Michael Dwayne Gaines

January 26, 1965 – February 8, 2019

Michael Gaines was born on January 26, 1965. His life is a mystery for those who were not intimately connected to him through familial ties and friendships. Still, even with a small internet footprint, Michael has a story to tell. 

A quick search of his name will lead to his obituary on Legacy.com, evincing that he had people who cared for him. Many of the posts on his memory wall are bible verses posted by anonymous loved ones. A woman by the name of Eloise Bethley signed her name and expressed condolences for the passing of her cousin. A social media search of people by this name led to a woman who is connected to Baton Rouge and a home where Michael also possibly lived. Sadly, Ms. Bethley was unable to be contacted—her Facebook account went from an active posting history of various recipes to ending with a final post on May 16, 2021, for Jamaican banana bread. The home was placed on the realtor’s market later in that year and sold in October of 2022. With this information, I like to picture Michael and Eloise in the kitchen of 7663 Glenetta Court, sharing a warm apple turnover or a slice of Jamaican banana bread while catching up on life. 

7663 Glenetta Court in Baton Rouge

7663 Glenetta Court in Baton Rouge

Sadly, what is known about Michael’s life is that he was faced with many of the same social hurdles that Black men of his age have been confronted with. Public records suggest he suffered from substance abuse issues. He also had numerous encounters with law enforcement for minor infractions. On February 8, 2019, Mr. Gaines succumbed to complications from AIDS. 

Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates per capita in the world. While roughly a third of the state is Black, the majority of the people incarcerated are Black men. Further, Louisiana also has one of the country’s highest rates of infection for HIV and AIDS. 

When Michael passed, he was incarcerated at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (EBRPP) awaiting trial for charges he had picked up in 2017. He had been incarcerated for six hundred and sixty-six days in pretrial detention, awaiting his day in court so that a judge and jury could determine his innocence. 

In 2015, of the 1,400 people incarcerated at EBRPP, 90% were being held as pretrial detainees. Nationally, two-thirds of the local jail population consists of people remaining incarcerated before trial. Pretrial detention is a disruptive process that impacts socioeconomically challenged members of our society the worst. 

Most courts in Louisiana use a cash bail system. The purpose of bail is to ensure that a person is compelled to appear for future court dates until the resolution of the charges against them. Historically a person facing criminal charges would not have to pay money for their liberty. Instead, courts imposed a monetary penalty for a failure to appear. However, this trend began to shift in 2000 towards an upfront payment of a cash bond. Those who wish to continue their life while awaiting trial must now pay.

As a result of this policy, people who cannot afford bail remain incarcerated until their case is resolved. In small to medium size cities, such as Baton Rouge, pretrial detention increased by 19% from the years 2000-2015. Pretrial detention affects a person’s liberty and access to due process. It also harbors serious consequences for a person’s ability to maintain a stable livelihood. The average length of time a person is incarcerated pretrial in Louisiana is one hundred and fourteen days. Michael was incarcerated without his case coming to a conviction or verdict of innocence almost six times over the average pretrial detention period in Louisiana.

A person incarcerated while awaiting trial is unable to work. This often results in them losing their job, falling behind on bills, and possibly facing eviction and foreclosure. For single parents, pretrial detention can even mean the loss of parental rights. A person who remains incarcerated pretrial is also severely limited in the resources they have for medical treatment and needs, something that is vital for a person like Michael who was living with HIV or AIDS. 

In 2021, Baton Rouge had a total of 4,127 residents who were diagnosed with HIV, meaning 1,088 per 100,000 people living in the area also lived with the deadly but manageable disease, almost twice the rate for the entire state and three times the rate for the nation. Of the 4,127 citizens with HIV, 62.8% were men, 85.2% were Black, and 23.1% were in the age range of 45-54. Michael was a Black man living with HIV who died from AIDS at the age of 54. 

With Black people ten times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white people and five times more likely to be incarcerated than white people, a person must consider the access that Michael had to life-maintaining and life-saving treatment while incarcerated. HIV is no longer the death sentence that it was from the 1970s until the late 2000s. HIV maintenance drugs such as PrEP are easily accessible for people with insurance. However, when a person is incarcerated, they lose access to insurance whether through an employer or federally funded Medicaid, as they will either lose their job or be denied access to Medicaid and other federal funds as a result of incarceration. Access to HIV maintenance and AIDS prevention can cost upwards of $50,000 a year for a person without insurance. Further, HIV care of incarcerated people is not considered a reimbursable expense by the State. Jails like East Baton Rouge Parish Prison are maintained and funded by the parish, making access to medical services even further out of reach for those who are incarcerated.

The circumstances surrounding Micahel’s death are tragic and unfortunately not uncommon. The Centers for Disease Control notes that prisons and jails are key sites for HIV intervention. Yet only five of the one hundred and four local parish jails in Louisiana regularly test those who are housed in their facilities for HIV. Half of the state’s population that has an HIV or AIDS diagnosis relies on federal funding through the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides funding for those who cannot afford to manage the disease through medication. However, this funding is not available to people once they are incarcerated with a conviction. Louisiana does not participate in the program to allow people who are pretrial detainees to access funding for medication. Beyond funding, many incarcerated people who have contracted HIV are reluctant to disclose their status out of fear of retaliation due to the stigma that is attached to the disease. In either respect, incarceration severely disrupts a person’s treatment for and management of HIV and AIDS. It is not hard to imagine that Michael’s death was preventable had he had access to the medical care he deserved. 

The legacy of Michael leaves a lot for a person to imagine. His was a life that was lost too soon. As his cousin Eloise lovingly said, “Rest in Heaven Mr. Gaines.” 

Author: Renea Pellegrino


  • AIDSVu, East Baton Rouge Parish HIV/AIDS statistics
  • Failure to Deliver Service in Louisiana Parish Jails, Human Rights Watch, 2016
  • 7663 Glenetta Court, Zillow
  • State Capital photo, Civilrightstrain.com
  • State Incarceration Trends, Vera Institute
  • Justice Denied, Vera Institute
  • Justice Can’t Wait An Indictment of Louisiana’s Pretrial System; ACLU LA.