The Parole Hearing

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Episode 8: After she was convicted, Deven was sent to Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama — one of the most infamous lockups in the county. Alabama’s prison system is overcrowded and understaffed with a long history of human rights abuses. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel: the possibility of parole.


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Follow host Liz Flock on Twitter @lizflock. For more stories of women and self-defense, check out her book “The Furies” from Harper Books, available for pre-order now.

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Episode 8: After she was convicted, Deven was sent to Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama — one of the most infamous lockups in the county. Alabama’s prison system is overcrowded and understaffed with a long history of human rights abuses. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel: the possibility of parole.


This series is created with Evoke Media, a woman-founded company devoted to harnessing the power of storytelling to drive social change.

This series is presented by Marguerite Casey Foundation. MCF supports leaders who work to shift the balance of power in their communities toward working people and families, and who have the vision and capacity for building a truly representative economy. Learn more at or visit on social media @caseygrants.

Follow host Liz Flock on Twitter @lizflock. For more stories of women and self-defense, check out her book “The Furies” from Harper Books, available for pre-order now.

Interested in bonus content and behind the scenes material? Subscribe to Lemonada Premium right now in the Apple Podcasts app by clicking on our podcast logo and the “subscribe” button.

Click this link for a list of current sponsors and discount codes for this and all other Lemonada series:



Dwayne Spurlock, Eric’s mom, automated, Martha, Eric’s brother, Deven, Officer, Opposition speaker 1, Board Speaker, Terry Peden, Richard Rice, Kristen, Brittany Smith, Liz Flock, Christine, Lisa Brown, Geneva Cooley, Guard, Simone, Kiera, Sheila, Andy, Opposition speaker 2, Katie Stanfield, Inmate, Cam Ward, Police, Darryl

Liz Flock  00:01

This show contains violent content and scenes of domestic abuse.


automated  00:58

A call from Deven Gray and incarcerated individual at Alabama Department of Corrections to accept this free call press one. To refuse this free call press. Thank you for using Securus you may start the conversation now.


Deven  01:22



Liz Flock  01:23

Hi, I’m here with Christian and the whole team.


Deven  01:28



Kiera  01:34

We tried to get in, but it was not.


Katie Stanfield  01:40

Yeah, Christian they called the cops back you […] crazy.


Liz Flock  01:49

It’s September 2022, and I’m in Alabama with my team. I tried to go see Deven in prison but yeah, that didn’t work out. Deven has been incarcerated for almost five years. And one of the things that’s been hardest about prison is she hasn’t gotten to see any of her loved ones and person. Her daughter, dad and Sheila nobody has seen her face to face because of how complicated it can be to get approved. It’s one of the things that unnerves me most about prison, how opaque it is, how hard it is to see what’s going on inside. So last year, the Blind Plea team decided we’d make every effort we could to get in to see Deven at Julia Tutwiler Prison and with Tomcat, Alabama, even though one local journalist told me no press had been approved to enter Tutwiler in yours.


Liz Flock  02:44

Hi, there, this is Liz Flock. I’m the journalist who spoke to you in your office earlier about visiting inmate Deven Gray for a story I’m working on. I never got a call back from you so I’m just calling back again.


Liz Flock  02:59

I tried to get in to see Deven for half a year with no success. The Alabama Department of Corrections denied a press visit saying that they did not coordinate or facilitate media interviews. And they told me that audio recording would be disruptive to the women inside. I applied to be on Deven’s regular visitation list like friends or family would do. But I was only approved to visit her by video, basically a zoom call. But that wasn’t the point. After all these years of talking to Deven on the phone, I wanted to meet her in person. But I was out of luck. Until Deven told me about this thing called a special visit. She said it was a special categorization for people who come in from out of town. It seemed like a crazy long shot. But since I was on Deven’s video visitation list, and since our team was already planning on going to Alabama for a reporting trip, I thought, why not try. What we didn’t know at the time was that special visits are only for immediate family members. And they have to be approved in advance and that’s how our audio engineer Andy and I found ourselves in a very precarious situation.


Andy  04:10

So that’s it, that’s out here to see Deven.


Liz Flock  04:13



Andy  04:13

Okay and his Special visit […]


Liz Flock  04:18

Because were from out of state snd so they allowed us to come on a day that’s not normal because.


Liz Flock  04:23

Deven told us she checked with the prison beforehand, and that it was worth trying for a special visit on this day. But see, this is the problem. Nothing is clear. It’s really hard to get information.


Police  04:36

You can’t get a special visit only if you’re not on the visitation list.


Liz Flock  04:43

[…] So we could do a special visit if we weren’t on the visitation list? That made no sense to me. Anyway, they made it very clear that they weren’t going to let us in and that we had to leave. So we headed back out and gotten the car. Andy and I decided to drive around the perimeter of the prison. If we couldn’t see Deven maybe we could at least see where she’d been calling us from this whole time and record what the prison yard sounded like from the outside. And that’s when I made the world’s worst left turn you problems should I turn left or am I getting.


Liz Flock  05:27

That plan quickly went haywire.


Liz Flock  05:46

Within seconds we were surrounded by prison security. And they were not happy.


Police  05:52

Get back to the highway.


Liz Flock  05:54

How do I get out? Isn’t that’s an open road? How do I get out?


Liz Flock  06:06

You can tell my voice is panicked. This is not normal. I’ve driven around the perimeter of other prisons before without any issues. And there was no signage here to tell us where we could or couldn’t drive.


Liz Flock  06:21



Police  06:22

Ran off on the front gate one, try to go down to the […] again have you been told.


Liz Flock  06:28

I was just trying to do a loop.


Police  06:29

We told you to leave.


Liz Flock  06:30



Police  06:31

You will and came back so that’s three.


Liz Flock  06:39

He takes our IDs and goes back to his car we’re freaking out not only because we might get arrested but because we’re worried about the way that might impact Deven the weight is agonizing.


Liz Flock  07:04

Then we get lucky they let us off with a warning.


Police  07:12

This is the main […] This is still state property. They’ll come back unless you’re approved to visit, be signed, sealed delivered something in the mail.


Liz Flock  07:25

Okay, thank you so much


Liz Flock  07:35

This facility and really the whole Alabama carceral system has been riddled with issues for decades. So it makes sense the people in charge will do everything in their power to keep anyone from seeing inside. But we weren’t giving up. We had one more last ditch Hail Mary plan to get into Tutwiler.


Liz Flock  08:03

This is Blind Plea, I’m Liz Flock.


Liz Flock  08:15

Alabama’s prison system has a bad reputation. It’s understand understaffed, overcrowded and has a long history of human rights violations, even when it’s working like it’s supposed to. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare. There’s a maze of agencies and companies that have a stake in Alabama’s prisons. They overlap and undercut each other in ways that strain the limits of human comprehension. I’ve spent years reporting on prisons, and even I get dizzy trying to make sense of it all. Nearly every time I tried to get information on Deven’s case, I got stonewalled, interview requests got denied. Phone lines went repeatedly to voicemail it was a mess. And these days, there’s a new pressing problem. Almost no one is getting out on parole statewide. In 2022, parole approvals in Alabama dropped to a historic unbelievable low. Only 11% of people who are up for review actually got out. For context, the parole rate in the state of New York is 41%. And there are plenty of people who think even that is way too low. The system is brutal everywhere but it’s surreal how inhumane things can be in Alabama prisons. Someone dies inside them almost every single day. from prison to her parole hearing. Today, we’re taking you into Deven’s nightmare. After Deven signed her plea deal, she was moved from the Shelby County jail to Tutwiler prison. Tutwiler is the gateway to the women’s prison system and Alabama. Everyone passes through there and it houses the state’s female death row and its infamous. In 2013 Mother Jones named it as one of the 10 worst prisons in the country. Shortly after that the Department of Justice investigated the prison. They found a culture of sexual assault by the guards. Women incarcerated there identified more than a third of staff members as having had sex with someone locked up, and the beatings were constant. Since then, Tutwiler has supposedly cleaned up its act. The Department of Justice says they’re an almost full compliance with constitutional standards. But a lot of the women who I talked to regularly on the inside today, say conditions still aren’t humane.


Liz Flock  10:40

What has your experience been like? In the prison?


Lisa Brown  10:44

It was a shock at first because the men that work here, have no respect for the women. They disregard the trauma that they’ve been through.


Brittany Smith  10:58

Most of these women have been abused sexually or physically, you know, by family member or they’ve been right and it’s impacted their lives in a terrible way.


Geneva Cooley  11:13

I’m locked in a room 24 hours a day, and you take a shower, they got to pick up you to go take a shower.


Katie Stanfield  11:22

I mean, it’s prison the prison is not supposed to be a cakewalkut it it is, unbelievably, you know, horrible here.


Liz Flock  11:31

You just heard from Lisa Brown, Brittany Smith, Geneva Cooley and Katie Stanfield. Some of these women are friends of Deven’s. Some I connected with independently. They tell me stories of how they found maggots in their food. How there’s no AC in the sweltering summer, how easy it is to get weed and even meth on the inside. And how the classes they’re encouraged to take there can be actively re traumatizing. Many of these women like Deven rarely get visitors. Instead they talk to their loved ones over phone or video chat. But that can get expensive really quickly. Because as Deven says, every single call and email costs money.


Deven  12:14

Like you actually have to pay per minute to use the tablet. And it’s like that’s Tutwiler to send a text message like it’s just a pain in the ass. Like really like, you guys get plenty of money. You don’t need to squeeze every drop out of us like stupid, right.


Liz Flock  12:36

15 cents per text it adds up. There are private companies that make a killing this way. Over the last couple of years I’ve spent more than $5,000 on jail and prison calls and messages. With everything that’s going on behind the walls at Tutwiler. Most of these women have one thing they look forward to more than anything else, parole, a shot at getting out early. Since Deven has a good record in prison her release date was moved up to April 2024. She would serve six and a half years. But if she got parole, she could be out even sooner. So last summer, Deven started getting ready to make her case for freedom. Deven had a parole hearing scheduled for the summer of 2022. It was a moment of hope for her that after almost half a decade behind bars, she might be able to make it out of Alabama and go home to her family to her daughter. About a month before the hearing Deven met with her parole officer. And she told me it went really well that her parole are told her she was the second person to make her cry in her whole career.


Liz Flock  13:49

How likely does she think it is that you’ll get parole?


Deven  13:53

Well, she said, you know based on the information that I told her based on everything, you know, just me my character we’re having to doing I’m doing other things and saying are in trouble. She said if they look at what’s on the paper and they take what her notes say for what they are. She said that she she thinks that I should get it in a bobble in Alabama for some reason like if you have a violent charge, I think like they automatically are likely after pretenses society.


Liz Flock  14:32

Supposedly parole is about mercy about recognizing when someone’s been rehabilitated and letting them out under supervision to rejoin society. But that’s not how it’s been in Alabama. If you’re convicted of a violent crime like Deven, you have little chance of getting out even if your case is complicated, and even if you’ve been a model prisoner. Even so, Deven’s friends and family we’re out optimistic. And as a parole hearing approached, they were rooting for her heart. If this went well, Deven could finally escape this nightmare. Many of her family members wrote letters of support to the parole board. Her best friend Kiera, who she met in high school, really wanted to be there in person. But she lives in Florida now and couldn’t afford the plane ticket. And there’s no online version of the hearing. So Kiara also wrote in.


Kiera  15:27

At this point, I’m cautiously optimistic. So I basically just gave them a little background on how I saw things and who she is and how far she’s come since this all like started happening and what she’s done to try to prepare herself to be out.


Liz Flock  15:46

She read part of that letter to me one of the times we talked.


Kiera  15:50

Deven Gray is what I consider to be my sister. The circumstances of this case are not easy to digest for me. For one thing, there were people aware that the abuse was going on for the entirety of their relationship. I find that disturbing. On the other hand, I understand that there are other ways that the situation could have ended without the loss of life. There’s always another way but when there are bullets flying past your face within a place you call home, those other ways aren’t always immediately available to you, especially when your own child is being put in harm’s way.


Liz Flock  16:21

John’s mom Christine submitted a letter to but not in favor of Deve.


Christine  16:28

The only reason the woman got manslaughter is because we allowed it and the DA told me, she would get straight 10 years and that’s bullshit because it’s been five years and now they want to parole.


Liz Flock  16:47

In her letter, Christine wrote that John was a father, brother, uncle and friend. She argued that Deven had every opportunity to leave him and was unfairly playing the, quote, self defense card. If Christine got her way, Deven would be forced to stay in Tutwiler. The Parole Board is supposed to consider all of this letters of support and opposition, Deven’s behavior in prison, the classes she’s taken her interview with the parole officer, she felt like she had enough to sway them in her direction. And at Sheila was planning to be at the hearing to show support, which would look really good to the parole board, a member of the victim’s family taking Deven’s side. But the truth is, the board is hard to win over. They have a lot of power, and they don’t really answer to anyone. These days, they’re not even following the guidelines that tell them who’s most likely to reoffend and who should get out.


Cam Ward  17:48

You need a board member to tell you why they vote yes and why they vote no, but.


Liz Flock  17:51

Cam Ward is the director of the Alabama bureau of Pardons and parole. He’s a former legislator who oversees reentry programs for people coming out of Alabama prisons. He doesn’t get to make decisions on who gets parole, though. That board is appointed separately, also by the governor. We tried to get an interview with the members of the board, but they wouldn’t talk. Cam was the next best thing. As a legislator, he was known as reformer of Alabama’s troubled criminal legal system. So a lot of people were excited when he got the position. Today, he oversees the team that puts together data for the parole board, data that is supposed to help the board determine whether or not a person goes free. They call it a risk assessment. And our senior producer Kristen asked Cam about it.


Cam Ward  17:53

Risk assessments based upon the things you’ve done on the inside to correct yourself infractions or did you get a certificate how many certificates length of stay underlying crime is part of it’s one of the risk assessment tools, but they look a lot at what you’ve done since you’ve been on the inside.


Kristen  18:58

Yeah, it seems like there are a lot of folks who are doing good on the inside taking classes, they’re not getting in fights, and they’re still not getting off.


Cam Ward  19:07

Right, and that there’s and that goes back to it’s not the risk assessment. It’s the discretion of the board and that’s, you know, that’s just their discretion. under the statute, they have that complete discretion.


Liz Flock  19:21

They have that complete discretion as in Cam Ward, the reformer actually has very little influence over the board. According to Alabama law, the actual decision of who gets released is entirely up to them. At the time of Deven’s hearing, the board was comprised of three people, all with a background in law enforcement, a former state trooper, a former prosecutor and a former probation officer. Not generally the kind of folks who want to see people get out of prison early. And for the most part, they don’t get out. Cam will be the first one to tell you the numbers are low. The board isn’t following the guidelines the vast majority of the time.


Cam Ward  20:06

There’s a grant right to date in Alabama of 9% for males and females. You got more of a grant rate of 32% overall.


Liz Flock  20:18

And they keep getting lower, to sum of Deven’s parole hearing, the ACLU issued a report showing the combined parole grant rate in the state dropped to just 11% the lowest level on record, despite persistent overcrowding in Alabama’s prisons. We asked Cam why he thought the numbers had dropped so dramatically.


Cam Ward  20:38

What I would suggest is actually where it all started out was the Jimmy Lee Spencer case.


Liz Flock  20:43

In 2018, an Alabama inmate named Jimmy Spencer was released on parole. And just eight months later, he committed a triple murder. He killed two women and a child. Spencer’s lawyers said he was not mentally competent because of an intellectual disability. But Alabama put him on death row. And after he committed the crime, the parole board cracked down hard.


Cam Ward  21:08

And that’s what the impetus was. Now that’s kind of typical in every state I’ve seen on criminal justice. The one jump out at your case and let’s throw the law out and start over stuff.


Liz Flock  21:20

Every time I talked to someone about the parole situation in Alabama, Jimmy Spencer’s name came up. It was a sea change moment, before you had a decent shot at getting out on parole. Afterwards, it became nearly impossible. So Deven was up against really tough odds.



Quietly as they make the decision, and then they will announce the decisions. Okay, of course we do ask no clotting, no outbursts or any contact when they announced the decision.


Liz Flock  23:43

The waiting room was packed. The schedule for the day was displayed on a TV mounted to the wall. People were getting situated and she went to sign in. It was like the DMV but with impossibly larger stakes, purgatory.


Martha  24:40

Okay, your first name is?


Kristen  24:44

Oh, Kristen, K R I S T.


Liz Flock  24:47

One of the first people who greeted her was named Martha or retired teacher who works the reception. Kristen asked her if anyone else was there for Deven’s hearing.


Martha  24:58

But we do have some people here who before we do no wait, hold on.


Kristen  25:03

I know they’re supposed to.


Martha  25:05

Hold on, let me check.


Liz Flock  25:07

Incarcerated people don’t get to attend their own hearings, but anyone can show up to support them. Often it’s family members, friends or lawyers, people deeply connected to these cases who will plead to get their loved ones or clients home. On the flip side, people will also show up to demand that someone serves out their full sentence. Deven’s bench was thin since her family and friends couldn’t make it. Her dad wanted to be there in person, but he was consumed with taking care of Deven’s daughter, and her sister Simone had a newborn in Baltimore. As for her allies and Alabama, John said Henry’s health had declined, and he could barely walk. So the only chance Deven had someone speaking on her behalf was Aunt Sheila.


Martha  25:54

We have one person that you […] here. Nobody else is Sunday. Do you know if they’re supposed to be here?


Sheila  26:03

People are supposed to be here but things change, you know […]


Liz Flock  26:08

I gave Sheila a call and it turns out she was sick and worried about COVID exposure. She wasn’t coming. So not a single person was there to speak for Deven. It wasn’t long before Deven’s case came up and Kristen got ushered into the hearing room. It’s standard protocol for members of the press to introduce themselves to the board.


Darryl  26:30

Please step up the board to meet you.


Kristen  26:33



Dwayne Spurlock  26:35

How are you?


Kristen  26:36

Good morning, I’m doing well.


Dwayne Spurlock  26:37

Yeah, my name is Dwayne Spurlock.


Kristen  26:40

Hi, Darryl. Hi, Dwayne.


Dwayne Spurlock  26:42

How you doing? What’s your name?


Kristen  26:43

My name is Kristen.


Liz Flock  26:44

That day only two of the three board members were making decisions. Darryl Littleton a former state trooper and Dwayne Spurlock, a former probation officer. The board only requires two votes to make a decision.



Parole Board is here today on the case with Deven Gray, who is serving a sentence of 180 months for manslaughter.


Liz Flock  27:09

This is normally where Deven supporters would get a chance to speak but.



We have no support testimony here today from the board right. So we did have protests. So we’ll have our first testimony, protests.


Liz Flock  27:24

There were two people slated to speak in opposition to Deven’s release. The first was a woman with an organization called VOCAL victims of crime and leniency. She was there speaking on behalf of Christine and the Shelby County DHS office. Weirdly enough, she started out by acknowledging that Deven was a survivor of domestic violence.


Opposition speaker 1  27:45

This case was a horrible case it was a domestic violence case. She said that he had beat her and bigger and bigger. The stay allowed to defend it this is reading from the defendant DEA is letter the state allowed the defendant to plead guilty of blonde like to manslaughter. So even though Mrs. Gray was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter, the fact remains that Mrs. Gray made a decision to and did take the life of John.


Liz Flock  28:18

She followed up by saying that there’s no excuse for what Deven did.


Opposition speaker 1  28:23

Human life is sacred special thing to foundations of our justice system functions on this premise. It is why we have stricter punishments for taking a human life. You know if she did say that it was a we actually did not the maximum sound level.


Liz Flock  28:43

But she asked the parole board to make Devens serve out her maximum time. The other person speaking out against Deven’s release was a woman from the Attorney General’s office, she was less poetic.


Opposition speaker 2  28:56

In the brain pled guilty to manslaughter for the shooting death of Mary Walsh, aka Henry Benz.


Liz Flock  29:05

One thing jumped out to me as I was listening to Kristen’s recordings from the hearing. The testimony of these women offered against Deven was riddled with inaccuracies, some tiny some much more significant. The first woman called Deven Mrs. Gray before correcting herself. She also claimed Deven said she waited until John started snoring to shoot him, which is nowhere in the court transcripts seems to have come from Christine’s letter and makes Deven’s shooting of John seem worse. The second woman who spoke didn’t even know John’s name. She called him Henry. But this isn’t a trial. There’s no opportunity for anyone to object to their statements. And even if there was there weren’t any supporters of Deven there to do it. So things just moved along.


Liz Flock  29:59

Cam Ward told us that the parole board reviews materials ahead of time letters, case files, prison records and parole officer interviews. There’s no way for us to confirm how thorough they actually are though. This is their full time job, but the board sees hundreds of cases every month.


Cam Ward  30:18

To make a motion for Executive Session on your material, okay, that the board will go into executive session to review recent material that was provided to the board and but also reviewed.


Liz Flock  30:30

In Deven’s case they took a break to review new material. The forensic psychologist Marianne Rosensweig had emailed her report on Deven’s case to the board that week. The report concluded that Miss Gray was an imminent fear of her life when she made the decision to kill Mr. Vance. And now her life was on the line once again. The board was about to make a decision that would determine whether she’d stay in prison or be freed. Kristen figured she was in for a long wait. But the board came back quicker than she was expecting. And she had a sinking feeling she already knew what they were going to say.


Board Speaker  31:09

Back after five minutes. Board has voted to come out of session.


Liz Flock  31:15

Five minutes? Assuming the new material was Marianne’s report that was 26 pages full of important information to review. With that kind of speed. It felt like their answer had already been determined.


Board Speaker  31:30

Voted in the dead in great haste. Mr. Littleton, and I had voted to deny parole in this case, and there will be no further set off dates.


Liz Flock  31:40

That means no more opportunities for parole. Deven’s release date was set for two years out, she was going to serve her full sentence minus good time. And just like that, it was on to the next case, the officer on duty let Kristen know.


Officer  31:57

There are children coming in and an extra.


Kristen  32:01

Okay, can I stay?


Officer  32:03

Because you don’t know what’s gonna be said.


Kristen  32:06

Oh, but you allow it but you discourage it.


Officer  32:08

We discourage it.


Kristen  32:10



Liz Flock  32:12

Those kids are the siblings of Eric Robertson, who was put away at age 16 for an armed robbery. No one was hurt but a decade and a half later, he’s still locked up. Eric’s parole hearing was grouped with four other cases, all men all denied parole. This time, the board took less than 15 minutes for all four their families were devastated. Kristen talked to Eric’s mom and his sister after his hearing.


Eric’s mom  32:39

They haven’t given him an opportunity to see what he’s going to do in life. And when he go in as a child, and the system is raising him to become an adult, he’s been an adult for a while and the system still has him. When are they going to turn him loose and they have become.


Eric’s brother  32:55

He has to protect himself as well because my brother got brutally stabbed in it I didn’t say anything about that. He was in ICU for a year. And nobody, nobody said anything about him being hurt or trauma. We had to call up there for four months to find out about my brother. Nobody called us told us about anything. It was up to the family to find out but they don’t they didn’t bring that up the things that he’s went through the I have a hook a touch my brother. I was 10 years old, and I’m 26 going to 27 that’s hard. And coming from that’s my protector, there’s somebody that raised me and we have younger siblings that didn’t last the smaller brothers so this is not getting it. We got people that love you and it’s fine for you in […]. We got stuff in place for my brother. We ready for him to come home.


Liz Flock  33:54

Like I said earlier, someone dies in Alabama prisons almost every day. Many others get hurt inside, but families say they often don’t get any information about that. They are totally kept in the dark. Like Deven, Eric Robertson has a solid support system ready to welcome him home. Get he’s one of 1000s being denied parole against the system’s own guidelines, away from his family stuck inside. Meanwhile, Deven’s friends and family were home waiting to hear the outcome of her hearing. Kristen called Deven’s Sister Simone in Baltimore.


Kristen  34:34

Oh, I didn’t know if you had gotten any news about the parole hearing.


Simone  34:40

No, I haven’t.


Kristen  34:41

Okay, well, you probably want to talk to your sister Ray I don’t want to give you any updates. I know, Deven wanted to hear from your grandma instead of us, so because I was at the parole hearing yesterday.


Simone  34:59



Deven  35:02

You alright? Do you want me to tell you?


Simone  35:06



Kristen  35:08

Yeah, she didn’t get it […]


Liz Flock  35:12

Simone sounded so defeated. She really thought Deven had a chance.


Simone  35:18

There’s no reasoning why she shouldn’t have been granted that it’s not like she killed them just because that’s just crazy to me.


Liz Flock  35:30

We talked to Deven’s best friend Kiera, a week later, she wasn’t as surprised about what went down.


Kiera  35:36

It really put things into perspective for me, because it’s like they do this on a regular basis, it’s a job for them. I don’t know that they still have that ability to see the cases in front of them, and really weigh the situation. So I’m not surprised it took them five minutes. I wish they still had the ability to actually review the humanity in the case, but I’m not surprised that they can’t, further they choose not to.


Liz Flock  36:03

And Deven, of course, was pretty upset. I didn’t hear from her for a week. Eventually, she messaged me saying, I’ve been a little in my feels about it. We finally caught up a month after the hearing. And by that time, Deven had found a way to accept the decision.


Deven  36:21

The officer the shift commander here, Sergeant Lewis, he told me, and then yesterday or the day before yesterday, whatever day it was, I got an official like letter. And they told me why that I had gotten denied. And it said because of my current charge and I guess, Christine, oppose that. So they had to go with what she wanted. And since she opposed it, they had the honor, I guess what she wanted. So that’s the reason.


Liz Flock  37:00

Really, the board didn’t have to honor what Christine wanted, though. Clearly, her statements had sway.


Deven  37:07

I mean, I really didn’t think that they would take her word of anything credible, but it’s okay. You know, everything happens for a reason. I guess it wasn’t my time or whatever so, it’s cool.


Liz Flock  37:27

Deven tried to tell herself, it was cool. She went with the flow like she always does. But other people on the inside, we’re getting furious about the dire situation around parole. In August 2022 the guidelines recommended 82% of inmates under consideration should be released, but the actual grant rate, just 6% and it would fall even further from there. In September, protests broke out across Alabama prisons, including at Tutwiler.


Inmate  38:02

You’re not enough to beat them. […]  I got two bathrooms a day, one bin and that was 850 […] And that’s wrong.


Liz Flock  38:23

1000s of inmates participated in a work stoppage, meaning they stopped providing the cheap or unpaid labor for cooking, cleaning and maintenance at the prison to try to get Alabama to pay attention. And activists outside the prison staged rallies in solidarity with.


Liz Flock  38:45

Activist issued a list of official demands to the state. They wanted oversight for the parole board, mandatory parole criteria the board would be required to follow and for Alabama to get rid of life without parole sentences, among other things. I spoke with one attorney Terry Peden who’s actually suing the parole board right now for how few people they’re letting out of prison. In the suit. Peden says that he was not notified about three of his clients parole hearings, as he should have been by state statute. He says it’s been next to impossible to get anyone out the last few years.


Terry Peden  39:21

You know, it’s been many times down there in Alabama where I’m in, I’m in the parole board and everybody in the room is shaking their head and in agreeance with right even the victims advocates have pulled me to the side as I’m walking out of the room and say, you know, you did a damn good job, and then my client just got hit with a five year set off. And everybody in the rooms knows this person really deserves another chance.


Liz Flock  39:45

Terry and other activists alleged the parole board is working to deny parole to as many people as possible so that Alabama can justify building new prisons to the tune of billions of dollars. Cam Ward said that wasn’t the case. But again, and we weren’t able to talk to any of the actual parole board members to get insight into why they make the determinations they make. In the Alabama parole system, years of people’s lives get decided in minutes. Decisions get made behind closed doors, and it’s the same at Tutwiler so much goes unseen. That’s why we knew we had to get in to see Deven. We were about to try one more time to get behind those prison walls and see her face to face.


Liz Flock  41:16

There’s a bunch of reasons it’s been pretty much impossible for anyone close to Deven to get into Tutwiler. First, it was COVID, Deven got to Tutwiler in November 2020. Then it was the arcane process of getting approved for a visit.


Sheila  42:07

They want your first and last name, your driver’s license number, your social security number, your date of birth and the relationship that you have to the person.


Liz Flock  42:17

And so her family submitted their information.


Sheila  42:21

And it seems like every body has mysteriously the paperwork just doesn’t and weren’t supposed to.


Liz Flock  42:30

Even Aunt Sheila couldn’t get approved.


Sheila  42:33

Or she used to come see me once a week in Shawnee County. But now that she’s you know visitation like you have to like have like a presidential imputation, I’m in here.


Liz Flock  42:45

Pretty much the only people we knew were getting in were lawyers. So we started asking around to see if they had any ideas.


Kristen  42:56

Oh, hi, Richard I wasn’t expecting you to pick up. This is Kristen calling.


Liz Flock  43:00

We connected with Richard Rice, the civil rights attorney who was a rockstar at winning stand your ground claims you heard from him in the last episode.


Kristen  43:08

And then the other thing while I have you I wanted to ask you the you know the story we’re doing is about Deven Gray who’s incarcerated at Juliet Tutwiler and we’ve had real issues, you know, being allowed to get into that prison. So have you been in that prison at all?


Richard Rice  43:26

No, I haven’t been in that prison but one of my clients is their name is Stephanie Keller, what I will say is that I’m intending to set up an in person legal division with Miss Killer and typically I have been able to take someone with me whenever I want to, I just need to put their name down on the list, make sure they have a state issued ID.


Liz Flock  43:44

He told us he could take anyone inside even journalists and that he would be willing to take us into Tutwiler with him, no problem.


Richard Rice  43:52

If we select a date, I’ll go ahead and notify the prison that we want to visit and let them know who I’m bringing with me. And, you know, just saying that you’re one of my assistants.


Liz Flock  44:02

Since I had already been denied an official visit our team decided to send Kristen and so a month later after a six hour flight from Los Angeles. She was in the car with Richard driving an hour and a half from Birmingham to Julia Tutwiler women’s prison and with Tonka. This was on the same trip the same day actually, that Andy and I were denied at the prison door. Like I said earlier, really, we’re trying all possible options.


Kristen  44:31

Tell me again, I’m your legal assistant.


Richard Rice  44:34

You’re my legal assistant and you know, you’re gonna want to be documenting the conversation.


Kristen  44:39



Richard Rice  44:40

So that we, you know, have copious notes when we go back to the office to do our legal strategy and plan.


Kristen  44:46

Where did I go to law school?


Richard Rice  44:49

You don’t have to go to law school.


Liz Flock  44:51

They got to Tutwiler and things seem to be going smoothly.


Kristen  44:51

Okay, perfect.


Richard Rice  45:00

Please, Richard Rice my assistant, Kristen, we have our ID […] and Deven Gray.


Liz Flock  45:17

The prison guards check their stuff and tell them they can’t bring cell phones inside even as a legal team. So Kristen runs out to the car to get her audio recorder. They come back in and wait for their names to be called, and when their stuff goes through a security check again. Sure enough, it works, the recorder is in.


Liz Flock  45:55

The prison has several dorms. Deven lives in the annex which is in a separate building behind the prison along with Richards client, Stephanie Keller, they go to talk to Stephanie first and spend about an hour with her. She’s in Tutwiler for killing her husband who was a police officer. According to her he was also abusive. And one day he threatened her with his duty pistol. She says they wrestled for the gun, it went off and she went to prison for manslaughter. Richard was helping her with an appeal. Afterwards, they go to another room to wait for Deven. They wait, it’s loud and uncomfortable. Those are slamming guards are yelling across the prison, one hour passes, then two.


Kristen  46:45

I turned it on I had good feeling about it.


Liz Flock  46:51

The guards say they saw Deven in the library but now no one can find her. Which seems weird for a prison. This suggests maybe Kristen and Richard can come back another time. Then they suggest a video visit, which seems bizarre given that they’re saying they don’t know where she is. Besides, we didn’t come all this way to talk to Deven through a screen. And so Kristen and Richard continued to wait. sending the message to the guards. We’re not going anywhere. The guards are shuffling past the door and they seem to become increasingly frazzled. Kristen and Richard are keeping tabs on what’s happening. One guard tells Richard that they’re handling a situation outside the prison.


Guard  47:36

They don’t want to bring, and that’s why they have an issue with security. They feel like because I’ve told these other people not to come up here and came up here anyway, that just call the police but I want them to leave the premises before they bring them in up here, that’s what.


Liz Flock  47:54

That situation, of course, is me. Our audio engineer Andy and I are in the process of almost getting arrested outside.


Guard  48:04

I just think that there’s a tendency to overreact because they don’t get a lot of action or something like that happens they’re probably going to try to flex their what they can do, even if it’s unnecessary is just typical law enforcement.


Liz Flock  48:16

And so as our debacle is getting settled outside, it’s feeling like they might not meet Deven in person after all. They arrived at the prison around noon, and now it’s approaching 4pm. But just as all hope is about to be lost, you can hear Kristen gasp and the tape. She peeks outside the room and guess who it is?


Kristen  48:38

I think it’s, hello.


Deven  48:46



Kristen  48:46

I mean, give me a hug?


Deven  48:50

I mean you can […]


Kristen  48:54

Oh, geez. Okay, Richard.


Deven  49:02



Kristen  49:06

Have you have you been? Do you know, what’s been what?


Deven  49:10

I was told I was gonna see you guys like one-ish. And it’s four, anything that I’m like, okay, by the way, I’m working.


Richard Rice  49:21

To grow to this area where you have a lot of regrets. It’s your first time coming down here today.


Kristen  49:27

They said you were in the library, and they were they were waiting and then you.


Deven  49:32



Kristen  49:32

What were you doing?


Deven  49:35

I was like, kind of intense all day. And I had to go do something I really didn’t know what was going on. And then like three o’clock, they’re like, hey, get ready.


Liz Flock  49:46

I’ve spent hundreds of hours talking to Deven on the phone. But it was important to our team that we spoke to her in person. There’s something about meeting someone in the flesh, something about witnessing Deven’s body language feeling her presence, her authenticity. Kristen and Richard spoke with Deven for a little over an hour that day. They talked about everything from the night of the shooting to Deven’s favorite music, and why she wanted to talk to us in the first place. She was emotional and reflective, she shed a lot of tears.


Deven  50:22

Well, I had told Liz like I really latched on to domestic violence, because I don’t understand, you know, that helped me to think with the sexual assault and the harassment stuff. I understand that that’s very traumatic, but domestic violence is like all of that together in a ball. And then you also have to deal with like, a verbal, mental, emotional abuse. Some sometimes like, I don’t even think about the scars. John and I love it as much as the words he said to me, you know, and I want if I can at least tell my story, or give somebody like their story is spoken back to them, that maybe they’ll be brave enough to do what I didn’t do or they’ll see the sights and they’ll know to walk away, they don’t keep.


Liz Flock  51:27

Deven told me that the very first time we spoke, she said she wanted to share her story not for herself, but for others, to try to help somebody who might still be living with abuse. Her relationship with John still half a decade of her life, incarceration, still another half, being locked up has been dehumanizing, miserable, and lonely for Deven. But she’s found a way forward, not because of the system, but in spite of it.


Deven  51:56

Yeah, it is really scary and different and hard. But it’s also helped me like peel back layers I didn’t know I had and find a voice I didn’t know I had.


Liz Flock  52:11

The amount of effort it takes just to survive prison is intense. The isolation, the shitty food, the weaponized incompetence of the bureaucracy. It all works together to create this tangible sense of despair. Many people on the inside I talked to are at their wit’s end. So for Deven to somehow find the silver lining in at all. It’s just more evidence that she’s one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. But then, I guess I haven’t met her. After our visit to Tutwiler. I felt awful that we had tried so hard for a special visit, because I didn’t want to cause any problems for her. But when I talked to Deven afterwards, she just laughed it off.


Deven  52:55

It’s okay, I’m not, I’m not bad, I think it’s kind of cool that you were […] is this the same as that kind of dice.


Liz Flock  53:05

I had really wanted to meet Deven that day. Looking back, I think all my frustration with how I’ve seen prisons treat domestic abuse survivors made me almost desperate to get in to the point where I wasn’t thinking clearly. It was one of those moments as a journalist that you regret, wishing you had done it differently. But honestly, who cares about me? I got to go home at the end of that trip and spend time with my friends and family. But what about Deven’s family, her daughter and the generational consequences of keeping all these people locked up? For survivors like Deven, who are unlikely to reoffend, keeping her inside doesn’t seem to be keeping anyone outside any safer. Deven’s case wasn’t like the Jimmy Spencer case, not at all. Get Alabama was treating everyone the same. I think our criminal legal system is a perfect encapsulation of our country at large, supposedly a fair and just democracy. But behind closed doors, it’s another story. Now next time on Blind Plea. It’s the five year anniversary of the shooting, and John is on Devon’s mind.


Deven  54:21

Just like, I love him so much and I know that sounds crazy, but so much did it hurts my feelings, you know,


Liz Flock  54:37

As Deven continues to process her feelings, there is a new development. She actually gets good news behind bars.


Deven  54:45

I’m so ready is ridiculous on so ready. It’s been a long time.



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 activist Deon Caldwell about leading the protests against prisons and Paroles in Alabama. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. 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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