04

A mandatory supervision law is now in effect allowing the Alabama Department of Corrections to release hundreds of inmates including convicted murderers,


News 2  23:13

more than half of the inmates were set to be released committed violent crimes, some convicted murderers.


News 3  23:19

At least 50 to be released inmates are serving time for committing murder or manslaughter.


Liz Flock  23:26

In reality, the vast majority of the people getting released weren’t convicted murderers. Most had committed low level crimes like burglaries or drug offenses. Plus, before this law went into effect, all of them would have been released within the next year anyway, when their sentences ended. In short, the whole victim notification system is a mess. And it’s the system Deven was caught up in it’s likely why Christine didn’t get an earlier call.


Ivana  23:56

I don’t think that anybody would say the system has worked itself out in terms of victim notification. I think that everybody would say the prison system is doing these notifications as they can as they get them.


Liz Flock  24:11

And Ivana told us that getting answers like how the Alabama prison system is working to correct these issues has been difficult.


Ivana  24:19

Because there is not very much transparency between the again the prison system and between just agencies and Alabama in general. It is very hard to get to the root of the problem there. It’s very hard to see inside of these facilities because the people at the top the people who could provide the answers don’t provide the answers.


Liz Flock  24:41

Speaking of people at the top a few days later, Cam Ward called me back.


Liz Flock  24:47

Are you there?


Cam Ward  24:47

Yeah, I’m here.


Liz Flock  24:48

Okay, gotcha. So thanks for calling me back Cam. I know you have a million things going on.


Cam Ward  24:53

I was looking at Deven’s case hold on I wanted to get you some more information. I think I know without even looking what the issue was the let me check.


Liz Flock  25:02

Cam looked up Deven’s case confirmed the victim notification system had failed her.


Cam Ward  25:07

This is a common issue and victims notification and Alabama is an area that could be drastically improved upon, in my opinion for both the victims and the inmates.


Security  25:20

Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely.


Cam Ward  25:22

Nobody’s able to come up with an answer but I can tell you that it’s been, it’s a bizarre challenge.


Liz Flock  25:28

I don’t know if bizarre really sums it up. But Cam was clear about one thing, it was not his agency’s job to notify Christine.


Cam Ward  25:37

Yeah, this is a Department of Corrections issue. So on mandatory release, the only thing we do on prom for all sides, we show up and put an ankle monitor on you, and then we supervise you. But leading up to that time when you walk out that door, or mandatory release. We don’t we don’t have any say oh, man, that’s all Department of Corrections, yeah.


Liz Flock  25:59

What’s crazy is that Pardons and Paroles successfully notified Christine about Deven’s parole hearing last year, but now that she’s supposed to be released, it’s all up to ATOC.


Liz Flock  26:10

That atoc have the same methods of notification as pearls do or you don’t know.


Cam Ward  26:14

I don’t, I don’t know.


Liz Flock  26:17

It’s a tangled bureaucracy and it doesn’t seem like it’s working for anyone, not for incarcerated people like Deven who wake up thinking they’re going to go free, only to learn that’s not true. And not for victims, family members like Christine, who don’t get a proper heads up if someone is getting out. Cam had been the only higher up that I’ve been able to reach about this. No one at ATOC had been willing to talk to me. But because the notification system was split up between government agencies, he was pretty powerless to help in Deven situation.


Cam Ward  26:51

I think the problem is the system we have sucks. That’s what I said it sucks. Because you have everybody working in silos is just a disjointed system we need a unified reporting system.


Liz Flock  27:05

The system sucks. The two agencies ATOC and Pardons and Paroles do not work together on notifications. They do not share resources, and so victims families are not informed and incarcerated people are confused about when they’ll even be released. As we’re seeing with Deven, people fall through the cracks.


Liz Flock  28:05

Days after Deven suppose that release date I finally got a call from her and she told me what she’d been through. When she found out she wasn’t getting out of prison. She called suicide and corrections transferred her from ATF to Tutwiler to put her on suicide watch.


Deven  29:27

So I kind of had like, well I had a big panic attack. And then I ended up calling a suicide to come back here so I can find some stuff out.


Liz Flock  29:39

Tutwiler was in charge of her release so she was trying to get there. She was also incredibly distressed about her situation.


Deven  29:46

Because I’m thinking well oh my god seal it down there waiting for me in the train because like you don’t understand it and Liz is here like I’m thinking in my head. I’ve got all the people you know if there’s a when and most near.


Liz Flock  30:01

And Sheila had made it back home safely, and Lesley had canceled Deven’s train ticket and got some of the money back. But of course, Deven was still in prison. And there was a lot she wasn’t able to get back.


Deven  30:15

I can’t do anything like, I’m such a control freak, but I have to be at peace with the fact that there’s no, there’s nothing for me to do but sit here and wait for them to do their part for Christine to do her part.


Liz Flock  30:34

Because she’d expected to leave prison she’d given pretty much everything away, her clothes, her shoes and her hygiene products. The prison gave her new underwear and a uniform, but she had to borrow everything else from other women. She’d had her sights set on April 25. The promise of that release had given her hope. Now the future was uncertain. Depending on whether or not Christine answered the phone, Deven could spend another year behind bars. A few days later, I talked to Christine again. And she gave me an update. She said she’d called ATOC And they told her they hadn’t been trying to reach her. So what was going on? All anyone could do was wait.


Liz Flock  31:20

Have you heard anything yet?


Deven  31:23

Well, I heard that a marketing out on the night. One little phone call is keeping me from getting out of prison. I’ve just frustrated at the entire system. There’s no organization, there’s no real resolution.


Liz Flock  31:41

I hope one of us will hear something soon.


Deven  31:45

Yeah, me too, me too, for real.


Liz Flock  31:49

Few weeks later, I got a missed call from Deven late at night, which was unusual for her. She called again the next morning and I answered.


System  31:58

To refuse this brief call press two. If you wouldn’t keep for using Securus you may start the conversation now.


Deven  32:04

Hey, I got my release papers.


Liz Flock  32:10

No way.


Deven  32:11

Yes, I got my release papers.


Liz Flock  32:15

Oh my gosh, what happened exactly? How do you find out what happened?


Liz Flock  32:19

Deven told me she’d gotten an orange slip the night before. And on it, it said she’d get released on May 23 2023. In a week’s time.


Liz Flock  32:29

Oh my god, I’m just so excited, I’m so happy for you. Oh, so did you freak out?


Deven  32:40

I did, but it was like, you know, I already had like a, like, I was already disappointed the first time. So it was kind of surreal to me like, you know, kind of like, oh, okay, this is happening, you know, and then one of the women that I know for forever. Like since I’ve been here, like I showed her my orange paper and she started crying. So then I started crying like it didn’t wasn’t real until she started crying.


Liz Flock  33:06

Wow, yeah. Okay, one week you’re out.


Deven  33:15

Oh, yes.


Liz Flock  33:17

Have a great day.


Deven  33:19

I’ll talk to you later.


Liz Flock  33:20

Okay bye.


Liz Flock  33:23

Here’s what’s crazy, though, ATOC still hadn’t reached Christine. And yet they were letting Deven out. We didn’t know if it was because we sent so many emails, or because they just decided to release her. There was only one snag left. Deven didn’t have anyone to pick her up from prison. Once again, she was being released in the middle of the work week, and a lot was going on with her family. So they couldn’t come down. And Sheila’s health wasn’t great. And I wasn’t able to return to Alabama because by this point, I was very pregnant. So instead, Deven had to rely on strangers.


Janice  34:01

That really feel like it’s an honor just to go get her.


Liz Flock  34:05

Janice, our bed and breakfast host had agreed to pick up Deven. So on the morning of May 23rd. She was headed to Tutwiler. We sent Maura an audio engineer to record the day. On the ride there. Janice was already thinking several steps ahead. She’s a planner like that. Like what would Deven want to do when she gets out?


Janice  34:25

I’ve got a whole list of possible activities. I’m about what do you think? Well, I’m thinking mani pedi you know, that’s but that’s me. And I’m sure she’s gonna want to eat you know.


Liz Flock  34:39

Janice had spent the night before preparing. She purchased a box of fancy cookies and clothes for Deven and even blown up balloons. There were five of them bobbing around in Genesis back seat, one to release for each year, Deven had been locked up.


Janice  34:54

I see somebody I’m gonna put down my window and ask what’s up, hey there we’re here to pick up Deven Gray.


Liz Flock  35:05

Janice pulled up to Tutwyler. It was as intimidating as ever with its Watchtower chain link fences and concertina wire. When they pass through the gate, Janice saw they weren’t alone. It was a release day at the prison so other people had congregated in the parking lot. And officer came up to Janice’s car. And she told him they were there for Deven Gray.


Officer  35:28

Clothes for her? Okay, let me get the clothes I take.


Liz Flock  35:32

The officer grab the bag of clothes for Deven. He bring them to her so she could change before getting released. Then he I had the microphone and recorder.


Officer  35:42

Lab report.


Janice  35:47

Big day.


Officer  35:48

Always make that when you go home.


Janice  35:51

I mean, you gotta


Liz Flock  35:52

Well Janice and Maura waited, they accidentally released one of Deven’s balloons early they watched it rise into the air and turn into a tiny in the sky until it disappeared completely, and then.


Deven  36:16



Janice  36:17



Deven  36:22

I love my balloon.


Liz Flock  36:23

You can hear the elation and Deven’s voice.


Deven  36:25

I can’t believe I’m out. Yeah, I don’t know if I want to cry or what? I’m just overwhelmed, amazing.


Liz Flock  36:40

In the parking lot of the prison, Janice handed the remaining four balloons to Deven so she could let them go.


Deven  36:49

Awww, look at them go!


Liz Flock  36:53

On the road to Birmingham, Tutwiler became smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. Deven was overcome with emotion. And most of all, she was excited about seeing her daughter.


Deven  37:06

Yes, I’m just excited to go home and see my family and go to hook my little girl. Yes, I miss her so much. She was three when I left her so she’ll, she’ll be nine this year, we both been through a lot. She’s been helped him a lot without me. And I’ve been through a lot without her.


Liz Flock  37:28

They were going to have to find their way back to each other. Deven knew it would be a lot for her for her daughter. But first she had a flight to Baltimore to catch. It was scheduled for later that afternoon. So there was some time to fill in between.


Janice  37:43

I was thinking we could go get a present for your daughter. What do you think she would like?


Deven  37:49

She loves dinosaurs believe it or not? Yeah, she loves dinosaurs.


Liz Flock  37:56

Janice had other ideas to fill the time too.


Janice  38:00

Throw out mani pedi your manicure pedicure?


Deven  38:03



Janice  38:05

That really?


Deven  38:07

Oh, absolutely.


Liz Flock  38:10

Janice’s phone rang. It was Aunt Leslie, she and the rest of the family had been anxiously awaiting news about Deven’s release that all been calling Lesley for updates since she was the one with Janice’s number.


Janice  38:22

Lesley? Yes, I’m so sorry, we haven’t called you.


Deven  38:33

Girl we’re right down the hallway.


Lesley  38:48

Oh god.


Janice  38:55

Thank you Lesley. for all you’ve done.


Lesley  38:58

Oh, no.


Janice  39:05

That is so sweet, thank you so much I’m honored to do this.


Lesley  39:10

Thank you so much.


Deven  39:13

I love auntie, okay.


Liz Flock  39:22

Janice took the exit for Alabaster. Their first destination classic nails for Manny Petty’s in the strip mall parking lot Deven took it all in.


Deven  39:33

This is crazy.


Janice  39:36

What’s crazy?


Deven  39:37

It’s just being out like in the open like a person is this crazy.


Janice  39:43

In the world.


Deven  39:44

In the world, it’s crazy.


Liz Flock  39:47

And that crazy feeling didn’t go away. After a visit to the salon they stopped for lunch for Deven encountered more novelties.


Deven  39:56

I haven’t held real silverware, in five years, five and a half years. So that was crazy, I almost felt like I was holding it wrong because it was heavy in my hand. I’m just not used to that so that was experience and like someone trusting me with a knife and a sharp. I mean it’s to plastic.


Liz Flock  40:23

A target Deven picked out a toy for her daughter.


Deven  40:26

This one’s the best one I think.


Janice  40:35

His mouth opens out terrible.


Deven  40:39



Liz Flock  40:41

By this time in the afternoon. It was clear the day was wearing on Deven. It was all so overwhelming.


Deven  40:49

I hate that I have a monitor. I just wanted you to know that. I hate it, I mean, it doesn’t bother me but it bothers me because I feel like if I make too much of a big deal about it, people will look right at it. So I tried to act like okay, but I hate it.


Janice  41:08

What does it make you feel like?


Deven  41:10

Like I’m still a prisoner, like I’m still an inmate, like I’m not all the way free because you know people are gonna look at me and be like, what you got? What’s that for? Sam a wanted fugitive, how about that? How about that, okay.


Liz Flock  41:26

By this point, she just wanted to be home.


Janice  41:30

You ready to like, just close your eyes?


Deven  41:32

Yes, like I just want to be where I’m supposed to be. I got a whole nother journey on my hands. A whole nother journey.


Liz Flock  41:46

They got to the Birmingham Airport early. Airports are stressful in general. So you can imagine how intense it must have felt for Deven to be there. She had last flown on an airplane as a teenager. Janice was there to help guide Deven through the process. They want to check in.


Security  42:03

Security then your gate number see three.


Deven  42:05

Yes, ma’am, thank you.


Liz Flock  42:08

But before Deven even got in line for security, an airline employee stopped her. The issue was her ankle monitor. Janice immediately stepped in Mama Bear style to explain Deven situation.


Janice  42:23

And she’s on her way to Baltimore where her parole officer will their take. We just got out of prison today.


Security  42:30

Okay, so I’ll have to make a real quick call itself, the safety and security is highly unusual, should not be an issue. Just hang tight.


Janice  42:37

Okay, thank you.


Liz Flock  42:38

Deven, Janice and Maura sat on the bench in the airport waiting for an update. After everything Deven had been through, it was another obstacle. And a reminder that she wasn’t free, that this transition out of prison wouldn’t be easy.


Security  42:56

For patients, I appreciate it. So again, as.


Liz Flock  42:59

It turned out, the monitor was against airline policy because the device might interfere with electronics on the aircraft. At this point, I thought Deven was boarding her flight.


Janice  43:11

Hey, Siri, call this.


Liz Flock  43:16

I had no idea things were falling apart until Janice called me.


Janice  43:22

They say it is interfering with their devices on the airplane. And I said I don’t believe that it’s turned on and she has not met yet, even with a parole officer. They say they they have no way of knowing whether it’s on or not. So we need to try to see if there’s a way we can have it removed and let her bring it with her to Maryland if that’s what she needs to do, or.


Liz Flock  43:51

Definitely we should call ATOC the prison, I’ll send you the number that I have for the media line, or whatever.


Janice  44:02



Janice  44:05

And truthfully, they should have known this. You would think they would have encountered this before.


Liz Flock  44:12

Of course.


Liz Flock  44:13

Deven had informed the prison she would be flying home and no one told her the ankle monitor could be an issue. Janice went out to her car to charge her phone and may call after call. All the while Deven sat calmly in the face of the setback, holding close the dinosaur blanket she’d picked out for her daughter. After what felt like forever. Janice came bursting back into the airport. Listen to her footsteps. She was an all out run.


Deven  44:46

I you see a heart attack.


Liz Flock  44:52

The Birmingham Police Department send an officer over to the airport to take off the monitor.


Deven  44:57

This has been such a journey one thing after another.


Security  45:06

Oh man, that’s it, that’s all.


Deven  45:10

Thank you so much. I can go home now. That’s incredible. Thank you so much, thank you.


Liz Flock  45:25

Deven had a long road ahead of her adjusting to life in the outside world. Living with her family she hadn’t seen face to face in a decade. Deven said her goodbyes to Janice and Maura to people who’ve been strangers to her until this morning, and who had now witnessed one of the most important days of her life. She got in line for security. As the hours pass, I waited to hear from Janice or Lesley the Deven had made it safely. At last I got a voicemail from Janice.


Liz Flock  45:55

Hey, Liz just calling you back, like this sugars playing, the Eagle has landed. She is in Baltimore so anyway, in closing, I hope you’re doing well.


Liz Flock  46:11

After that, I got photos from Lesley of Deven’s airport, greeting, her dad hugging her, Deven holding someones baby, and I knew she’d see her daughter at home. It was all so surreal, and beautiful and surreal.


Liz Flock  46:54

Deven had so many people in her corner over the years, people who helped her get to this point of her release her family, friends, lawyer, kind hearted strangers and our entire podcast team. That support looked like witness testimony, commissary, money, legal help, and pressure on atoc to name a few. Despite all of that Deven’s experience, and the system was still incredibly arduous. So you can imagine how it would be for someone like Deven, who didn’t have that financial, familial and legal backing, who didn’t have any attention from the media. Of course, that’s the reality for the majority of criminalized survivors. Their stories are unfolding every day, likely in your own state, in your own community. And Deven’s story isn’t over either.


Liz Flock  48:00

Next time on a bonus episode of Blind Plea, I talked to Deven about adjusting to life in Baltimore.


Deven  48:07

I still haven’t processed anything. I still haven’t processed anything because I just get back to life.


Liz Flock  48:23

There’s more Blind Plea with Lemonada premium. Subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like a visit inside a safe house for domestic abuse survivors in Shelby County. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts.


CREDITS  48:41

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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