All posts by kimberleyann

Molding A Case To Fit A Death Sentence

It happens. All lawyers aren’t motivated by what the public likes to believe they are – justice. There are a good number who are motivated by money. For others, their motivation may be career advancement. Some are motivated by fear of losing their position.

There are all sorts of reasons why some lawyers have no interest in revealing the truth so justice can be served. Unfortunately, in the world of our justice system, things are rarely what they seem, and if an advantage can be gained by twisting the truth, or making it up altogether – truth be damned. If truth isn’t a factor, lots of things can be done to make the pieces fit.

For someone facing the death penalty – this flaw in our system takes on an entirely new meaning. It becomes ‘life or death’ if a defendant is appointed an attorney without the proper experience or determination required for their case. Combine that with being prosecuted by someone who is not motivated by seeking the truth, but rather by winning a conviction. It’s the perfect recipe for a case to be molded to fit the desired outcome.

Did that happen in the case of Ralph Trent Stokes? And, if it did, isn’t his story the only story we need to abolish the death penalty? If there are questions or doubts, to any degree, in any single case of a person sentenced to death – isn’t that enough argument to not reserve death as a means of punishment?

In July of 1983 Ralph Trent Stokes was sentenced to death for the murders of Mary Louise Figueroa, Eugene Jefferson, and Peter Santangelo, a crime that took place in Smokin’ Joe’s Corner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Roger King was the prosecutor. He had a reputation, experience, and actually held the record for most death sentences achieved in the state of Pennsylvania when he retired. I suppose we’ll never know Mr. King’s motivation, but his results speak for themselves. He wasn’t just known for death penalty sentences, he also had charges of misconduct against him in death penalty cases. One would hope that when sentences involve death, a prosecutor would pursue that course going by the book. One would hope that death penalty cases wouldn’t be thought of as notches in one’s belt. One would hope. That’s simply not always the case. A law degree is not a badge of honor. A law degree does not guarantee the one who earned it has any interest in justice.

Malcolm H. Waldron, Ralph Stokes’s defense attorney, came late to the case, after Ralph’s first lawyer was permitted to withdraw. Waldron was appointed on April 19, only three months before the conviction. He had three months to prepare for a trial involving murder and the death penalty. From Ralph Stokes’ account, his attorney lacked the experience and the conviction needed to make the case evenly heard. That’s just the way our system works. It simply isn’t a reality that the guilty get convicted and the innocent walk. It has a lot more to do with how determined, or not determined, your lawyer is. That is reality. Ralph’s defense attorney did not even use an investigator in his effort to put together a legal defense.

In a petition filed by Ralph Stokes it says that during the trial the prosecutor made a lot out of sneaker prints left in barbecue sauce at the scene of the murders that night. There were items taken as evidence from Ralph’s home, including a pair of sneakers. It was argued and implied in court that there were stains on the items that were a combination of blood and barbecue sauce. In reality, and left out of the trial, was the fact that the prosecutor was in possession of lab reports that revealed no blood or barbecue sauce was found on the sneakers or any of the items. So, the prosecutor not only linked Ralph to the scene through those sneakers, but he was also aware while he was doing it that there was no scientific link between Ralph’s sneakers and the crime scene.

So, the jury was led to believe there was physical evidence placing Ralph at the location of the crime – that didn’t exist.
Apparently, in 2004, when attorneys for Ralph were trying to locate the homicide file from the police department, it was ‘missing’. I am unaware if it has ever been found, but, again, this is an issue that involves taking the life of Ralph Trent Stokes as a form of punishment, so I would think every stone should be turned, every bit of information at hand. This isn’t a tea party. There shouldn’t be time limits on new evidence, nor should there be missing evidence. The prosecutor, King, was also linked to other cases where homicide files went ‘missing’.   Isn’t that, in itself, a red flag?

Donald Jackson, one of the witnesses against Ralph, was supposed to have been his partner in the crime. Let’s face it – it was in Donald’s best interests to say whatever he had to say to save his own neck. It has already been determined that the prosecutor wasn’t as interested in the truth as he was a conviction, and Donald had previous crimes he had to deal with.  Donald Jackson was a witness that was motivated by self preservation.

Another witness against Ralph, Eric Burley, was a friend of Donald Jackson’s. He also had charges against him in unrelated crimes at the time of his testimony. For him, he was facing an attempted murder charge in a case where he shot a man. Oddly enough his charges were downgraded to aggravated assault at the same time he was being interviewed by police in Ralph’s charges. Some would argue that a man who can point a gun and shoot someone, isn’t someone who would be adverse to saying whatever he needed to say in order to make his own day in court a little more comfortable.

Leonard Wells, Eric Burley’s brother, was yet another witness. It was in everyone’s best interest to point fingers at Ralph.

Even Renard Mills had a reason to point his finger at Ralph. He was an employee at the restaurant that knew Ralph and testified that he recognized Ralph’s eyes through the ski mask. He was the only eyewitness and his testimony was crucial. But – the prosecutor withheld the fact that Renard was actually being investigated for the crime and was a person of interest. Again, another witness whose best interests were served by Ralph being found guilty.

Ralph has proclaimed his innocence from day one and has never wavered. He is a man sentenced to lose his life for three murders.
He was prosecuted by a man who valued the number of death penalty convictions he could accumulate, a man who has been accused of misconduct in other cases, and a man who was willing to not share some of the truth that he knew at Ralph’s trial in order to better his odds.

Several witnesses who were key components of the case had criminal backgrounds and something to personally gain by pointing to Ralph as the murderer.

The only eyewitness, who claimed to recognize Ralph from the holes in a ski mask, was also under suspicion for the same murders.

In 1983 Ralph Trent Stokes was nineteen years old. He has been in prison for thirty-four years. He has been facing the death penalty for over three decades.  Was the case against Ralph molded to fit the crime, truth be damned?

The “Row”

Not so long ago, I posted an article written by a Rev. Cari Willis, detailing the day she had to say goodbye to her friend on death row.  Her words changed me.

I didn’t want to think about ‘Death Row’ before that post.  It was distant and removed from my reality, the least of my worries – until she described what it was like for her to accompany her friend on the day of his death and being separated by glass as she watched him lose his life surrounded by men doing their job – killing him.  She made it real.

So – I contacted someone on death row.  One handwritten letter later, I knew I would keep moving forward with my penpal.  And – I’m scared, honestly.  I’m scared, because after one letter I felt his humanity, let him into my heart, and now consider him a friend.  A friend I will have to say goodbye to when his day comes to be surrounded by men whose job it is to take his life.

I didn’t have a solid plan when I wrote that first letter.  I wanted to, in some way, try and share death row through my blog.   I wanted to possibly get to know someone on the ‘row’, as he calls it, sharing that experience – so people would no longer feel that it was far removed from their lives. I wanted to impress on people the gravity of this country’s practice of taking life as a form of punishment.   I didn’t necessarily want to ever talk about the law, or crime, or even a name.  I had no plan.  Still don’t.

What I know for certain is – after holding one handwritten letter in my hands – I will never turn back.  I heard someone say this week, “When you see injustice, you can’t turn away,” and I can’t.

It turns out my new friend isn’t very keen on the idea of me getting to know him in a public forum.   And, I won’t share his thoughts or feelings or details of our friendship without his permission, so you may not hear much more about him, or you may hear a lot.  We’ll see.

What I do want to share about him is this.  In spite of the actions that got him where he is, he has a heart that beats.  He has a mind that remembers a life he will never be a part of again.  He is as human and flawed and vulnerable as I am.   He doesn’t like to call it ‘death’ row, because he doesn’t like to keep saying the word death.  It is the ‘row’.  And I also know my heart hurts for him, knowing he wakes up every day to the knowledge he will one day be executed.   Some people would call that justice, to try and justify it for the pain he caused others.  That is excusing the horrible act of murder.  There is no excuse for murder.

Waiting To Die Behind Bars

Jack Allen is a sixty two year old man, and he lives in a Florida prison.  Twenty years ago, in the spring of 1997, he was arrested for Burglary with Simple Battery.  In order for Jack to complete the sentence he was ultimately given, he must die.  If a person gets ‘life’ in the state of Florida, like Jack did, it doesn’t matter if they are twenty years old or fifty – they will live to die in prison.  It also doesn’t matter if they feel remorse or if they dedicate themselves to helping their fellow inmates.  It doesn’t matter if they take every class the prison has to offer.  Nothing they do matters.

There was life before prison for Jack Allen.  There was life before children and marriage and responsibilities.  There was childhood.  For Jack there were some challenges from the beginning.  He tells of being molested by a babysitter when he was three years old.  From the age of eleven, he learned how to deal with foster care, low income housing and being on welfare.

A child’s mind isn’t normally well equipped for those types of things, as they maneuver through life and its growing pains.  None of us can really know how it felt to be that little boy, or the growing man who didn’t know how to process the things he went through and instead attempted to numb himself with alcohol and drugs.

I don’t know much about the case that he is serving Life for.  There are questions, but more important than the questions, to me, is that Jack has served enough time for Burglary with Simple Battery, regardless of the case.

Jack Allen describes a Life Sentence in Florida like this:

“It becomes worse and worse after every court denial, every death in the family, every marriage missed, every child born without you there.  Special days like graduations and so forth are just nails in your coffin.  Each passing day, more dirt is thrown on your grave, you are dead, and your body just does not know it yet.”  

In the twenty years that he has been in prison, Jack Allen has lost three brothers, a sister and a mother.  He is sixty two years old and is not in the best of health.  The little boy who had more than his fair share of troubles, grew into a man that leaned on things he shouldn’t have and found himself in prison.  He was charged with Burglary and Simple Battery, has spent about a third of his life behind bars and as it stands, he will never again be free, no matter how old or feeble he gets.  The state of Florida intends to incarcerate him until his last breath.

If you would like to read more about the details of Jack Allen’s case and sign a petition in support of his release, click HERE.

Since When Is Vengeance Ours? – Thoughts On The Death Penalty

I don’t want to think about it – that was my stance, and it worked.  Till now.  The last fork in the road has me looking at terrain I never wanted to think about before.

I believe there have been people who were sent to live for decades on death row, and they were later cleared.  I believe there have also been people ‘railroaded’ on to death row when prosecutors needed to find a ‘killer’.  So – that makes me ask, what about those who were innocent, and never cleared?  Or those who were ‘railroaded’ and unable to afford a good defense?  Are they just collateral damage?

Okay, if I think further, I see a twisted irony in a planned, orchestrated, guests invited, mark the calendar ‘life taking’.

A group of people decide someone should die.  A court signs off on it.  Paperwork is filed.  People escort someone to their death.  Someone initiates the death.  Does that killing stain the soul of every hand involved?  I believe the act makes us less human.  I think it damages the people involved more than it heals the victims.  I still remember a baby bird I accidentally killed thirty years ago.

I have an opinion now.  I am going on record.  If anyone should ever harm me, I don’t want anyone to have a hand in taking their life.  To do that would make my life the cause of suffering. To do that would damage the souls of everyone involved.   Don’t do that in my honor.

Those are my thoughts on the death penalty.

Army Vet Dies While Jail Staff Ignore Pleas For Help And Cellmates Comfort Dying Man

Doug Edmisten was a ‘burly’ man, fifty years old, and a veteran of the United States Army.   He drove a motorcycle and made a living building sheds.  A simple man, it seems, not a man of a lot of means.   He did have a couple open warrants, though, for DWI and leaving the scene of an accident in which no one was injured.

His open warrants got him arrested in New Mexico.  After his arrest he was placed in the Cibola County Detention Center to await a trial.

The pictures of the pod he was housed in show bunks lining the walls, one against the other, cement floors, and picnic table looking furniture.  That’s where he lived for about three weeks before he died.

Doug, the man who served our country in the Army, became ill.  As they should have, the men living with him reported that he wasn’t feeling well.

That was at 10:14 p.m.   At that time, an employee recorded that Doug was ‘notably pale’ and his ‘skin also appeared yellow’.  He reported to the staff that he had vomited blood.   I am not a medical professional, but common sense tells me vomiting blood is a medical emergency.  If I were to witness someone vomiting blood, I would be concerned their life was in danger.  I did an internet search to see if I was unique.  ‘Is vomiting blood a medical emergency’ was what I searched.  Without exception – the results all reported that vomiting blood is a medical emergency.

Doug was taken to medical at 10:54.  While he was there his pulse was recorded at 144 beats per minute.   If the pulse did not concern the medical staff, Mr. Edmisten also vomited blood while he was in medical.

It was determined he should be sent back to his cell.  He was unable to walk there by himself, so he was held up by two guards.

The men he lived with were much more compassionate than the staff at the Cibola County Detention Center.  They not only pleaded for help for their cellmate, they also can be seen in video footage holding hands and conducting a prayer circle for him.  They can be seen trying to soften his fall when he rolled from his bed.  They are seen cradling his head and holding a bible.  The inmates tended to Doug Edmisten with compassion and care with all they had at their disposal, which was prayer and an offer of comfort.

It was 3:32 when prisoners reported that his condition had actually worsened.  If vomiting blood was a medical emergency, Doug was beyond that.  His ‘eyes were rolling back’.  When a medical professional, someone whose job it is to care for the inmates housed at the jail, arrived, she saw Doug on a toilet, defecating blood.  A decision was made to wheel him back to medical.  At this point, he was unresponsive.

What I would have seen as a man dying, was dismissed, and Doug was taken back to his cell after fifteen minutes.

At 4:21 a.m. a guard found Doug on the floor.  His head was on the lap of a fellow inmate.   Another man was reading from a Bible.  The guard left.

It is reported that the inmates told staff at 4:58 that Doug was no longer breathing.  He was determined to be dead by a staff member.

State police were called at 5:07 a.m.

At 5:26 a staff member checked Edmisten and detected a slight pulse.

Emergency services were finally called, about seven hours after Doug’s cellmates first reported that he was ill.  Doug Edmisten was dead when help finally arrived.

Doug, an Army vet, a United States citizen, a burly man who built sheds and rode a motorcycle, was in jail awaiting a court date for a DWI, and the staff at the jail allowed him to die under their care, as his fellow cellmates cradled his body, pleaded for help, and formed a prayer circle.

RESOURCES

Swenson, Kyle. “Lawsuit Alleges New Mexico Jailers Let Inmate Awaiting DWI Court Date Bleed to Death.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 12 July 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.

Bullying Ends In Tragedy And Sends Seventeen Year Old Boy To Prison For Life

Louis Singleton

If you talked to some folks in Mobile, Alabama, back in 90’s, they may have told you that Louis Singleton was one of the best athletes to come through their town.  Louis had a bright future in front of him, and lots of promise.  He was born in 1976, the son of a brick mason and a high school teacher.  His parents were separated, but Louis, the youngest of two children, grew up in a middle class, stable home.   He had average grades in school, held a summer job, and participated in varsity football and basketball programs.

Louis was heavy into sports from the beginning.  He wasn’t an angel, but he wasn’t trouble either.  He was typical.  He got a speeding ticket once because he was running late to summer school.  He also got in trouble for disorderly conduct when he was sixteen, due to a fight.  But, for the most part, things were looking very good for him midway into his junior year of high school.  His eye was on being the starting quarterback for his high school football team the following year.   Yes, Louis had dreams – big ones.

He never made it to that quarterback position though.  The years of dreaming came to an end the night before his eighteenth birthday.   It didn’t start that night though – the trouble started almost a year before then.  Louis had no idea it was going to end up changing his life in an instant.  He never saw it coming.

The train started going off the track for Louis in the spring of 1993.  There was a girl.  She was known as Meme.   Meme had just broken up with her boyfriend, Kendrick Martin.  Derrick Conner, Louis’ close friend, began dating Meme.  Kendrick Martin didn’t like that.   Louis was involved by association.

The first time things turned physical was during an altercation at a gas station.  Louis and Derrick were there, and Louis went inside to pay for gas and pick up a couple snacks, leaving Derrick outside.   When he came back out, Derrick and Kendrick were going at it.  It was over Meme, and Louis remembers telling Kendrick, “Man, you tripping about one female, when it’s plenty of fishes in the sea.”  Kendrick didn’t take that well.

It wasn’t long before all their paths crossed again.  Derrick Conner and Louis were leaving a local convenience store when Kendrick Martin was pulling into the parking lot.  According to Louis, Kendrick got out of his car and began shooting at Derrick and Louis with a gun as the boys were pulling away.

Louis Singleton was shot at more than once by Kendrick Martin.  Nelson Tucker, the state’s own witness, testified that he was with Kendrick Martin and had shot at Louis Singleton with a gun that he obtained from Kendrick Martin.  Tucker also stated that he was present on two separate occasions when a pistol was fired at Louis.

By Louis’ account of that time, Kendrick Martin pointed a gun in his direction and shot at him on three different occasions, two of these incidents being confirmed by the prosecution’s own witness.   He also reported an incident where Kendrick Martin pulled a gun from a book bag and pointed it at his head.  There was another day in a fast food parking lot, when Louis was in a vehicle, and Kendrick was striking the car windows with a crow bar.

There is nothing that can be said about the tragic events that took place on January 11, 1994, that will excuse what happened that day.  A life was taken, and another altered forever in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant in Mobile, Alabama.  Reading the transcripts, I take away that there was confusion in that parking lot.  There were a lot of people gathered after a high school game, and Louis perceived he was in danger after seeing Kendrick and his friends and hearing some things that were said.  No one can know exactly what was going on in anyone’s minds, and different witnesses said different things, but I think  it is fair to say that if there had not been months of bullying leading up to that day, it simply never would have happened.   Louis, the seventeen year old boy with so much promise, had a gun.  He felt threatened that night, as he had on many occasions over the previous months, and shot at Kendrick, Tucker and another man they were with, Johnathan Martin.   A pattern had been set leading up to that day, leaving Louis feeling the need to defend himself around Kendrick and his friends.  So when words were said and movements were made, he felt cornered and threatened, whether he was or not.  In his mind – he was.

Kendrick Jermaine Martin died from a gunshot wound to the neck. Johnathan Allen Martin was shot once in the neck area and was paralyzed from the waist down as a result.  Nelson L. Tucker was shot three times and was hospitalized for four days and released.

It’s twenty three years later.  The court transcripts described Louis as a boy who, ‘enjoyed a favorable reputation within his community’.  He was evaluated before his trial by the Strickland Youth Center, and they determined that he ‘did not appear to be a behavioral problem’.

Louis Singleton spent his eighteenth birthday in a Mobile Detention Center and has been incarcerated ever since.  In the twenty three years since then, he has obtained his GED, studied brick masonry, anger management and self awareness.  He has also worked with nurses in the prison healthcare system.   And he’s been incarcerated for well over half of his life.   Louis was sentenced to two life sentences and twenty years, to be served consecutively.

Louis didn’t want things to end this way.  Louis Singleton sought help long before that night, from parents, the police, and the school principal.  A seventeen year old boy sought help from the people who were responsible for protecting him.  He did the things he was supposed to do, but those in a position to protect him did not do what they were supposed to.

Louis’ Mom

What stands out from my conversations with Louis is what happened after he drove home that night.  This is what he told me, “My mind was racing with thoughts that I couldn’t even grasp mentally.  I just went home and sat in the house with all the lights out, scared to move, don’t know what to do nor to say.  My mom was gone to a choir convention in Mississippi during the time of the incident.  While I sat in our house quietly and somberly in the front room, my mother pulled up with no clue of what just happened.   When she came in the door, turned to lock the door, I was sitting there in the dark room.  I scared her out of her wits.  As a mother who knew her child, she instantly asked me, ‘Boy, what’s wrong with you sitting in here with all the lights out?’  I was so discombobulated I honestly couldn’t speak, it seemed like somebody had my soul…”

Louis’ mother never had a chance to have her son home again, and has since passed.  They were close, and Louis Singleton will live with the memory of sitting in that dark room and having to tell his mom what happened etched in his memory forever.  He has spent twenty three years in an Alabama prison reliving that day and the months that led up to it, hoping to wake up every morning and have it all be a dream.  He will spend the rest of his life knowing the impact he has had on people, their families and his own.  Nothing will bring back the man who died that night or heal the man who was paralyzed, but the burden of what took place that night should not have been placed solely on the shoulders of a seventeen year old kid who had never been in any trouble.   A seventeen year old kid went into prison after shooting at the man who terrorized him for nearly a year, sentenced to spend every breath for the rest of his life in an Alabama prison, until the day he dies, never knowing what it means to live free again.  How is that tragedy going to make what happened on that night in 1994 any less tragic?

Views From Inside

When I read this journal, I knew it had a place here, and I am grateful to the author for sharing it.  There are so many ‘words’ that we use – prison, incarceration, jail, etc.  None of them paint the picture though.  The picture can’t be painted in a word, and probably not even on a blog.  I mean no offense to those that serve our country and defend our freedom when I say that this is not the land of the free for so many – not when we are the most incarcerated nation in the world.  I honestly believe that the government is doing our servicemen and women a great disservice by turning our nation into one that is caging a large segment of our population and destroying hope and families.  Our country is worth fighting for, and we are so much more than this.  We have compassion and there is more strength in compassion than strong arming, any day of the week.  We ARE the land of the free, and as citizens we need to demand that our government remember that.

So, here’s to a new catagory on this site –Views From The Inside.  This is Part One from a journal by Gerard G. Schultz, Jr., titled, Sharing My Thoughts from Inside the Cesspool of IDOC.

Survival: The Necessity Of Breaking The Rules

People on the outside barely get a glimpse of the surface of what life is like in prison and all the things we must do to survive. Survive mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, educationally, socially, financially, and comfortably, as much as possible, under these circumstances.

Life in prison is a constant paradox, not always in black and white or truly understandable to people on the outside, and sometimes not even to ourselves. We are called many things, from inmates to offenders, detainees, wards, convicted felons, prisoners and convicts. Prison is full of convicted felons and criminals, which are not the same. There are innocent people in here, there are guilty people in here.   There are good people in here and bad people in here. Many have made mistakes and others bad decisions. There are good prisoners and bad corrections officers, and there are bad prisoners and good corrections officers.

Prison is a menagerie that is overcrowded, yet still a very lonely place. The daily life can be very monotonous, robotic and boring. It can be loud, chaotic, stuffy and scary. Gloominess, depression and the flu are contagious in here. We were punished by the courts to serve time in prison, but upon entering prison, we learn immediately that prison is full of additional punishments and restrictions that we are oppressed by. The conditions of our confinement are inhumane, the food is horrible, and every moment of every day is unpredictable. I’ve learned to live in the moment, yes, I have hopes, wishes, and dreams like anyone else, but in here, we learn that tomorrow and many other things are not guaranteed.

Survival is just not the physical dangers we face, but we must survive mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Prison is a cash cow that milks us for every penny we are lucky enough to get. Many of those in society believe we have it good in prison, life is easier, that the government provides us this or that – which is just not true at all. The state put us in prison, so they are legally responsible for providing us some of the bare necessities that they have physically deprived us of the ability to obtain for ourselves.

By IDOC (Illinois Dept of Corrections) policy (though they bend, break and do not follow their own rules, policies, laws and procedures) we are supposed to receive three pairs of pants (not always new), three blue shirts with buttons (not always new), three white t-shirts (one time only, you must buy your own after that), three pairs of socks, three pairs of boxers, a coat during the winter time (if you come in outside of winter, but it is raining or cold, you are out of luck) and one pair of thin deck slip on shoes, which we call Gilligan shoes or Jan Brady’s. We also are to receive two sheets, one pillow case, one towel, one washcloth, and one wool blanket. We can submit a clothing exchange once every six months for new boxers, socks and shoes, everything else will be used.

There are seven days in the week, and only once a week do they do laundry, a communal service – you turn it in one day and get it back the next day or so. Three pairs of clothes is not enough for the week, so we must buy our socks, underwear, and t-shirts.  If you want warm clothing or maybe shorts to wear in your cell or to go out and exercise with, you must puchase them yourself.  You must purchase your own baseball cap, beanies, ear warmers, gloves, thermals, sweatshirt and pants, real shoes that last longer than a month, or boots to work in or to walk in the snow. The communal laundry service is once a week, on a designated day, depending on where you are at. We have a personal laundry bag, a mesh bag, that they also give us one time only. We put all of our dirty laundry in there, colors and whites together, tie it up, and they are all washed just like that. We must purchase laundry soap to wash our clothes by hand, and if our prison doesn’t allow or sell laundry soap, we must improvise by using body soap to clean our clothes. It’s better to wash by hand so your clothes don’t smell, make you itch, and don’t turn brownish grey as they do in the communal laundry.

It’s ironic they sell us laundry soap, because if we wash our own laundry by hand, we have no way to dry it. So we break the rules. Part of survival is to try to have some sense of comfort and normalcy, so we break the rules. Why is it against the rules? Well, in a lot of prisons, especially IDOC, we are not allowed to hang things in our cells, not even wet clothing. Most cells in IDOC are not set up with any storage shelving, tables to write on, shelves for appliances, hooks to hang clothing, etc., as some prisons do. So, even to hang and dry out wet towels and wash clothes, we have to hang them on a makeshift clothesline. We use a variety of things, from shoe strings, torn strips of sheets, or strings out of the waist bands of our boxers or socks to make clotheslines. It’s a risk we can get a disciplinary ticket for, anything from unauthorized property, destruction of state property, possession of dangerous contraband or even security obstruction. We can get anywhere from 30 days to a year in the hole, locked down in solitary confinement and losing all privileges, such as phone, commissary, contact visits.  It’s a risk we take just to have clean laundry. Prison is a very dirty place, yet we are forced to take risks and break rules just to do something as simple as our laundry by hand.

On that same note, locked in a small cell with another person, there is little room for privacy. Our toilet is literally right next to our bunks, six inches to maybe a foot away. We hang up sheets to block our view of the toilet whenever we use it, as a courtesy to the other person. This is against the rules for the same reasons as stated above, and carries the same punishment. But it is a necessary risk, because we are being respectful to one another.  We don’t want to watch one another use the toilet or wash up in the cell. This kind of respect for each other also stops any unecessary violence from erupting in that kind of situation.  We even do a courtesy flush every time you drop in order to lessen the linger of stink in the cell, and we never use the toilet when one or the other is eating.

Part of survival is breaking the rules, it is necessary to be respectful, comfortable and avoid violence.

Kindness, Freely Given

My daughter says that when she walks close to our pastor – one of the most insightful men I’ve ever heard speak – she feels his spirit in the air around him.  What she feels in the air around him, I feel in his words.  Sunday he spoke of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.   There is no side of the fence that can sensibly argue with trying to grow that kind of fruit.

When you see it – that fruit that is grown in people – it’s awe inspiring really, like the view from a mountainside with the clouds barely lifted.  I recently read something that a woman in Pennsylvania wrote.  Her name is Susan.  I see the fruit the Spirit grows in her words.  This is what she had to say about a simple act of kindness.

I live on a hot, busy, city street.  My cement porch sits right on the sidewalk, and many people without transportation walk by on their way to grocery stores, the drug store on the next corner, pizza shops, mini marts and yes –  to work.  There is a Triangle Car Wash two blocks away that hires people who are eligible for work release from the local county prison.

Last summer and this summer I put ice chests on my porch filled with free bottled water and snacks, like crackers, breakfast bars etc. – no strings attached.  I got numerous, heartfelt, Thank You notes, so I know this is needed and appreciated. This morning as I headed to my part time job, I passed a young man in worn clothes and sneakers, no electronics in his ears or hands!  –  so most likely from the local prison located 1.5 miles away, and on his way to that job I mentioned.  I think they serve prison breakfast fairly early, but I honestly don’t know what folks on work release are able to do for lunch…

I always say good morning and wish people good day, which they can’t hear if they have electronics in their ears, and then I said to him, “Hey, there’s free cold water and snacks on that porch down a little ways if you’d like.”

He gave me a big grin and thanked me, and as I pulled my car out of my parking spot and looked down the street, I could see he had stopped at my porch.  Yay!

Why am I telling you this? Not for any accolades, but because years ago, when my little girl was caught up in Heroin addiction and lost in another, even bigger, city 35 miles away, I would pray, “Please, Lord, may she meet good people, kind people who will help her,” and she did.  Some were barely able to help themselves, but they were good people who knew the right thing to do, and eventually she was able to get into recovery and have a baby boy and marry and find a job as a Recovery Specialist and celebrate 19 years in Recovery. That is why I do this, so that others I may come in contact with will meet good people, kind people who don’t turn away or look down upon them, and maybe that day, the day they found respite from the heat on a cement porch, will be a good day for them, and the good days will add up into a lifetime. We need to be there for each other in whatever way we can. Blessings, everyone. and as I have written on the note on the porch, “Freely given, please pass it on if you are able.”

That is what life’s all about really.  The first time I visited a prison, there were several things that struck me.  The coldness of the bars and the paint chipped walls was one.  The condescending treatment of inmates and their visitors by staff was another and something I didn’t anticipate.  The gratefulness and joy on the faces of men in that room, regardless of their situation – that was so apparent.  Their gratitude for a bit of companionship from the outside, air conditioning in an otherwise non-air-conditioned facility, a smile, a microwavable frozen hamburger from a vending machine.  I sat next to the person I went to visit, treating that visit as if it were taking place in a fine restaurant, ignoring the scowls of officers and the ants and the harsh lighting.  I reached over after a time and grabbed his hand.  I just knew he needed human contact.  That moment was priceless.  I will spend of the rest of my life reaching out my hand.

This country needs more Susans.  Argue politics all you want, but there is nothing that compares with the value and importance of simple kindness and compassion.  It needs to be worked back into our corrections system.  Words to live by, “Freely given, please pass it on if you are able.”

Henry’s Pleas For Help Were Ignored Before His Death

Henry Stewart was in jail awaiting trial for violating the terms of his early release on a shoplifting conviction when he scrawled the following words on an Emergency Grievance Form.

“I have black out two times in less then 24 hr.  I keep asking to go to the emergency room.  I don’t know what cause the blankouts. I do know that my tororance are low plus I haven’t had a meal that I come eat.  I can’t hold water down or food.  I don’t know many emergency grievance I have written with same reply.  Wait on your (me) appointment.  I know about what my blackouts leading to seizure.”

The paper is then signed, dated and followed by the words:

“I need emergency assistant right away.”

Those words are written more boldly than all the rest, as if Henry wanted them to stand out.

The form was returned to Henry Stewart the next day, August, 4, 2016, after being signed by Sgt. Whitehead.  It read the following:

“Mr. Stewart, not only have you been refusing your […] medication, but while conducting meal pass this morning, you were witnessed walking to the top tier and sitting on walk-way.  You’ve also been further evaluated off-site by specialists.  In addition, you will receive a follow-up by the provider.”

Henry Stewart died in jail on August 6, 2016.

The Hampton Roads Regional Jail made a statement after the death.  In it, the Jail Superintendent David Simmons said, “Typically, the inmates Hampton Roads Regional Jail receives have acute and/or chronic medical issues or significant behavioral issues.  Inmates are transferred here because they have pre-existing medical and mental health issues with little or no treatment prior to incarceration.”

The statement goes on to report on the professionalism and training of its staff, and how the “public should know that Hampton Roads Regional Jail has a huge medical mission and works daily to serve the complex medical needs of its inmate population.”

It was at this same jail that Jamycheal Mitchell died of starvation about a year prior to this death.  In that case, the jail investigated itself and cleared itself of all wrong doing.

The medical examiner in Norfolk reported that Henry died from a perforated gastric ulcer due to chronic lymphocytic gastritis, H. pylori positive – a complicated ulcer that created a hole in his stomach in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.  The manner of death is listed as ‘natural’.

According to witnesses, the day that Henry died he collapsed and starting foaming at the mouth.  Inmates who saw that happen tried to get help from jail staff, but were told by an officer, “I am busy right now.”  The lawsuit that has been filed claims that Henry asked for help from as early as mid July, and his weight when he was received by the jail was 167 pounds, and it was 132 upon his death.

Henry’s mom was close to him.  She visited him regularly before he was transferred to Hampton Roads, and they wrote each other a couple times a week until a couple weeks before his death when his letters stopped coming.  After his death, she said “Don’t nobody know what a mom go through, honey, when she loses one of her children, and I done lost two.”

REFERENCES

Associated Press and Staff. “Jail Issues Statement about Inmate Who Died Days after Seeking Medical Help.” WVEC. N.p., 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 17 June 2017.

Daugherty, Scott. “60-year-old Died in Hampton Roads Regional Jail Because Staff Ignored Him, Family Suit Says.” Virginian-Pilot. N.p., 05 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.

Kleiner, Sarah. “Hampton Roads Regional Jail Inmate Denied Request for Medical Help Two Days before He Died.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 17 June 2017.

Mechanic, Allison. “Family Files $40 Million Suit after Man Dies at Hampton Roads Regional Jail.” Azfamily.com 3TV CBS 5. N.p., 06 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.