“I’m going to make it a little short because I’ve been crying for two days straight,” said Marie Franco to the reporters gathered outside the Medium Security facility at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) in Cranston, Rhode Island. “I miss my son, and the only thing I need are answers. What happened to my son? What really happened to my son in there? … I’m grieving so much for my son. I feel so hurt – destroyed inside.
Marie Franco’s son, 46-year old Jose Franco, died on February 9th, about two months before he was to be released from the ACI. Prison officials have said he was found unresponsive in his cell, but have released no further information on the circumstances of his death.
“Please someone, come forward,” said Marie, “Please!”
Marie was joined by dozens of supporters from the RI COVID Response: Decarcerate Now Coalition, a coalition of groups that have been regularly protesting outside the ACI in the past months, including DARE’s Behind the Walls Committee, Black and Pink Providence, the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island and Never Again RI. She was also joined by her lawyer, David Strachman.
“Marie is a very brave woman,” said Attorney Strachman. “She has received no information from the ACI – repeatedly. She’s been here repeatedly protesting. There are groups protesting on her behalf. As her lawyer, we’ve made inquiries to the ACI to find out what happened to her son.
“The only information we have is rumors and innuendo from people who claim to have information about Jose.
“It is cruel. It is demeaning and disrespectful of this mother to not provide information to her after all this time,” continued Attorney Strachman. “With no end in sight, we have no information other than a vague promise that at some point there will be a conclusion to an investigation and we may be able to get some information.
“The ACI and the State of Rhode Island held this gentleman in custody. They were responsible for him. They are responsible to the citizens to provide answers.”
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The Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC) never notified family members of his death. Marie learned that her son had passed when a friend of Jose’s notified the family.
After contacting DOC multiple times, Marie was given three different accounts of his death: heart attack, natural causes, and COVID-19. She was not permitted to see her son’s body before he was cremated and had to pay for the autopsy out of her own pocket. She is currently waiting for the autopsy results and received her son’s ashes on Friday.
“Now that I have his ashes, in my apartment, on top of a table, I know it’s him – it hurts me a lot more,” said Marie, choking back tears. “I’ve been crying for two days since I picked up his ashes Friday.”
Attorney Strachman told reporters that it is too early to talk about potential lawsuits. Right now, he is only trying to help the Franco family get the answers they need.
Marie Franco and her lawyer have a message for the new Governor of Rhode Island, Daniel McKee and other state leaders:
“We urge the ACI. We urge the leadership and the Governor and the administration to finally get to the bottom of this, to meet with us, to explain to us what they’ve found so far,” said Attorney Strachman. “Let us know. After a month, they should have some answers.”
Jose Franco is the fourth incarcerated person to die in RIDOC custody since December. He passed less than a month after Timothy McQuesten, who died in the Intake facility. At his arraignment McQuesten expressed concern that he was missing his antipsychotic medication. He was placed on crisis status, which required Correctional Officers to perform more regular checks. They failed to do this and he took his own life. A Correctional Officer has since been put on paid administrative leave.
Marie Franco and community organizers have heard reports from inside the prison that a Correctional Officer did not complete his mandated rounds on the night of her son’s death, but this is unconfirmed.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak last March, community members and organizers have repeatedly called on the state to reduce the prison population and to address unsanitary and abusive conditions that pre-existed the pandemic but have worsened. Since last spring, a 23+ hour lockdown has been implemented; incarcerated people in the Intake facility currently go 36 hours or longer without time outside cells.
Organizers have also pointed to a discrepancy between prison policies and conditions reported by incarcerated people and their loved ones, as well as a lack of accountability around negligence and abuse by correctional officers and medical staff. Incarcerated people and family members have reported denial of life-sustaining medications by medical staff; COs failing to wear masks and maintain social distance; prisoners being harshly disciplined and put into segregation for attempting to clean cells and phone stalls; and COs placing COVID-negative prisoners in exposure to COVID-positive individuals. Incarcerated people routinely report experiencing humiliation and physical abuse at the hands of COs.
Protests against the prison began last March and escalated last December when 95% of the Maximum Security prison contracted COVID-19. Six medical students and professionals from the collective Code Black were arrested blocking the road outside Governor Raimondo’s house at a Decarcerate NOW vigil for Jeffrey Washington, who passed in RIDOC custody due to COVID-19.
- Marie Franco wants answers about her son’s death at the ACI
- A car rally in memory of Jose Franco, who died in RIDOC custody