NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When Charles Duynes was born, he was so small his mother said she could fit him in a shoebox.
“I got that five-pound boy. He had the nerve to lose that five pounds. So, that was the boy that I wanted that loved his mama,” Sharon Dallas said.
Known as “Buck Fifty” to his friends and family, Dallas’ little shoebox baby grew into a man. She said he was a man who took care of his mother, who fathered six children, and who made serious mistakes.
“That was my child. OK, my child was not all of that, but that was still my child, and I’m going to do the best I can toward my child,” Dallas said.
Duynes made a life-changing mistake in 2010. He was convicted of second-degree murder after 22-year-old Christopher Wilson was shot at a party in Norfolk. A judge sentenced Duynes to 42 years in prison for the crime.
The move to prison was a difficult adjustment for mother and son, but they remained close while he was serving his time. Dallas visited her son at Sussex 1 State Prison, and Duynes called his mother frequently.
“Any time he had a problem, he would ring that phone,” Dallas said. “He has no problems ringing that landline. If he needed anything, if he wanted me to get anything, he would dial me. He had others that he could rely on, but I know I can call my mama.”
And like any son, Duynes called his mother when he was sick. One day he told his mother that he was having severe stomachaches that radiated to his back and made him feel weak. As time went on, his symptoms got worse.
“It got to the point where, ‘Mama, I feel like something popped in me. Mama, I’m having to lay on the cement. I’m not in my bunk. I’m laying on the floor.’ So, when you tell me now, as a mother, that you’re laying on the floor, I know that you’re having a temperature. You’re in pain and you’re trying to relieve it,” Dallas said.
Duynes reported his symptoms to Sussex 1 State Prison staff at least 12 times between October 2018 and June 2019, according to a wrongful death lawsuit his mother filed in federal court.
“He said, ‘They’re not doing anything for me. They’re not helping me. You’re whining too much,'” Dallas said.
10 On Your Side reached out to the Virginia Department of Corrections for comment on the lawsuit, but a spokesperson declined and said the agency hasn’t been served yet.
Dallas called the prison and asked staff to help her son, too. The lawsuit alleges that despite abnormal lab results and worsening symptoms, Duynes didn’t get appropriate medical treatment. Instead, he was given over-the-counter medication.
“I’m calling, I’m calling, I’m calling the jail,” Dallas said. “As soon as he calls and says, ‘I have a stomachache. I’m in pain. I’m hurting,’ I’m calling immediately,” Dallas said. “Charles Duynes. Give him his number. Can you please check on him? He says he’s in pain. Can you please check on him?”
Duynes’ condition deteriorated until June 1, 2019, when fellow inmates helped him to the medical unit because he could not walk and was vomiting blood. Duynes begged to go to the hospital, but it took prison staff 24 hours to decide he needed to go to the emergency room, the lawsuit states.
But Duynes never made it to the hospital. He died at the prison while waiting to be transported to the emergency room. A medical examiner would later determine the 38-year-old man died of gallstones, a common and often treatable ailment, the lawsuit alleges.
“My son was dead,” Dallas said. “My son that just had a stomachache, just a stomachache, had passed.”
Attorney Kate Lennon is representing Dallas in the federal lawsuit. She has worked on several cases involving lack of medical access in prisons.
“The more we’ve gotten into this, the more we realize these cases are happening across the board,” Lennon said.
“The jails and the prisons have a duty to provide that care, and they’re just instead taking it upon themselves to basically give these individuals a death sentence while they’re incarcerated,” Lennon added.
Dallas is asking a federal judge to award her $15 million as a result of her son’s death at Sussex 1 State Prison. She said that the money cannot bring her shoebox baby back, but could be used to care for his children. Ultimately, she hopes the lawsuit will prevent another mother from losing her child.
“Any other inmate at Sussex 1 State Prison that goes to medical and is seriously ill can be taken care of,” Dallas said.
“My son might not be the only one from that prison, but I know my son could have been taken care of. He could be alive today,” Dallas said.