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Metro

Inmates push fund to cover funerals

Money would aid grieving families

PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

In Fairview Cemetery, the unmarked grave of William Haynesworth Jr. (at left) is partly covered by a bush near the center of the photograph.

Years after they washed blood from his son’s bludgeoned body and laid him to rest, William Haynesworth Sr. is trying to bury images of his child’s brutal death and struggling to put up a headstone in his honor.

Only a blank slab of concrete marks the site where William Haynesworth Jr. is buried, along the well-clipped lawn at Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery. The grieving Roxbury father said he often walks in circles, searching for the unmarked grave of the son who was killed 13 years ago this month.

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“We want to know exactly where he is,’’ the elder Haynesworth said Wednesday as he sat in his basement apartment with his wife Libby by his side. “We want to remember that he was somebody, that he wasn’t just thrown away.’’

Unexpected and violent deaths often rip the hearts and wallets of those who live in Boston’s urban communities, where many low-income families have no life insurance or savings to pay the thousands it costs for a funeral and burial for their loved ones.

Now some inmates at MCI-Norfolk and their neighborhood allies have taken on the plight of grieving families and are pressing prison officials to allow them to establish a community fund to cover funeral expenses, headstones, or assistance for children whose fathers are incarcerated.

MCI-Norfolk’s superintendent, Gary Roden, said that he supports any effort that encourages inmates to give back to their communities. But he said it is against prison rules to allow inmates to solicit money from other inmates.

“Basically I support their idea, but it’s the method that I’d like to work out,’’ said Roden. “There is the potential for strong-arming and violence’’ because of this.

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With funeral costs soaring, Attorney General Martha Coakley pushed to revise regulations on how Massachusetts victims of violence are compensated. Under the rules adopted less than two years ago, the state increased the amount it pays poor families for funeral and burial expenses, from $4,000 t0 $6,500. Victims’ families can also seek cash for ancillary items such as grave markers and urns costing an additional $800, Coakley’s office said.

But only families with claims on crimes committed after Nov. 5, 2010, are eligible for the gravestone fund.

That leaves mothers like Marvelene Chambers, a local hairdresser, feeling helpless after her son’s unexpected and tragic death. She said she has $6,000 left to pay on the $11,000 funeral and burial bill for her son, Ivol Brown, who was 17 when he was stabbed and killed on Memorial Day in 2010.

She wants to put a headstone atop his grave at Forest Hills Cemetery, but she has given up on that idea. “It’s just too expensive,’’ she said.

The effort by inmates to raise money began last year after a prisoner-rights advocate, Joanna Marinova Jones, put on an exhibit that featured photographs of young victims of violence, the Anonymous Boston Project. A family featured in the exhibit introduced her to relatives of a slain Brockton resident who were trying to raise money for a headstone to mark his grave. Days later, Marinova Jones met an aunt of Paula Jacobs, who was killed in Roxbury, who also was raising money for a gravestone.

Marinova Jones shared their stories with her husband, Darrell Jones, an inmate at MCI-Norfolk, who decided to help.

Darrell Jones, who is serving a life sentence for murder, began collecting donations from other inmates in various prison support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and music and poetry clubs.

Inmates earn between 50 cents and $5 a day and can receive checks or money orders from their friends or families, a state official said.

The Joneses are hoping to expand the inmates’ efforts into a community fund, saying it would help prisoners take ownership and responsibility for the fractured communities they left behind, even though they may not have been personally linked to crimes involving the families they want to assist.

“If the men behind bars are saying, ‘Hey our communities are hurting,’ then this is positive peer pressure,’’ said Marinova Jones. “They are donating something that has an impact and that hits closer to home and their community.’’

The inmates raised $1,000 and donated it last month to Antonio Centeio’s family, she said. They then began raising money for Jacobs’s family. But prison officials intervened and blocked the effort.

Roden said he had approved the fund-raising for the Centeio family, but was not informed about the collection for Jacobs’s relatives. He said he received two letters from residents in Dorchester urging him to allow the community fund and has responded to them, suggesting that they set up an outside nonprofit group to oversee the effort.

Marinova Jones said Roden approved the Centeio effort only after inquiry by the media.

Meanwhile, in Roxbury, William Haynesworth is grieving for the son who was killed 13 years ago this month and who is buried in the Fairview grave marked only with the blank slab.

The son, who had an extensive criminal record, and his girlfriend had been found beaten to death in a Dorchester home in March 1999. Her 6-month-old daughter was found alive in a crib, shielded beneath an overturned bureau drawer someone had apparently placed there to protect her. The case remains unsolved.

His parents said he was working two jobs trying to make ends meet to support his son and hoping to go to college to become an architect.

Unable to raise money for a grave marker, the father instead memorialized his son on his arm, with a tattoo with his son’s name and date of birth.

Libby Haynesworth wants a more tangible memorial. She has not worked up the nerve to visit his grave site since his burial. She might be inclined to if a marker was there, she said.

“I’m not asking for much,’’ she said, trying to keep her composure. “All I want is something simple, something small, something with his name on it.’’

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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