Marie Franco stood, microphone in hand, in the parking lot outside the medium security building at the ACI prison complex in Cranston, Rhode Island Sunday afternoon. She was surrounded by activists, advocates, family and friends.
“I’m Jose’s mom,” she said. “I’m glad everyone’s here to support me.”
Jose Franco, Marie’s oldest son, died inside the medium security building on February 9. A statement from the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC), which did not identify Jose by name pending “confirmation that the next of kin has also been notified,” simply said that a prisoner was found “unresponsive” in his cell.
In the video below, Marie Franco with Decarcerate Now! organizer Anusha Ailes.
“I just want to tell you a little bit about my son,” said Marie. “Very funny, with a big heart. And he would help anyone out… I love him, and I’m going to miss him a lot. He was my baby. He still is and always will be…”
UpriseRI spoke with Marie shortly before the rally.
“When I heard about his death, I heard it the wrong way. I shouldn’t have heard it that way,” said Marie. “Someone from the prison should have came and told me about it.”
Instead, Marie heard about it from a friend of her son’s, who had heard about it through a reverend who works at the prison.
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“They should have looked in his records and came to knock on my door and say, ‘Can we talk to you?'” said Marie.
No one from the prison ever called Marie to tell her about her son. Instead, she went to the prison and tried to see his body. There, “they were giving me different phone numbers, and giving me the run around.” She eventually tracked her son down at the morgue.
“They took his body down to the morgue, and they wouldn’t let me see my son’s body, at all,” said Marie. “I really took a fit in there. I was very very angry.”
Marie was told that she couldn’t see the body because of Covid.
Then began a series of stories about her son’s death. “At first they said he was unresponsive,” said Marie. “Then, after that, they told me he probably died of a heart attack, which I didn’t believe. It’s different stories after stories after stories.”
Later the State Police (who she called, because no one from any state agency ever called her) told her her son died of Covid. Marie is hoping the autopsy report, which she paid for, will finally tell her how Jose died. She had to pay for a copy of the autopsy report, and was told it will take 90 days for her to get it.
Marie was never allowed to see her son’s body before he was cremated, at a funeral home – on her birthday. “February 18 he was cremated. I had to have him cremated because everybody’s rushing me to get him out of the place they keep the bodies – the autopsy place. They were rushing me at the funeral home too. They were throwing everything at me, so I had to have my son cremated.”
“I didn’t want to,” said Marie. “I couldn’t afford to give him a decent burial.”
Jose was due to be released on March 17. “I have to go on Wednesday to pick up his ashes,” said Marie. “He’s going to come home with me Wednesday.”
Marie found out about the year long campaign protesting substandard medical care and inhumane conditions at the prison from a report UpriseRI did last Sunday. She is thankful for the community support she is receiving now. “Everything I was doing, I was doing it on my own – going to these prisons and trying to get information on why my son died.”
But questions remain.
“Who was around? Who was there? Who’s seen this? How did they find him?” asked Marie. “Did they find him curled up in the bed? Did they find him laying flat in his bed? Did they find him on his belly on his bed? Those are the answers that I need right now. Was the cell door closed when this happened? Was it opened when this happened? All these are answers I want and I need.
“I want to know how my son died.”
Jose is the fourth incarcerated person to die in RIDOC custody since December. He was 46 years old.
The rally was the latest action in a nearly year long campaign. Organizers have repeatedly called on the state to reduce the prison population and to address inadequate PPE, unsanitary conditions, improper quarantine protocols, and abusive conditions including the 23+ hour lockdown that has been implemented since last spring. Incarcerated people in the Intake facility currently have thirty minutes or less per day outside cells to shower and make phone calls.
These actions and the campaign are organized by community members and organizations including Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE)’s Behind the Walls Committee, a committee made up of formerly incarcerated people and the loved ones of incarcerated people; Black and Pink Providence; Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island; Never Again Action Rhode Island, and Showing Up for Racial Justice Rhode Island.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know that people like this cared,” said Marie, talking about the community support she was getting. “And I never knew that there was a place that you could go to and get help.”
Here’s video of the other speakers at Sunday’s rally: