By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on June 12, 2022
An Editorial Opinion
When I visited Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island in South Africa in 2012, I asked God to give me the strength that he gave to Mandela whenever the guardians of Alabama's modern-day apartheid system came for me. I walked every foot of the prison on Robben Island so that I could see and feel what it was like for Mandela in this proverbial "Lion's Den."
Like Nelson Mandela, I, too, am a political prisoner. Like Mandela, I, too, represented myself during my criminal trial. Like Mandela, I, too, was railroaded during my trial. Like Mandela, I, too, fought apartheid for decades, albeit in Alabama and other Deep South Confederate states. Like Mandela, I, too, was hated by the white oligarchy that ruled my state.
I am one of the few lawyers in Alabama who prevented scores of targeted civil rights activists in Alabama from going to prison solely because of their social justice activism. Some of these activists were original COINTELPRO victims. Others became local COINTELPRO victims in Alabama after the centralized COINTELPRO program in Washington ended in 1972.
I am one of the few lawyers in Alabama who stood up for women in Alabama in cases where they were raped by powerful men. I also protected young girls who were raped and sexually abused by their fathers. I have personally saved four incest victims from following through with their suicidal thoughts.
I am the only journalist/lawyer in Alabama whose investigative work forced two corrupt Alabama governors (Republicans Guy Hunt and Robert Bentley) and two compromised United States district court judges (Democrat Dean Bertram in Birmingham and Republican Mark E. Fuller in Montgomery) to resign from office.
In response to my work in the Guy Hunt case, political operatives in the U.S. Attorney's office in Montgomery took down Democratic governor Don Siegleman on bogus federal bribery charges. Siegelman was the last Democrat elected as governor of Alabama.
I am the former Special Assistant Alabama Attorney General who defended the state's 1973 conviction of powerful and popular Talladega police lieutenant Jimmy Ray Hurst, who is white, for the ambush shotgun murder of Charles "Cooter" Mann, who was considered by many to be a worthless "town drunk." In 1974, I secured an unprecedented affirmance of Lt. Hurst's murder conviction from an all-white Alabama Supreme Court.
I am the lawyer who obtained a full and unconditional pardon in 1976 for the last surviving Scottsboro Boy -- Mr. Clarence Norris -- based upon proof of actual "innocence." Mr. Norris' pardon ended a 45-year legal fight to save the lives and clear the names of nine black teenage boys (ages 13 to 18) who were falsely accused in 1931 of raping two white girls on a freight train traveling through Paint Rock, Alabama.
I am the lawyer who forced more than 28 corrupt and physically abusive police officers in Alabama to resign from their law enforcement agencies since 1975, starting with nine Montgomery police officers who murdered an innocent and unarmed Bernard Whitehurst in 1975 and covered up his execution-style murder. In 1977, the Washington Post labeled the Whitehurst case "Alabama's Watergate."
I am one of the handful of lawyers in the state who desegregated the faculties and staffs of 68 of Alabama's public school systems, all of the state's junior and community colleges, and all 32 senior public colleges and universities in Alabama.
Life in the Lion's Den
I always knew that when the forces in Alabama that opposed equality for women and people of color finally got around to targeting me for persecution and imprisonment, there would be nobody to save me. These forces have tried to indict me on trumped-up criminal charges since 1975.
I have survived credible death threats in Montgomery and Birmingham, as well as numerous attempts by state and federal officials to imprison me because my landmark civil rights cases literally changed the educational, economic, political, banking, healthcare, and social landscape of Alabama. With rare exceptions, state and federal law enforcement agencies in Alabama have always been the vanguard of domestic threats to democracy and equal justice for blacks in the state.
When I desegregated the University of Alabama's law school from 1970 to 1973, God placed a black janitor named Mr. Ramus Rhodes in Farrah Hall to shield me from as much white hatred as he could while I was in this particular "Lion's Den." Mr. Rhodes lifted me upon his shoulders and gave me the strength I needed to endure the pure hell I caught every day during the longest and loneliest three years of my life.
When I entered the "Lion's Den" of the federal prison system on August 28, 2019, God immediately formed a protective shield around me. Men like George Washington Dunn, Jr., Johann Jordan, Donatus Mbanefo, Keith Barnhart, Ralph Menard, Benjamin Robles, Efren Cardenas-Jimenez, Alphonso Woodley, Sr., and many others protected me from physical harm.
These men also hoisted me upon their shoulders so that I could fight injustices in the federal criminal justice system with full vigor and renewed energy. As a result of their bravery and support, I have been able to help over 40 deserving inmates secure early releases from prison.
God gave me the strength and tools I needed to survive a prison ordeal that my persecutors thought would break my spirit and rob me of my manhood. To their surprise, God made my prison ordeal my finest hour as a man, a lawyer, and a Christian.
Blessings from God
I am a stronger and wiser man today than I was when I entered prison. I also know how to better assess true love, friendship, and unconditional support.
I continue to enjoy a very blessed life.
At the beginning of my imprisonment, I believed that any potential threat to my life would come from fellow inmates. I was wrong in this regard.
The greatest danger to my life in prison came from top executives at FCI Talladega, the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Central Office in Washington. These executives operated prisons as legal institutions of slavery. My fellow inmates made sure that these malicious prison executives were never successful in their intentional efforts to cause me physical harm or death.
Thankfully, my family showed me a support system that was incredibly solid, very responsive, and indestructible. No amount of government trickery or Alabama-style racism by my persecutors was able to crush my family's courage, activism, and resolve. I am very fortunate to be a member of the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family, a legacy family in America whose roots trace back to the 1820s for my father's lineage and 1830s for my mother's bloodline. In this family, we take care of our own.
Throughout this ordeal, my international business partners never abandoned me. They realized that Lloyd Peeples, the lead Birmingham-based federal prosecutor in my case, was a "Good 'Ol Boy" Alabama racist and failed pizza restaurant operator with a "skinhead" appearance who could not stomach the success of highly qualified, independent blacks in international business.
The unwavering loyalty of my international business partners ensures a successful return to a very bright future for my business stakeholders and me. They are the "best of the best" achievers in their respective business sectors.
Between COVID-19, the Russia-Ukraine War, rising fuel prices, and a looming recession, my business competitors have been frozen in place. In contrast, I have been introduced to new, exciting, high-quality, and very promising international business opportunities.
God has also empowered me with a diverse and growing friendship circle, new and more powerful political tools, and a vast network of financial resources. I will deploy these assets to achieve a direct and meaning impact on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.
Those Who Orchestrated My Judicial Lynching Are Suffering
As fate would have it, nearly every member of the law enforcement mob that orchestrated my judicial lynching in Birmingham, Alabama is suffering awful tragedy in his/her personal life today. I take no joy in their suffering.
While I have forgiven all of the lynch mob orchestrators and participants, God apparently has not. He appears to be dealing with each one of them on His own terms. God knows that none of these persecutors has ever lifted a finger to help the "least of these, my brethren."
Like the Biblical figure Daniel, I was thrown in the "Lion's Den" based upon false and malicious allegations of wrongdoing that had been previously investigated, reviewed, and dismissed by unbiased, highly-qualified federal prosecutors in New Jersey.
Beginning with my first day in prison, God rescued me from the proverbial "lions." As Daniel wrote in verse 6:22: " My God sent his angel to shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight." This was my experience in the "Lion's Den," as well.
The men who maliciously accused Daniel of wrongdoing were eventually arrested by King Darius of Mede. On orders from the King, they were thrown into the "Lions' Den," along with their wives and children. "The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den." Daniel 6:24.
Based upon what I have seen to date, I have a strong premonition that the Birmingham-based "administrators and high officers" (referenced in Daniel 6:6) who falsely accused me of wrongdoing will suffer a similar proverbial fate.
If there is anyone reading this article who does not believe in the power of God, I truly feel sorry for you. For me, the power of God is NOT a mere intellectual hypothesis or cognitive hunch. It is a divine force that is far greater than anything my persecutors can match.
If you are already a believer in the power of God and you are navigating some rough seas in your life today, I ask that you listen to Isabel Davis' song, "Wide as the Sky" (Extended 9:51 minute version). I listen to this inspirational song each morning in the "Lion's Den" and it makes a positive difference in my life.
"Wide as the Sky" charges my spirit and gives me the strength I need to survive and thrive as a political prisoner. I have seen this song transform prison guards from ruthless overseers into loving and caring human beings. I have watched it give lasting peace and hope to many hopeless souls.