Here in New York, the death of the longest-serving woman in the state’s prison system is sparking new calls for parole reform. Valerie Gaiter died from cancer last week at age 61 after 40 years in prison. Gaiter was serving a 50-year sentence for a gruesome murder she committed at age 21. She went on to become a beloved mentor and trained service dogs for wounded veterans. Even prison guards supported her release. But she was ineligible to appear before the parole board for another 10 years. At a protest in Manhattan Tuesday, she was remembered by her former partner Kiki Analloyd, and Donna Robinson, whose incarcerated daughter was mentored by Gaiter.
Kiki Analloyd: “When you walked through them gates, you’ve seen her smile. She helped you with music. She helped you with paddle ball. She was the best. Her heart was made of gold. Y’all just got to know that women, we all learned our lesson. We did our time.”
Donna Robinson: “What person is the same person they were a month ago, two years ago? Forty-one years, that’s beyond punishment. And it has to stop. No more Vals dying in jail!”
Also at the protest were two state lawmakers who have introduced a bill to prevent more people from dying in prison by giving those aged 55 and older a chance to appear before the parole board after serving at least 15 years of their sentence.