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Drug War Prisoners: 86-Year-Old Alva Mae Groves Dies Behind Bars

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #499)
Politics & Advocacy

Alva Mae "Granny" Groves, the 86-year-old North Carolina grandmother sentenced to 24 years behind bars after refusing to testify against her children, died last week at a federal prison hospital in Texas. Federal prison officials denied her request to die at home, saying her charges were too serious to allow compassionate release.

Alva Mae Groves (courtesy
Groves had already served 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to sell cocaine and aiding and abetting the trading of crack cocaine for food stamps. She was 74 when she went to prison. She always maintained that she had been punished for failing to cooperate with federal prosecutors to lock up her children for life.

"My real crime... was refusing to testify against my sons, children of my womb, that were conceived, birthed and raised with love," Groves wrote in a 2001 letter to November Coalition, an anti-prohibitionist group that concentrates on freeing federal drug war prisoners.

Law enforcement officials continue to maintain that Groves played a key role in a cocaine conspiracy conducted by family members, but family members have always said she did nothing more than look the other way. Five members of her family were imprisoned in the investigation. Her son, Ricky Groves, is doing a life sentence, while Groves, her older daughter, and her granddaughter were all sent to federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida.

Groves became one of the poster children for sentencing reform as reaction grew to the drug war excesses of the 1980s and 1990s. But any reforms will come too late for the grandmother who loved tending her garden.

"It's a relief she's dead, but it's a hurt, a real hurt we weren't with her," daughter Everline told the Charlotte Observer. "What could she have hurt?"

Groves dreamed of getting out of prison, planting new gardens, and seeing grandchildren born while she was behind bars, but never had the chance. Her kidneys began failing early this year, and she was transferred to a federal prison hospital in Fort Worth.

Groves did not want to die in prison, she told the November Coalition in a recent letter. "I realize everyone has a day to die; death is a fate that will not be cheated. But I don't want to die in prison. I want to die at home surrounded by the love of what's left of my family."

Last winter, the Groves family asked for compassionate release so she could die at home. The family wrote to every official they could think of and enlisted the help of groups like the November Coalition, to no avail. As Groves' daughters leaned over her bed on July 19, prison officials handed them a letter denying the request.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Do these people own this planet,they control evrything we do we only think we're free,what we are is stupid,I don't know much about cocaine only that its expensive and a white collar drug of choice ,i also know its not man-made like those made legally by big pharma.that'll kill you as a possible side-effect gee thanks! assholes!!

Fri, 08/24/2007 - 12:08pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Control is what the Right is all about, including the Clintons who put spiral-eyeballed Barry in charge of victimizing drug users. But wait, there's more. We all die. Currently, society's way of keeping death and dying out of sight is to stash the elderly in nursing homes. This is usually accomplished by means of social and medical workers, along with elders' families. If you fall several times, they all get together and, first thing you know, you're hauled off the to nursing home. If you forget to eat a meal or two, ditto. They might let you out after a few weeks of sucking every cent out of your savings and reducing you to a cypher. Or not.

In nursing homes, if you are too frisky or too miserable, you are drugged into submission (no matter what they tell you otherwise) and then treated as failing when your poor drugged mind wanders. In nursing homes, you turn into a rotting hulk with no future (and usually no present) and are forced to suffer months or years of pain, suffering, and general misery. When your skin is so thin that even a wrinkle in a gown or sheet causes pain, who is going to smooth away all those wrinkles when you're reduced to helplessness? Who will tuck in all those pillows needed to ease the pain and seek precious sleep? And that's just a couple of myriad little pains (NOT mere discomforts by then) added to the usual bodily failures that occur in old age. On the other hand, in a nursing home, who decides when and what you will eat for the rest of your life? Not you, for sure.

It is only because of religion's iron grip on US society that End of Life suffering is extended as long as possible. The rational way to die would be to take charge of your dying yourself, for who knows better than you yourself when you are ready to leave this life? Even better would be if society and the medical profession would help you in taking that charge. But no. It is against the law to decide for yourself when and how you leave this life. That decision is left, by law, to someone else's imaginary god. I have heard suffering old women saying, year after year, "Why doesn't the good lord take me?" As if. Like those who prevent females impregnated by a stray sperm from doing the rational and necessary thing, the religious use politicians to advance their own primitive beliefs at terrible cost to women, girls, and the very elderly (usually female, as well). Well, all of today's current mythologies were concocted by males for their own "glory" and advantage, so what can we expect? Empathy? Nurture? Understanding? Mercy? No way.

Fri, 08/24/2007 - 7:35pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

That poor old lady died alone because she looke the other way? WTFU America!!its time to give these people a tase of their own medicine.I say piss on thier tombstones and throw rocks at thier heads! That old ladies crim was love and love only...guess that is another thing our government hates since they cant TAX love,f'ing shitbags.

Sun, 08/26/2007 - 10:48pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Commonly I debate with people on drugs, and it seems like EVERYONE who opposes me has "worked with druggies" and they say they need to be behind bars (oh please!). Yet I question their narrow-mindedness. I was watching Cops on G4 the other day and a peaceful, passive man who did drugs was pulled from his family, and that's about all I heard over the little girl's crying. And now I'm reading this, and it makes me even more frustrated. I can't believe people actually think it's good. No. It's sick.

I give my condolences to Groves and her family and everyone else behind bars for ridiculous sentences because of this war.

Fri, 08/24/2007 - 12:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Nazi Germany targetted Jews for political reasons---Nazi America targets people who use unapproved substances for medicine and recreation for the same reasons.
I've never heard such utter callousness.

Fri, 08/24/2007 - 12:41pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This is just one of multiple thousands of the injustices wrought by our legislators in their pandering to mean-spirited constituents for the goal of re-election. The sound-bite wars on crime, drugs and terror have always, and will continue to be, used as empty excuses to subjugate those who choose "alternative lifestyles." We are all at fault for standing by silently while our legislators heap these misbegotten laws upon laws for their own agendas. The potential to recover our national conscience and American values grows dimmer each day, but each of us must stand up and lend our voices to protest inhumane results such as this travesty. My comments come from over 20 years of dealing with this broken system as an attorney. My heart breaks for Ms. Grover and her family--all victims of these outrageous affronts to personal choice, personal dignity, and the sanctity of freedom for all.

Fri, 08/24/2007 - 12:57pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

First, Let me say that this comes as no surprise. I am not trying to make this a race issue, but had the victim been white, she probably would have been granted the ability to die at home. My condolences to Groves and her family, as well as EVERYONE else being handed down these insane sentences.

It's not the drugs we're at war with, It's our OWN citizens! We're in the middle of a civil war that doesn't look like will be ending ANY time soon. And HOW UNFORTUNATE!! How many innocent people have to die?!?! How many more families need be torn apart?!?!

We can sit back and let these doctors pump us full of prescriptions with side effects much worse than what we're given the medication for-That's okay. Just as long as we buy our drugs from the government; but we'd better not think about putting money in the hands of these "terrorists"; these "criminals".

BULL SH!T!!! These so-called "terrorists" and "criminals" are, in my opinion, the assholes who run our government and police forces. After all, If they didn't have their hands in it, drugs would probably be legalized by now.

Fri, 08/24/2007 - 3:46pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The only reason I feel angry when I see people burning the "Colors of the United States of America" is because I see IGNORANCE--they should have the flag on the ground for all to WIPE THE DIRT OFF THEIR FEET UPON IT. The ULTIMATE demonstration of DISRESPECT.

The "Stars and Stripes" represent the most oligarchic, militaristic, technologically-advanced, quasi-totalitarian POLICE STATE on the planet today.

Sat, 08/25/2007 - 1:56am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Compassion is considered "soft". Amerikans, cannot be soft. Pity is soft. Tolerance is also soft. The sick must endure pain without relief , or they are soft. Parents must giveup their children or they are soft. Amerika, home of the "not soft" , sometimes also known as "hardasses with soft heads" , certainly in Texas.

Sat, 08/25/2007 - 12:29pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

My condolences to the family of Alva Mae "Granny" Groves. I hope that her death isn't in vain. It only took 12 years for the government to realize that the war on alcohol is stupid. It is now 70 years and the government learned nothing. Let's treat drug abuse the way that we treat alcohol abuse.

Sat, 08/25/2007 - 7:16pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

God be with that lady and her surviving children.
The man-made laws of these nations display for the world to see how far we have come from the needs and wants and fears of our forefathers, the people who walked across this continent to find freedom and peace.
We are too lax at election time; not enough of us get off our livinmg room couches and get out there and vote for the voice of reason.

Sun, 08/26/2007 - 8:53pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a travesty of justice. My deepest condolences to the Groves family. She represents the quintessential political prisoner of the United States of Amerika. I agree with the former post that the names of the officials who denied her the chance to die at home should be made public. I, for one, would love to write them with my strong disapproval for their utter lack of compassion/humanity.

Sun, 08/26/2007 - 9:25pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

To begin with this poor lady was given way over the fair amt. of prison time. All circumstances were not considered. Nothing makes prosecutor madder than a defendantwho wont testify. Her only crime was telling the truth and good God man she got more time than we give in a lot of murder cases.Also she was Black and didnt have the $ that many celebs would have put up pronto and got maybe House arrest ot at worst 1-2 years. This is just like a friend I have who would not testify against his co conspiritors ven though they did against him. He was given Life without Parole in Federal prison for conspiracy. He had no drugs no money no weapons just some other criminals word. Sure i will admit he was using drugs but LIFE?NO PAROLE? Where in Hell are our deceny and justice gone to?

Mon, 08/27/2007 - 6:14am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Where is the justice here? It can't be found. However the integrity of this woman is outstandingly evident. I greatly admire her. We've seen an increase in zero tolerance and compassionless actions with the right wing Bush admin (then again the water downed democrats have been equally as cruel) and we must continue to fight both outside and inside this political system to restore civil liberties and end this unjust and cruel war on drugs. Life with no parole for a cocaine bust with refusal to die at home is a reflection on the American mentality, at least in a large part of the population. Oscar Wilde had once said that you can have insight into the government of a country in observation of the treatment of prisoners and prison systems, (like the hygiene of a lavatory in a restaurant.) You can see it here in the absence of rehabilitation with the severity of outlandish and extreme punishment as the answer to these so called sinners.

And so we have to fight this idea of a burning hell of eternity for all who dare disagree with the current right wing view of God's morality. The fight must continue in the streets, in elections, in blogging and liberal media (what's remaining of it), against lobbying practices and the fight to birth grass roots watch dog groups to monitor the executory, legislative and judicial branches of the government. In the meantime people like Alva Mae Groves are going to continue to be prosecuted under the American bureaucratic compassionless machine. This is a scary place to live for peaceful self medicating drug users.

Mon, 08/27/2007 - 11:30am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

We all need tokeep writing letters to the media and the politicians. Not that those letters will help; they always ignore letters with which they do not agree. But, at least it puts you on record as opposing this cruel activity of the government and its agents. Our descendents will not think we were all sadistic, when they look back; they will only think that of our politicians who refused to listen to our pleas for the ending of this war on our own people.

Mon, 08/27/2007 - 6:26pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Wake up all you people who know the drug laws are wrong, but won't lift a finger to stop the insanity. Not letting this woman die at home is such a bestial crime, it certainly shows the drug war jihadis true colors to all but the most willfully blind. The drug war jihadists keep getting more and more evil.
Alcohol supremacist bigotry defecates on justice.

Tue, 08/28/2007 - 10:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

why would any good person testify to put their children behind bars? i'm quite sure she wasnt the one breaking any laws and selling any drugs so why should she have to suffer? this country is a fucking sick place. people arent supposed to display any individuality, they are supposed to do as their told. i was just arrested the other day because of marijuana. i am only 17. i don't know if i'll be able to get a good job anytime in the future and who knows about college, other than community college. my family life is fucked because of the intolerant atmosphere that is somehow created toward any drug users in the united states. people all around me smoke bud. what is the point of fucking with someones life when what they are doing is so common? people should just accept what other people do, get off their power trips, and live and let live. i'm not trying to bother anyone by smoking pot, but i am constantly told how i am wrong, they are right, and i need help. it just makes me sad that i can't have the happy family life i used to have just because of the fact that i am a pot smoker; i'm not the one provoking all the shit that happens. now i have to go to rehab, for smoking pot?? wtf. i have school, how am i going to deal with that, since i will be away in some treatment facility? drop out? people being arrested for petty drug shit is just irrational. young people may end up dropping out of school, or turning to drug dealing because they can't get a job because they have a record. how is that really helping anyone? people will want to use drugs just as much or more when they have to deal with problems presented to them by our country's genius penal system. drugs need to be legalized and it should be up to the individual to make sure they don't overuse, and we would have much less problems.

Mon, 09/03/2007 - 1:18am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

...reading stories like Groves' or reading the tone of some the responses. No doubt there's a discrepancy between America's stated ideals and our actual practices, a discrepancy that unfortunately is growing wider under the current administration. However, those who liken the United States in the early 21st century to Germany in the 1930s and '40s or who posit that we are the most repressive police state on the planet only undermine the goals of our movement. Cogent arguments that appeal to people's sense of compassion or their economic self-interest have a much better chance of winning over Middle America than the tweaker logic one typically sees here.

Sun, 09/09/2007 - 2:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I am one of Ms. Mae's thirty something gradchildren, and I can't begin to explain the angusih that this whole ordeal has put my whole family thru. My grand mother was imprisoned when I was 10 years old, and wasn't freed until God saw fit, because the idoits in the justice system couldn't use common sense to let a dying elderly woman come home. Letters upon letters were written by her and my family to politicians, and orginazations to help in the seemed like no one cared. Some responded, but no huge steps were made. Every time the facilites that housed my grandmother would get in contact with my aunts or my father to let them know that she would be moving to a different facility due to her health, we would see it as an oppurtnity to bring my sick grandmother home. We would push and fight to get her home so she could be cared for by her own family in her old age, but we would never get that answer the we wanted. I guess the people handling my grandmothers situation never had family. Never knew what it was like to have a grandmother you looked forward to seeing during the holidays, and particular on you birthday because she got you the best gifts. They have obviously never sat down with my grand mother and had a face to face conversation because the right call would have been made, or letter would have been written shortly there after. You couldn't help but love her if you've ever met her. They don't know what it feels like to be on the recieving end of the long crooked arm of the the small but accurate article shows, my family knows it all to well. Thank you to everybody that has took the time to read, it. If it raises the awareness about unfair sentences and situations like ours, then my Grandmother's death wasn't in vain.

Mon, 11/26/2007 - 3:40am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It does not make sense, they let people get wasted off of alcohol and then if someone wants to eat a cannabis-cookie or a magic-mushroom there are arrests made and people's freedom violated.

Tue, 09/30/2008 - 4:25pm Permalink

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