‘I Can’t Take This Shit No More’: Alabama Prisoner Takes a Stand

Content Warning: The following article contains graphic descriptions of violence and photographs showing blood.

Bessemer, Alabama — At around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, August 13, Derrol Shaw took an opportunity to get free. Sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for murders he committed when he was 18, caged in some of the worst prison conditions in the country, subjected to levels of violence he said are akin to a “war zone,” Shaw was fed up.

“All us got a limit. Shit. Everything do,” said Shaw, in a Facebook live video he recorded during the incident on a smuggled cell phone. “I can’t take this shit no more. For real.”

Shaw, who was incarcerated at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, got his hands on a gun. It is currently unclear how Shaw obtained the gun, but sources within the prison say guards sometimes carry guns on their shifts in clear violation of Department of Corrections policy.

The William E. Donaldson Correctional Center, a state prison outside Birmingham, AL, seen from the air in 2008. Photo by Patrick Huber via Wikimedia Commons.

While the exact timeline of what happened next is blurry, Shaw described in the Facebook video telling a group of officers to lie down on the ground in an office. “All y’all police that was laying on the floor in that office, y’all ass better tell the story right… I made it clear multiple times that I wasn’t trying to hurt none of y’all as long as y’all didn’t buck, you know, and try no goofy shit.”

According to a source who spoke with Shaw three days after the incident, Shaw described taking a vest from a female officer, locking her in the guard station, and taking off across the prison grounds—scaling razor wire fences, sliding down the pole for a basketball hoop, jumping off a roof, and getting cut up so bad on razor wire he thought he’d “bleed out.”

“I was just trying to go,” said Shaw in the Facebook video, apparently meaning he was trying to escape the prison. “You know? But that wasn’t in the cards.”

At this point, law enforcement from multiple agencies had begun arriving at the facility and Shaw realized he was more likely to be shot than to successfully escape. Bleeding profusely, desperate, believing he was about to die, Shaw called 911 for medical help. Finally, he was able to make it back to the dorms where he knew he’d be safe, for the time being.

Antonio Nichols, who is incarcerated at Donaldson, told Unicorn Riot that when Shaw got back to the dorms, he went around and opened all the doors. “He said whatever he had going on, it went bad,” recounted Nicols. Shaw also told Nichols that nobody got hurt but him.

Videos Shaw recorded from within the dorm show him bleeding from his forearm, drinking a sports drink, and smoking marijuana while his friends and comrades congratulate him. “The realest ni**a on the motherfucking planet,” says one.  

“About an hour after that, he was over there bleeding out,” said Nichols. “So I went over there to check on him, and he was laying on the bed. So, the best idea was to take the gun and put it in the garbage can and take it out to the cops.”

A video posted to Facebook with a smuggled cell phone shows Derrol Shaw, an incarcerated person in Alabama, holding a gun shortly after returning to the dorms after attempting to flee the prison grounds. (Source: Facebook).

“The only way he was going to get medical help was the gun had to come out first,” Nichols explained.

Nichols put the gun into a garbage can and dragged the garbage can out of the dorm and signaled to the guard in the tower that they wanted to turn the gun over. “I pointed in the garbage can, like hey the gun’s in the garbage can, where you want me to put it?” Nichols recounted.

The guard told Nichols to drag the garbage can over to the fence, where a group of armed officers were waiting. The officers pointed their guns at Nichols before handcuffing him. He was released shortly thereafter without charges.

The officers then shook down the dorms and extracted Shaw, who other prisoners had helped into a wheelchair. Shaw was in handcuffs by around 11 a.m. or noon, according to the source who spoke with him.

After being taken into custody, Shaw was transferred to the infirmary at Kilby Correctional Facility. Shaw said he was beaten by officers twice during the transfer—once by a captain in the transport van and once by an unknown number of officers in a small room at Kilby.

Kilby Correctional Facility, a state prison in Mt. Meigs, Alabama. Photo by Rivers A. Langley via Wikimedia Commons.

Shaw said he no longer knows which injuries are from his attempted escape and which are from the beatings, according to the source who spoke with him.

Shaw has been charged with first-degree escape, prohibited possession of a firearm, promoting prison contraband, and making a terrorist threat.

When Unicorn Riot spoke with Nichols four days after the incident, prisoners at Donaldson remained on lock down.

Although Shaw’s action was particularly dramatic, rebellion on the part of prisoners and detainees in the face of inhumane conditions is not rare. In prisons, jails, and detention centers all across the country, prisoners and detainees are consistently participating in a mostly spontaneous, decentralized, and often leaderless social movement against the United States’ massive, and historically unprecedented, carceral archipelago. Most of those actions pass largely unnoticed as law enforcement agencies and departments of correction work to minimize their social impact.

One of the things that makes Shaw’s action unique, however, is the opportunity he had to explain himself and his motivations for acting. Very few prisoners in history have had such an opportunity.

“I’ve been trying to pray to be a lot more peaceful and everything,” said Shaw in his Facebook live recording. “But it’s just chaos, it’s just absolute chaos…Every single day. Chaos, violence, and death every single day, all day.”

As Shaw spoke, supporters and loved ones spoke back, in the comment section on Facebook Live, sending messages of love and solidarity.

“I feel you brother. No matter what you have done. You still have the right to be treated with respect,” commented Ray Johnson on Facebook. “I did 25 years in [the] Alabama system. I have been all over the world fighting for this country, been homeless and l have never seen anything like the prison system in Alabama, filthy, corruption and nothing but death, physically, mentally and spiritually.”

The incident, as well as the more than half an hour of testimony Shaw recorded in the midst of it, add to the increasingly overwhelming evidence that the Alabama prison system is out of control.

“They’ve created an environment of basically hopelessness,” said Nikki Davenport, an outside supporter and member of the Free Alabama Movement Queen Team.

Prisoners in Alabama have continually tried to get attention to their grievances through nonviolent means, said Davenport, such as the statewide labor stoppage that shut down the prison system in September, 2022. But after years of effort, nothing has changed.

Shaw and three other prisoners were beaten by guards during a month-long labor strike in the Alabama prison system in January 2021.

“Since 2016, the [prisoner protests] that [have] happened in Alabama have been peaceful,” said Davenport. “It’s been shutdowns, to try to get attention and draw attention to what goes on. At some point there had to be a stance taken to really bring attention to what goes on inside these prisons.”

A lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against the Alabama Department of Corrections, filed in 2020, documents a long list of prison conditions that the Department says violate the U.S. Constitution, including rampant sexual and physical abuse by guards, high levels of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.

The State of Alabama has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and as of January, the state’s prisons were operating at 168% capacity.

“The State of Alabama is deliberately indifferent to the serious and systematic constitutional problems present in Alabama’s prisons for men,” attorneys for the Department of Justice alleged in their Complaint. The lawsuit is on track to go to trial sometime next year.

But prisoners in Alabama say the federal intervention hasn’t changed much. “They got a lawsuit on them but they ain’t paying no attention, like it don’t mean nothing,” said Nichols.

Faced with the suit, as well as rampant overcrowding in the prison system throughout the state, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has announced her plan to spend more than $1.6 billion to build two new prisons by 2026. The plan, however, will not end the overcrowding.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey hosts a press conference at an Air National Guard base in 2017. (US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Chris Baldwin).

According to Davenport, no matter what anyone does, those in power in the state of Alabama just keep doubling down on the state’s brutal incarceration system.

“Her solution is to build more prisons,” said Davenport. “She’s not talking about true rehabilitation or changing the parole guidelines so people can actually make parole, or giving back good time. They continuously are making more laws to keep more people locked up for longer periods of time.”

Given the state of the Alabama prison system, and the rest of the country’s unwillingness to take it seriously, Nichols said, he and his fellow prisoners understand and support Shaw’s action.

“A lot of people was scared, but a lot of people was like, ‘he’s right,’” said Nichols. “We in a bad situation and they ain’t trying to make it no better. Like modern day slavery. They don’t care.”

In his video testimony, Shaw highlights a number of specific conditions at Donaldson that pushed him over the edge, including the high rates of death and constant state of chaos and violence. But Shaw also described the “psychological torture” of knowing that you have been sentenced to live your entire adult life in a prison until you die.

“Told y’all I’m leaving this bitch one way or another bro. I got to leave here. Shit. This shit be feeling like it be closing in on a ni**a,” said Shaw. “They just want me to die a slow and horrible death. In a cage. Fuck that. No.”

More immediately, Shaw said that people around him continue to die, and that three of his friends died in the previous week. Nichols confirmed that three of Shaw’s friends, at three different prisons, died of fentanyl overdoses in the week prior to the incident.

“In Alabama, where we at, ni**as is dying. Fucked up. Right here at Donaldson,” said Shaw in the video. “Ni**as is dying all the time bro. Fucked up. Check the record. They killing us. They create the conditions so that we die, all the time. Investigate it. Hypocrites man, but you supposed to be enforcing the law on me though. And I’m just supposed to go for that forever, all the way until I die. Not me. Not I.”

An incarcerated person dies every other day in the Alabama prison system, according to Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice. A total of at least 270 people died in the prison system in 2022, out of a total of about 19,000 prisoners. So far this year, that number is at least 110.

The actual numbers, the group says, are likely much higher. The Alabama Department of Corrections has stopped releasing reports on deaths in the prison system.

“You have more people leaving in body bags than you have making parole, ending their sentence or leaving on good time,” said Davenport. “They even denied parole to a dead man earlier this year.”

The rate of parole in Alabama is now about 6%, an historic low, with just 116 individuals granted parole in the first three months of 2023 out of a total of 2,040 who were eligible.

The parole board in Alabama is releasing fewer and fewer eligible incarcerated people amidst rampant overcrowding and one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. (Source: Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Monthly Statistical Report, March 2023.)

Davenport says his action followed a logical path of gradual escalation in the face of increasingly dire circumstances. Nonetheless, given the opportunity to inflict violence on his captors, Shaw chose to lock them in an office and try to get away.

“Shaw never had any intention of hurting anyone,” said Davenport.

“Don’t let these people control the narrative. Don’t let these people tell the same story that they tell every time, all the time…” said Shaw to his viewers on Facebook. “OK I’m one person with one incident, but this is a system that these people operate every day, all day, that these people been running for so many years. Real talk man. Fuck 12.”

You can download Shaw’s videos here, here, and here. You can read a partial transcription of one of the videos below.

Derrol Shaw: They be talking all of that: they enforcing laws. Shit they ain’t enforcing no goddam law man. All they doing is beating the people out of tax money. They telling people, “oh you need prisons for these prisoners,” and then they create the conditions for crime, and then you empower the police…

These conditions bro, even with all that. They create the conditions to justify the means, you know what I’m saying? They beating the tax payers, man. Because they say it costs so much amount of money to keep us in these prisons, but then they take that same money and stick it to themselves. And they ain’t even hiding it. They’re like “man you know you can work all of this overtime and it’s gonna go to your pension fund.” But they’re taking all that money and talking about they’re gonna build a new prison. But there aint no money in it…it’s a scheme man. And the people at the top, the folks that I told you are trying to continue white supremacy, these is the folks that is making all the money.

In Alabama, where we at, ni**as is dying. Fucked up. Right here at Donaldson. Ni**as is dying all the time bro. Fucked up. Check the record. They killing us. They create the conditions so that we die, all the time. Investigate it. Hypocrites man, but you supposed to be enforcing the law on me though. And I’m just supposed to go for that forever, all the way until I die. Not me. Not I. Shit ridiculous man. It’s crazy because I know they gonna be saying I was ranting and all that, but all us get fed up bro. All us get fed up. And we respond differently. Just be honest with yourself. I mean, I got life without parole and under these conditions here in Alabama. And I honestly do what I want to do in this prison man, doesn’t matter what prison I’m at, I do what I want to do. I like to smoke weed, I’m gonna have weed all the time. That’s a big flaw of mine. I’ve been trying to pray, y’all know I’m a Muslim. You know I’m depressed all the time, my ni**as dying all the time. Three of my ni**as just died in the past week. So I be smoking weed. And I’ve been trying to pray to be a lot more peaceful and everything. But it’s just chaos, it’s just absolute chaos. Every single day. Every single day. Chaos, violence, and death every single day, all day. You know what I’m saying?

And people don’t look like, we live under a war zone.  They don’t think about it like that. But when you add up the deaths. Like in an actual war zone, between like in Afghanistan…When you add up the percentage, ni**as are really dying like that in here bro, and killing…And even if they don’t die, there’s still enough violence and killing, to where he damn near die. He paralyzed. Ni**a maimed. Just like war. They had to amputate his arm, all this type shit. We just supposed to be alright with this. We just supposed to goddam…Come on man, I woulda went crazy. I can’t take it bro, Real shit. I can’t take this shit no more. I can’t take this shit no more. For real.

I was just trying to go. You know? But that wasn’t in the cards. [laughs]

[prays in Arabic]

Man, I ain’t perfect man, none of us are. I be striving though. And then all us got a limit. Shit. Everything do. Hey man I manipulated a lot of people to get to this point right here. And I know they gonna go back and they gonna be like shit, you know, you was helping them and you was helping them and you was helping them. But.

I’ll tell this shit right. Don’t let these people control the narrative. Don’t let these people tell the same story that they tell every time, all the time…OK I’m one person with one incident, but this is a system that these people operate every day all day that these people been running for so many years. Real talk man…fuck 12. A whole lotta fuck 12.

Stand up, rise up. You know what I’m saying? The best thing I say we can do, us within the structure of actual voting, you know because there’s nothing wrong with the actual structure itself. Alabama, they just do what they want, they break all the rules, there ain’t nobody that can regulate it. Alabama politics, Alabama solutions to Alabama problems. That’s what the governor say.

If we were to do anything within the voting structure, we’d have to form our own voting block. There’s a whole lot of us, we unified, we dealing with each other as we are.

Another prisoner: They got two snipers…[inaudible]

Shaw: They got snipers. Where they at?


Yeah, form y’all own voting block y’all. Check this out. Of course, us in prison we can’t vote. But you know your mama can, your sister can, your son can, your daughter can. All these people right here they can vote. So you know, develop some kind of form, some type of online form…there’s a whole lot of good ones. Like collecting signatures, of registered voters. Y’all can develop your own list of registered voters in Alabama. There’s something like 20,000 inmates in Alabama, if 1,000 inmates would do that, they got 5 family members, that’s 5,000 registered voters willing to vote for the same person. That type of voting power could really give us a voice in Alabama politics, a real political voice in politics and then when guys see that you know more people would sign on and so forth.

But that would be corrupt. These folks are just corrupt. That would be corrupt. You know what I’m saying. Here in Alabama boy, they ain’t playing the radio. You know what I’m saying they gonna railroad me.

And I cut myself on the razor wire. I thought I was gonna bleed out…I’m like, “well this is it right here.” But then that wasn’t it. And then I made it back around back inside of the dorm. The guys running from me…

I love y’all man.

This shit gonna kill my mama. But I been telling you though mama, I’m gonna go out in a blaze of glory. I’m gonna go out life Queen Latifah, in Set it Off. I’m gonna go out like Johnathan Jackson…Shout out to Assata Shakur man…

Would y’all believe when I thought I was gonna bleed out, I called 911. I was like shit, I’m gonna bleed out. I’m like shit, it would be better…on my iPhone. I was like, it would be better…I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. I was trying to get some help. I was trying to survive I guess.

But when I started walking, it was like I got some strength. Well after I prayed, for real for real…it was like I got some strength.

Then I walked down to the door and I seen the cops and they calling me sergeant because I got the uniform on, they think I’m a sergeant. I’m like, open up the gate, they’re like, you got the key don’t you?

I just wanted to tell y’all I love you man. I was destined to die in here. They just want me to die a slow and horrible death. In a cage. Fuck that. No. But all y’all police that was laying on the floor in that office y’all ass better tell the story right. And y’all ass better tell it that I made it clear multiple times that I wasn’t trying to hurt none of y’all as long as y’all didn’t buck, you know, and try no goofy shit…he had to get physical. His eyes as big as golf balls. And then they try to get all nice and shit. Like “don’t do that.” Man sit your ass down. Funny as hell.

I was gonna burn this bitch down. On god. I still might. I was thinking of taking all that white lighting, all that goddamn, moonshine that ni**a got and setting that bitch on fire. And they can’t even think about putting that bitch out. But I ain’t with all that man, plus I’m high now and I don’t really give a fuck like that.

Y’all know it’s all love man.

I don’t know why in the hell I put this damn vest on. I guess it’s just for the picture cuz it look cool. Cuz this bitch ain’t bulletproof. Man I’m gonna take this old corny shit off. 

Told y’all I’m leaving this bitch one way or another bro. I got to leave here. Shit. This shit be feeling like it be closing in on a ni**a. Real passive torture. Psychological torture. True enough there’s a lot of physical violence, but the source of it is really incarceration. America, the land of the free, but it incarcerate over half the world’s prison population even though it makes up such a small portion of the worlds actual population. That shit’s crazy. But you the land of the free.

If they stood on anything. If these people weren’t some hypocrites. If these people actually stood on the constitution. Some of that shit fucked up. You know like the 13th amendment that say that slavery and involuntary servitude shall not exist except wherefore one has been duly convicted of a crime or something to that effect. If they actually stood on that shit, that would be great, that would be lovely. But they pick and choose who they want to give justice to.

I can’t do it bro. I can’t do it no more. And it’s crazy because it’s clear as day. All of the evidence in the world…

I love y’all. Y’all brothers and sisters. Hold it down. Get your spirit right. Whatever it is you believe in. The people and the stuff, the things, the people that you encounter, try to leave it better than it was before you encountered it. Eiether that or don’t fuck with it. We all gonna go off from time to time, but we try to minimize that. Be in our high self. That’s what I’m encouraging everybody. But stand on something. Whatever it is you believe in stand on that shit. Don’t be no hypocrite man. Stand on that shit. Be real. One thing they gonna say that I was boy, I wasn’t never on no fuck shit, I wasn’t never on no lame shit, wasn’t never on no scared shit…

We gotta try and get more in our high self. We gotta come together man…the positive principles that they live by, if everybody stood on that. More of us just gotta do it. In more situations. You know what I’m saying?

As-salamu alaykum. [Arabic: peace be upon you]

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