‘I just want somebody to hear me’: Homewood mom calls for change after son’s death in Alabama prison

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 7:01 PM CDT|Updated: May. 13, 2022 at 11:39 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Barbara Maxwell clearly remembers the last time she talked to her son Justin.

“About 4:50 he called me and he was happy, just as happy as he could be,” Maxwell remembers.

It was February 9th, and “that day when he called me I was so excited because I hadn’t heard from him,” Maxwell reports. “And I said “are you OK?” And he said yeah we were just locked down and couldn’t use the phones.”

Because of COVID restrictions, Barbara hadn’t been able to visit her middle son at Easterling Prison for two years.

“He said “I love you,” I said “I love you, too.”

That afternoon, she had no idea she would get another call from Easterling about 9 hours later - telling her Justin was dead.

“I’d just talked to him and he sounded so happy,” Maxwell remembers. “And I was like “God, was he trying to tell me something?”

Barbara says she’s heard nothing from the Alabama Department of Corrections other than that short call telling her prison staff had found her son unresponsive just after midnight, and that he was gone. Everything else she’s learned about that night came in a social media post less than 2 hours after Justin died.

“It was on Facebook. It had my son’s picture. It was one of the guys in the prison had put a message on Facebook saying. “Fam, check on your fam. Da old boy just OD’d off heroin and fentanyl and blocked CD.”

Barbara says it’s ironic that she learned the most about her son’s death from a social media post made by an inmate likely using a contraband phone.

“They got cell phones, they got drugs, they got video cameras - they got everything that we have out here, they’re not supposed to have,” Barbara says.

“I lost my mother and I thought this was the most painful thing I’ll ever go through. But when I lost my child? I don’t even know how I feel. I wake up in the middle of the night crying and screaming. I sit up at my desk all day staring at his picture thinking about him. I just want somebody to hear me, and not let somebody else’s mother go through what I’m going through.”

Barbara is trying to use Justin’s death to force changes at the DOC, where she says a system designed to rehabilitate not only isn’t working, it’s making things worse.

“Yeah they should be there, and they are,” Maxwell says. “But that gives the system the right to give them things that’s gonna make them worse than they were when they come out, and that’s pretty much what they’re doing. Yes he was in prison, yes he had done something wrong, but he was not in prison to be turned into a drug addict. It’s just the fact that these people are losing their lives, and nobody seems to care. You don’t care because it just keeps happening and nobody’s doing anything. They can’t be doing anything because it’s still happening. It’s not right. And there are gonna be more deaths, and more deaths, and more deaths.”

When asked for more information about Justin Maxwell’s death or how ADOC is responding to questions about how illegal drugs are ending up behind bars, the department spokesperson told us: “The death of inmate Justin Maxwell is under investigation. Until the investigation is complete, we have no additional information to share at this time.”

WBRC also reached out to the Department of Justice, who’s suing ADOC for allegedly violating inmates’ constitutional rights and pushing for major reform, but the DOJ told us they can’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Prior coverage of Alabama State Prisons and the drug issues inside prisons:



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