Life After Prison: Victims Face Tough Road Too

Posted by .

Inmates walk through the hall at Julia Tutwiler Prison Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore County near Wetumpka, AL.

Julie Bennett

Inmates walk through the hall at Julia Tutwiler Prison Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore County near Wetumpka, AL.

A warning: this story may not be suitable for children.


All this week in our series Life After Prison we’ve been exploring the challenges inmates face rebuilding their lives after serving their sentences. It’s part of a reporting project in partnership with and the Center for Investigative Reporting. But for every prisoner there’s a victim and often victims can be on the sidelines. One crime victim offers a glimpse of the issue.

It was September 2004, a Saturday, and Gail McLaughlin had scheduled several people to look at a home she was renting. It was like an open house.

“People were coming in and filling out applications to rent the house and looking at it,” McLaughlin said.

Things were finishing up and McLaughlin was getting ready to leave when a car pulled up. In it were two young men who had been by to look at the house earlier. One put a gun in McLaughlin’s face. He told the other one to tie her up. They took her purse and grabbed her ATM card. The man with the gun sent the other to go get cash.

“Course as soon as the young man left, I knew what was gonna happened,” McLaughlin said.

The remaining man took her into a room and raped her.

“I remember laying there thinking just hurry up and get it over with and get on with what you want to do,” said McLaughlin. “If you want to shoot me, whatever you want to do. Just hurry up.”

He didn’t shoot her but put McLaughlin in a closet and closed the door. Her hands had become untied in the scuffle, so when she couldn’t see feet beneath the closet door, she took off running to a church down the street.

“I’m just thinking, ‘God, I’m gonna get him. I don’t care what it takes. He’s not gonna get by with this.'” said McLaughlin.

She would face long odds. The Justice Department estimates only 3 percent of rapists ever see the inside of a prison.

There happened to be people at the church that Saturday who assisted McLaughlin. She called 911 and police came. They went to UAB Hospital and connected her with a crisis center. McLaughlin says many responders and medial personnel were great, but the police officer who arrived initially was not.

“He was a very unkind, uncaring human being,” said McLaughlin. “Could of cared less.”

Former victim advocate and Sam Houston State University professor Kathy Latz says some victims do experience negativity from people who are part of the system. Although she says she’s that’s improved in recent years. Victims then can be thrown into a law enforcement and legal world that’s foreign.

“It can be daunting and unfamiliar and in addition to that the process tends to be very long,” said Latz.

For Gail McLaughlin her process continued by talking to detectives several times and identifying a suspect from a photo line up. A few weeks later police picked up 25-year-old Angelo White. With a suspect in custody, next came a preliminary hearing, a bail hearing, and grand jury testimony. At the bail hearing McLaughlin found herself in the same room as White. She says he was staring a hole through her.

“So I just proceeded to move where I was looking straight at him and I wouldn’t take my eyes of him,” McLauhglin said. “We had a stare down because I was going to let him know, you weren’t gonna do this to me. And I will see you in hell.”

Despite this anger and this focus, McLaughlin says her brain was in a fog. She’d go to work sporadically. She couldn’t write a check to pay her bills. She washed her iron in the washing machine.

“I don’t know how it got in there. Don’t remember seeing it,” said McLaughlin. “But the iron still works to this day. I still have it. It’ll still work. [It’s] a good iron.”

Those symptoms don’t surprise UAB Clinical Psychologist Josh Klapow. He says crime is a trauma and the surprise nature of crime makes it more intense. Even something like a burglary where there’s no physical harm sends a message.

“[That message is] I’m not totally in control,” said Klapow. “Something has happened that I can’t control and I think more importantly emotionally it sends this message it might happen again.”

Klapow says victims can bounce back but it’s difficult. With every question asked by police or a family member, they relive the crime and can feel re-victimized.

“Even with the best of intent, we’re sort of forcing the victim to deal with this in a manor and in a time frame that is not their own,” Klapow said. “It may be necessary but it does make it more challenging.”

Gail McLaughlin had to relive the crime when the case went to trial. She says court was awful as she watched 12 jurors decide whether they believed her.

The courtroom brings up an often overlooked dynamic. Perpetrators have constitutionally recognized rights such as trial by jury or cruel and unusual punishment. But victims don’t have similar rights.

Will Marling, executive director of the advocacy group National Organization for Victims Assistance, says 33 states, including Alabama have constitutional protections for victims. But not the federal constitution. These are things such as a right to dignity, respect, information, assistance and compensation. There is an effort to add a Victims’ Rights Amendment to the constitution, which Marling says would create continuity across the country. He adds rights for victims don’t take away rights for the accused.

“It really isn’t zero sum,” said Marling. “It’s rights that stand beside each other that in the course of due process protect each party appropriately.”

Gail McLaughlin believes victims don’t always get a fair shake, but for her it turned out okay. The jury returned a guilty verdict. He case is among that 3-percent. Angelo White was sentenced to life without parole under Alabama’s habitual offender law.

McLaughlin says the hard times lasted for several years after the trial and the events have left their mark.

“I don’t trust people,” McLaughlin said. “I tried to always give everybody the benefit of the doubt and I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt anymore.”

But through medication and counseling she’s doing all right. She has a supportive family. Her boyfriend who was with her then is still around. She volunteered as a rape response advocate. Life’s not normal, but it’s all right.

Anthony Ray Hinton Released After Almost 30 Years On Death Row

After almost 30 years on death row, Anthony Ray Hinton was released from prison today after the prosecution dropped the charges. Ashley Cleek was at , when Hinton was released. Family and friends sobbed and rushed to hug Anthony Ray Hinton as he walked out of the jail in downtown Birmingham free man. Hinton been imprisoned since he was convicted of murdering two men in 1985. For WBHM, Ashley Cleek was at the jail in downtown Birmingham, when Hinton was released.

Man On Death Row For Almost 30 Years Will Be Freed

A man on Alabama’s death row for almost 30 years will be freed tomorrow Friday, April 3, after a judge dismissed the case. Prosecutors say the evidence that tied the man to two murders is not reliable. Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted and sentenced to death for killing two managers at Birmingham fast-food restaurants during

What’s In Alabama’s Prison Reform Bill?

Alabama’s prison reform bill was approved today by a 31-2 vote in the Alabama Senate. The bill contains major changes to the state’s sentencing and probation rules with the goal of reducing prison over-crowding. Alabama’s prisons are currently at almost 200 percent capacity. The bill was crafted by the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force with the help of The Council of State Governments, a nonprofit that works with policymakers across the country. WBHM’s Rachel Osier Lindley spoke with Andy Barbee, research manager with The Council of State Governments about some of the most important policy changes in the Alabama Justice Reinvestment Act and how Alabama’s challenges rank nationally.

How Prison Shaped a Woman’s Career Path

For 10 years of her adult life, Jamie Faust was in and out of county jail and federal prison. In 2012 she entered Julia Tutwiler’s Prison for Women as an HIV positive inmate. At the time, HIV inmates were segregated from the general population. She tells WBHM’s Sarah Delia that living with HIV in prison wasn’t easy, but the experience pushed her to follow a career path she might not have otherwise.

Life After Prison: Ex-Felons Often Struggle to Find a Job

Throughout the week, WBHM is reporting on the hurdles ex-felons face once they’re released from prison. One of the primary challenges they face is finding stable employment. In addition to the external struggles ex-felons face when looking for work, many also grapple with internal ones, like drug addiction or mental health issues. But, issues aside, ex-offenders need a job to provide for their basic needs, in addition to money required to pay court expenses and restitution.

The long path back to a normal life begins with whether or not an employer will give ex-offenders a chance. For WBHM News, Les Lovoy has more.

Andrew Yeager

Announcer Producer