Stories from the Movement

A Victim Becomes an Activist

The life of a nurse and devoted mother of three was changed forever when Alabama state police raided her home for drugs.

Police found no evidence that  Dorothy Gaines had possessed or sold drugs. Though the state dropped all charges, federal prosecutors eventually charged Dorothy with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine based on flawed informant testimony. She refused to plead guilty or provide testimony against defendants – and as a result, she was sentenced to serve 19 years and 7 months.
While Dorothy served year after year in prison away from her children, her family, friends and advocates fought on her behalf. It was just the perfect storm, as finally, in December 2000, Dorothy received a commutation from President Bill Clinton.
Even though she was released, she hasn’t forgotten about the many other women with whom she spent six years behind bars. Dorothy speaks at schools and churches, and counsels families who are waiting for their loved ones’ return, and uses her own resources to help youth see their incarcerated parents.
Dorothy’s children are now grown up and her oldest daughter is in law school. She’s pleased with recent reforms, but knows there’s still much more to be done – such as achieving more comprehensive reform of mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws.
Strengthening Families
Women and LGBTQIA+ People