More than 120 Alabama clergy—including a Black Catholic priest—have signed on to a new letter to Governor Kay Ivey concerning Kastello (Kastellio) Vaughan, an ailing inmate at a state prison who has made headlines in recent weeks due to an alleged lack of medical care.
Vaughan, 32, who is serving a serving 20-year sentence at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore for robbery, has reportedly lost over 70 pounds since the spring, as seen in viral photos shared by his sister on September 21.
Fr Manuel Williams, CR of Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South in Montgomery, joined his fellow ministers in calling the situation “dire” and calling on Ivey to exercise “righteous leadership.”
“As you know, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama for unconstitutional conditions in our state’s prisons for men,” they wrote, while also requesting that Vaughan be afforded medical care at a hospital outside of the carceral system.
“We beseech you to ensure Mr. Vaughan receives the medical care he deserves and to advocate for the needed systemic reforms to address the deplorable condition of our state’s prisons.”
Vaughan’s sister noted that she last visited Vaughan in July, when he was “in good condition.” Months later, she received photos of a clearly emaciated Vaughan, after which she put out a call for assistance on Facebook and started a GoFundMe.
As of Tuesday afternoon, she has raised more than $52,000 to obtain legal assistance for Vaughan, whose health she says “seems to be deteriorating.”
“He cannot walk nor stand he is weak and vulnerable.”
On September 23, Vaughan’s family retained high-powered social justice attorney Lee Merritt, who said he is investigating whether the state of Alabama “violated their duty of care” concerning Vaughan.
Less than a week later, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Vaughan was in fact hospitalized in Jackson for conditions related to a bowel obstruction, but later requested a discharge on two occasions and returned to Elmore, located just under 3 hours away.
“In addition, inmate Vaughan has repeatedly refused medical assessment and medical treatment while in the custody of the ADOC following his return [Against Medical Advice] from Jackson Hospital,” the ADOC said in a statement.
“The ADOC offers medical assessment and treatment to all inmates but does not force them to accept that care.”
Vaughan’s family is one of several to bring accusations of medical neglect against the ADOC over the years, including that of Justin Faircloth in February 2020, and videos posted online this summer appeared to depict the same. An investigation in 2014 also found that healthcare in Alabama prisons is subpar, with potentially deadly consequences.
These and other concerns have led to an ongoing prison work strike in the state, beginning in September and concerning what inmates have called “Alabama's systematic denial of human dignity and rights.”
The same day the ADOC rebutted claims of maltreatment of Vaughan, Ivey responded to the strike via a spokesperson, calling the demands “unreasonable” and unwelcome in Alabama.
“Thanks to the Alabama Legislature, we can also look forward to the construction of new prison facilities that will create all-around better conditions to live, work and rehabilitate.”
The clergy statement from Faith in Action Alabama also hones in on the new legislation, saying that “building new prisons is not the answer.”
“Our faith traditions call on us to choose and protect life.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).