Distance and time, prison commodities, stretch before Andre Gonzales as he awaits a September court hearing in Miami that he hopes will lead to his freedom
By Riane Roldan
The Medill Justice Project
MIAMI—Andre Gonzales used to pride himself on dressing in the latest designer clothes. His walk-in closet in his old Brownsville apartment was crowded with dozens of wide-brimmed baseball caps and stacks of Air Jordan sneakers. Brands like Rocawear, Sean John and Phat Farm—coveted staples in hip-hop and urban streetwear communities—hung heavily on racks.
Today, the only clothing label he wears is prison-issued. Having spent the last decade behind bars, Gonzales knows his family gave away most of his closet’s collection—markers for the fashion of the early 2000s—as they began doubting he would don them again as a free man.
Gonzales now struggles with a different fashion: to be seen at all. He’s lost touch with many of the people whom he knew before his incarceration.
“Out of sight is out of mind,” Gonzales, 45, says from the phone booth at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami.
In 2006, Gonzales, also known as Tony Brown, was arrested for a shooting behind a nightclub in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood—a murder for which he’s serving a life sentence; a crime he’s maintained he didn’t commit.
Nearly 10 years later, The Medill Justice Project tracked down the club bouncer, Arnold “Maniac” Clark, who said he saw his own friend—not Gonzales—commit the murder.
Clark, who initially refused to testify for fear of retaliation, agreed during a July court hearing to take the stand on Andre’s behalf. The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 18.
The developments have strengthened Gonzales’ hope for freedom, he says, but nothing can repair the way distance and time apart from his family and friends have eroded relationships.
“I have nobody left from the outside world,” Gonzales says.
When he went to jail, he says he had people he could rely on for support—some to call when he felt lonely, some to send him money when he needed basic things, like coffee or paper, from the commissary. Over time, he says, most of them “gave up on me.”
Family members stopped writing letters. Friends stopped answering phone calls.
“A lot of things have changed,” he says. “A lot of people done went [their] own separate ways. A lot of them done forgot about me.”
He would keep trying to call people, he says, but once he understood they weren’t going to pick up, he would cut them off.
“They don’t care about me,” he says. “I don’t care about them. They forgot about me? Okay, I done forgot about you. That’s life. Period.”
Fading in faith
Among those family members Gonzales has lost touch with is his aunt, Kirtrina Adderly, who says she attended every day of his trial.
While free, Gonzales would drive his aunt around when her car wasn’t working, buy her groceries and occasionally pay for her phone or electric bills, he says.
The last time Adderly spoke to Gonzales was around the beginning of this year. The 66-year-old has been in and out of the hospital since 2013 for knee replacement surgeries and pancreatitis, she says, blaming her failing health for her absence in her nephew’s life.
“It’s not fair,” Adderly says of Gonzales’ imprisonment. “It’s sad that it’s been that long. I understand that someone had came [sic] forth who said they knew the actual perpetrator who did the killing. So why [are] they still holding my nephew? God knows. I don’t understand that.”
In 2010, Adderly’s son, Raymond Adderly Jr., was murdered in a home invasion in Miramar, and she still doesn’t know who was responsible for his death. The case remains cold.
“I just don’t have that much faith in the system anymore,” Adderly says.
Gonzales says he still “loves his auntie to death,” but it’s hard for him to understand why he doesn’t hear from her more.
“Everybody go[es] through things in life,” Gonzales says.
“He know[s] I’m a praying woman,” Adderly says. “I’m just praying so hard for him. I really am. If I felt as if my nephew had done this, I would have had no sympathy for him. But I know my nephew didn’t do this. I know that. I know that.”
Finding a friendship
After almost a decade behind bars, Gonzales sought Joy.
Though he dated her briefly in 2005, Gonzales didn’t speak with Joy again until 2015 when he had one of his family members reach out to her on Facebook, a website he says he heard about in jail. It took a few phone calls to persuade her to speak with him, he says, but eventually the pair began having conversations almost every day.
Joy, who asked that her last name not be used in this story because she didn’t want to be associated with Gonzales’ murder case, was one of the only people Gonzales says he could depend on.
“He appreciates everything I do,” Joy says. “I don’t even want nothing back because that’s just how my heart is.”
A certified nurse in Broward County, just north of Miami, Joy juggles work with taking care of her five children, ages 1 to 18. Her days, she says, start at 6 a.m. and don’t end until 1 or 2 in the morning.
“It’s all just me,” she says of balancing her day-to-day life while trying to help Gonzales.
She says he’s gotten frustrated with her for not writing more letters to him and not attending his court hearings. The first time she missed a hearing was because she’d planned a vacation with her children in Orlando, she says. The second time, she says she was accompanying her daughter to her college orientation.
“There’s times where I wanted to say, ‘I’m done,’” she says. “…You know, I don’t have time to write. In my daily life, I don’t even have time to breathe.”
While Gonzales remains locked up, the two refrained from calling themselves a couple, instead referring to each other as good friends. Now, they’re nothing, Andre says. After a recent disagreement, he says he won’t be calling her anymore.
“You all don’t know and understand how important it is … to have some support from you all,” Gonzales says. “…I mean ‘you all’ ’cause you[‘re] free. You, in the real world. To have someone to call … That means so much to any man or woman that’s locked up in jail because we’re handicapped.”
He adds, “The smallest little things in here mean so much.”
Gonzales dreams about the big things too—life after prison: He says he wants to settle down with a woman “anywhere in the world but Florida,” get a job and start a family. He believes his time is coming.
“Ain’t no ‘if’ I do” get out of prison, he says. “I’m going to get out.”