She was raised by her grandparents, growing up in a small Alabama town, Putnam, where her grandmother cooked for a white family, and her grampa was a logger. She insists she first learned about racism while battling for justice in courtrooms, learning more during her six-plus years in federal prison about racism in American than the lifetime preceding her arrest. She is Dorothy Gaines, and she was released by President Clinton's order of clemency on December 23, 2000.
Clinton also commuted the sentence of Kemba Smith, a young mother serving 25 years for a drug conspiracy she knew little about. Kemba served 6 years and is able to mother her son for the very first time; she gave birth in shackles not long after her arrest. Both women had law firms supporting their presidential commutation requests as well as organizational exposure from a variety of drug and sentencing reform organizations that assisted in publicizing the obvious injustice in their cases.
During our phone interview Dorothy talked about her children: Natasha, now 26; Phillip, 16; and Chara, 17. Natasha, like many young victims of the drug war, became parent to her younger brother and sister. Since her release Phillip has already benefited from having his mother at home.
"He's getting up earlier, showing interest in school and speaking up more," Dorothy said. She described a young boy left withdrawn, 'holding things in' after mom was taken away. "He was not happy with kids teasing him about his mom, and you know, Chuck, he just couldn't concentrate under that stress," she told me.
Her children are no longer innocent, no longer naïve as she feels she was before prison. "My kids are now very aware of how things go in different prisons. They ask more questions and watch things better," said Dorothy. "For me, though, I am very leery, and I have learned not to trust anyone, and I was taught to love growing up in rural Alabama where I don't remember hating or being hated," she continued.
"When and how I got out of prison began
the day I stepped into prison. I asked God to give me knowledge
since I didn't have money. So give me knowledge instead, I prayed.
I soon found that many doors are locked to the prisoner, but
I began writing every day, and I put my faith to work and never
gave up. Unlike many prisoners around me, I determined from the
first day to stand up for something so I wouldn't fall for nothing,"
Dorothy related to me with conviction.