Category Archives: Mental Illness and Prison

Man’s Death After Ninety Minutes In A Hot Prison Shower Ruled ‘Accident’

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate on the planet.  That’s substantial.  It is ignorant to disregard and not oversee the system that houses that much of our population.  How we treat these people is a reflection of our humanity, and to discount a tenth of our population is going to breed a lot of resentment.

Darren Rainey was one of the incarcerated.  He was schizophrenic and in prison on a drug charge.  His death while in the care of corrections was ruled an ‘accident’.  There were no employees disciplined with regard to the incident.  The investigation found that the evidence, “failed to show that any correctional officer acted in reckless disregard of Rainey’s life.”  Emma Lew, the medical examiner, found that Rainey died due to a combination of his schizophrenia, heart disease and confinement in the small shower space.

Interesting.

The day this man died, he had defecated in his cell and smeared it on himself and his walls.  Mr. Rainey was then placed in a shower that could only be controlled from the outside, in order to prevent him from turning off the water.  The shower doesn’t allow for the water temperature to be adjusted from within the shower.

A Corrections Officer told Rainey that he wasn’t going back to his cell until he cleaned himself.  It is reported that Rainey began to clean himself, but then said, “No, I don’t want to do this,” and leaned against a wall within the shower.

Almost two hours after Rainey was put into the shower, officers found him lying face up on the floor in about three inches of water.  He no longer had a pulse and was not breathing.

After his death, an inmate at the prison, Harold Hempstead, reported that he heard Mr. Rainey screaming for help and banging on the door while he was in the shower.  He quoted Rainey as saying, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it anymore,” and, “I can’t take it no more.”  He also said that the banging seemed to slow down until he heard what sounded like Rainey hitting the wall and falling at 9:30.  His account of the events was discounted.  The Assistant State Attorneys stated that Hempstead, “did not seem to have an opportunity to see and know the things about which he testified; he did not seem to have an accurate memory; he has been convicted of a felony, and lastly, his testimony was not consistent with the other testimony and other reliable and undisputed evidence in the case.”

Of his appearance when he was removed from the shower, one inmate said that Rainey looked like a “boiled lobster”.  Several witnesses said that Rainey’s skin appeared to be peeled back in some areas, and one compared his curling flesh to a fruit rollup.

There was a paramedic called to the scene that night.  He wrote that Rainey, “was found with second- and third-degree burns on 30 percent of his body.”  Not only that, he also reported that the prison staff themselves told him that the, “inmate was found on shower floor with hot water running.”

A day after Rainey’s death, an investigator with the medical examiner’s office wrote that, “visible trauma was noticed throughout the decedent’s body.”

A health and safety inspector recorded the shower’s water temperature at 160 degrees two days after the incident.

The autopsy took three years to complete and another year to be released.  In that autopsy – only one skin sample was taken.  After receiving the autopsy results, the State Attorney decided that there would be no charges filed in this case.  Corrections staff were cleared of all wrong-doing.

REFERENCES

Brownjbrown@miamiherald.com, Julie K. “Graphic Photos Stir Doubts about Darren Rainey’s ‘accidental’ Prison Death.” Miamiherald. N.p., 06 May 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.

CBS/AP. “Prosecutors: No Crime in Death of Inmate Left in Hot Shower for Nearly 2 Hours.”CBS News. CBS Interactive, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.

Hawkins, Derek. “An Inmate Died after Being Locked in a Scalding Shower for Two Hours. His Guards Won’t Be Charged.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.

Young Man Hangs Himself In Jail Cell

On October 4, 2014, DeJuan Brison, age 26, hung himself with a sheet in a jail cell.  He didn’t die that day, but was taken to a hospital, where he passed away on October 21, 2014.  He had a mother, Christine Brooks, and a father, Robert Brison.  Christine said her son was ‘sweet and humble’ and a ‘mama’s boy’.  Brison grew up in St. Louis and was the father of four children, ages 4, 5, 6 and 7.

DeJuan Brison was originally being held at the St. Louis Justice Center.  Three days earlier, on October 1, 2014, he was arrested on a domestic violence case, but he was never charged.  Jails are required to release inmates if no charges are filed within 24 hours, but they can be held if they are wanted by another municipality.

Two years earlier, on August 28, 2012, Brison had been accused of stealing five sticks of deodorant, valued at $17.50, at a Family Dollar.  In that case, he posted a $300 bond, but he did not attend a ‘financial responsibility’ class that was ordered by the court.  Because he missed the class, a warrant was issued, and a $500 bail was set.  It was for this reason that the St. Louis Justice Center did not release Brison.  He did not have any new charges, but had missed his class.

It was while Brison was being held by St. Louis that he was placed on ‘full suicide watch’.  That happened on October 2, 2014, one day after he was arrested. On October 3, the following day, another ‘full suicide’ form was filled out.  Later that day he was removed from full suicide watch and placed under ‘close observation’.  After that, he was listed at one point on ‘modified suicide watch’ and ‘close observation’.

He was transported to Jennings jail on the morning of October 4, where he was wanted in relation to the deodorant theft charge from 2012.  He communicated with the jailers that he had already paid his bail for the shoplifting case, but was informed he would have to tell it to the judge.

That morning he requested a call to have someone bring him his inhaler for asthma.  He was physically unable to complete his call, held his hands in the air, and laid on the floor.  Another inmate attempted to place the call for him, but there was no answer.

Right before noon that day, an ambulance was called to attend to Brison, and the emergency worker reported that he was making himself hyperventilate.   At 12:40 a guard walked by his cell.  At 1:21 a guard who was taking out the trash saw Brison hanging.

The Jennings jail was not informed about Brison’s suicide watch when he was transferred.

Brison was somebody’s young son and the father of four children of his own.  There were never any new charges against him, but it appears he was troubled, or he wouldn’t have been placed on suicide watch during his brief stay in St. Louis in the fall of 2014.

Life is valuable.  Jails and prisons often lose sight of that.  People aren’t people anymore there.  That reality is apparent to most people who have been in the system or known someone in it.  The climate in corrections is one of disregard for the humanity that it is their job to house and care for – like it or not.  That is their job.  That has gotten lost somewhere, behind walls that no one can see through.

As I type this, I just found out that a sweet woman I consider a friend was in a motorcycle accident this weekend.  The driver of the motorcycle was killed and my friend, the passenger, is in critical condition.  LIFE IS VALUABLE.  People aren’t just numbers and cases.  This man was loved by people too.

DeJuan Brison was charged with nothing in 2014, but he was held in jail for several days, displayed suicidal tendencies, and was having breathing problems.  Before the week was out, a man who was a friend and loved one to some, a father to four and two people’s son hung himself from a sheet in an empty cell.   He had breathing issues the same day, but rather than have him housed with other inmates who could monitor him, he was placed in a cell by himself.  He had been on suicide watch, but was in a cell by himself, unmonitored and with the material to allow him to hang himself.

REFERENCES

Kohler, Jeremy. “Man Who Hanged Himself in Jennings Had Been On Suicide Watch.” Stltoday.com. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 17 Aug. 2015.

Benchaabane, Nassiom. “Corrections Officers Ignored and Neglected Inmate Who Hanged Himself In Jennings Jail, Suit Says.” Stltoday.com. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 17 Feb. 2017.

Jail Shows No Remorse in Death of Mentally Ill Boy

To say there is little accountability in corrections is probably an understatement. This country locks up a lot of people – more than any other country in the world. With those numbers, a lack of accountability in the corrections profession is ultimately going to be a problem. The smoke and mirrors used to deflect attention are getting a little old. The friends and family of those people behind bars are joining their voices together and, hopefully, where they were once individual whispers, they can all join together and become a roar. That’s my hope.

There is a long road ahead determining how we can better rehabilitate people. Treating them all like garbage is not working though. That is what is happening. The person I am writing about today has a name.   He is a ‘person’. Someone recently corrected me when I used different terminology. They are ‘people’ in prison. She was absolutely correct. They are not a number, or inmate, etc. They are people.

Jamycheal Mitchell is this boy’s name. I have written about him before. He was arrested in April of 2015 for stealing $5 worth of snacks.   He suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.   And – that is the correct word – ‘suffered’. Mental illness is an illness. It is a condition that no one would ‘choose’ for themselves. The boy deserved compassion, understanding and care for that reason alone – the fact that he ‘suffered’ from mental illness.

The boy who suffered from an illness and stole five dollars worth of junk food, was placed in jail. That in itself does not make any sense. But, the mentally ill are often kept in jails and prisons in this country, so, unfortunately, that is not unusual.

That is where all logic seems to end.   I have searched for every article and piece of material I can find about Jamycheal.   I was hoping I could find a public statement by the jail expressing sympathy for his family after he died in their care.  Yes, he died in jail. I have searched and printed and read everything I can find.   I have found absolutely nothing expressing sympathy.   I will tell you what I have found.

The system we have set up to hold people accountable for wrongdoing, isn’t accountable for anything it does. It doesn’t even come close to passing the standards of decency it holds the people that it imprisons to. That is what I have found.

After Jamycheal’s arrest, a judge ordered him to be sent to a hospital. Due to ‘clerical errors’ his name was not on the list of people waiting for beds at Eastern State Hospital. So he sat in jail. Anyone familiar with the environment in jail knows that it is not a place to treat a mentally ill person. It simply is not.   Nothing good can come from putting a person that suffers from mental illness into a jail cell. There are not a lot of requirements needed to get a job in corrections, and the staff is certainly not capable of caring for the mentally ill, although we could hope that some of them may be capable of compassion.

So, ‘clerical errors’ made by an ‘overwhelmed’ employee had him sitting indefinitely. On July 31 a jail employee contacted the Portsmouth Department of Behavioral Healthcare Services, requesting an evaluation of Jamycheal, but the evaluation did not happen. On August 19, 2015, Jamycheal was dead. He had lost over 34 pounds in the care of the jail over those few months and died of ‘wasting’.

One article I read stated that he was ‘overlooked and forgotten’. That is too forgiving and gives the jail undue credit in my opinion.   He wasn’t ‘forgotten’. If you can see him, how can you forget him? He wasn’t misplaced. Employees saw him every day.   Absolutely nothing was done. If they had seen a dog chained to a post out front and walked by it every single day as it withered away, could we say they ‘overlooked’ the dog and ‘forgot’ him? The fact is, they looked at him and they did not ‘forget’ he was there.

The article also indicated that there was an employee hired to monitor people waiting for state hospital beds. The article said that the employee had not met with Mitchell the entire four months that he was in jail.

For the sake of argument, I am going to discount a majority of the things that have been reported about the Hampton Roads Regional Jail’s care of Jamycheal. I am going to make many assumptions to give weight to the Jail’s claim that an internal audit found no responsibility in this death.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there is not one valid statement made by the other people detained in the jail at the time. There have been statements made and letters written by them that I will pretend I haven’t read.

Let’s assume that Mitchell was not kicked in the knees to get him to sit down, when he was standing naked against the wall outside his cell, while it was being cleaned.

Let’s assume he didn’t live naked with no pillow, blanket, cup, or water to flush his toilet.

Let’s assume that all his meals were given to him.

Let’s assume that his cell didn’t smell so bad that it was hard to walk past without gagging.

Let’s assume that all claims by fellow people held in the jail who claim to have witnessed abuse are all lies. I don’t see how it would benefit them to testify against the correctional staff who are housing them, but let’s assume they are all lying. In my experience, the people that I know on both sides of corrections know that you need to be careful when complaining about staff, as you often pay the price. But – for the sake of argument, let’s assume these people are all lying.

With all of those assumptions, here are the highlights of a statement issued by The Hampton Roads Regional Jail on June 24, 2016. That is a couple months shy of a year after Mitchell passed away. In the statement, the Jail says it notified the police immediately of Jamycheal’s death. They claim to have provided the police with all of the files they requested. The police found that there was no evidence of a crime. What strikes me with that is – the party being investigated provided the evidence the police reviewed. We wouldn’t have any crime if we were all permitted to submit the evidence to be reviewed in investigations into wrongdoing. But, again, let’s overlook that.

The statement says that the scene was preserved and photographed. I have to wonder who took the photographs. The statement says that Hampton Roads Regional Jail’s investigation into this case revealed no breach of Hampton Roads Regional Jail’s policies or procedures, and no criminal action or negligence by Hampton Roads Regional Jail staff. Basically, what that says is, the jail’s investigation into itself reveals no wrongdoing. Let’s also overlook just how ridiculous that is.

The statement says that Hampton Roads Regional Jail has done an investigation into the claims by ‘inmates’ that the jail acted improperly towards Jamycheal and the jail has found all of those complaints unsubstantiated. So, what we are hearing here is, jail employees looked into the inmates’ complaints of abuse. Jail employees then determined that the inmates accusing jail employees of misconduct are lying. I can’t decide what part of that is stranger – the fact that the employees claim that no one’s complaints are valid or that the very staff the inmates were accusing of wrongdoing were the very people who questioned them.

In its statement, the Hampton Roads Regional Jail says that it contracts with an outside company to provide medical and mental health care and treatment to ‘inmates’. That means – you guessed it – Hampton Roads Regional Jail has no control over when Mr. Mitchell was to be evaluated by Eastern State Hospital and also implies his medical care was not their responsibility. This, in my opinion, is a pathetic attempt at shoving blame away. If the jail hired the company, they are responsible for ensuring that the people they are housing are being treated properly by that company.   I will, for the sake of argument, say that I agree with this disgraceful shirking of responsibility, even though I don’t.

Hampton Roads Regional Jail also is proud to say that a few weeks before his death, Mr. Mitchell went to the hospital for treatment because his legs were swollen. The jail quotes the hospital as recording that Mr. Mitchell was “well developed and well nourished”. This I find interesting, since an exam of the body revealed he died of ‘wasting’. Not only wasting, but he lost more than 10 percent of his body weight while he was there. Trying to imply that the young man was the picture of health, I would have thought would have been too low, but I guess not in the case of Hampton Roads Regional Jail.

Hampton Roads Regional Jail stated that it offered Mr. Mitchell 297 meals and he refused three of those. They also claim he was seen by medical and mental healthcare providers on 70 different occasions. What I have to say to that is – how can professionals looked at him on seventy occasions and not have raised hell to get him help? But that’s just me.

In closing, the statement issued by Hampton Roads Regional Jail says, “We do not intend to try this case in the press, but we are confident that the care and treatment we provide to all our inmates is appropriate and meets or exceeds both Virginia and National Standards.” I simply must say that I am biting my tongue reading that paragraph. For the love of God, what does that say about Virginia and National Standards?

I have read everything I can find on this. And – as I stated throughout – I am going to assume everything that the jail claims is true. There is still something missing though. I have not been able to find it. There is not one single word of remorse. Not one single acknowledgement that this kid died in their care and maybe they need to look at themselves a little closer.   Not one single word to the family. He died. He wasted away in front of your eyes and on your floor.   Jamycheal Mitchell was a person. Had a person starved to death locked in a room in my home, I would be in jail.  Where is the accountability?

REFERENCES

Earley, Pete. “VA. NAMI, Former IG, Local NAACP Call For Fed Probe Of Mentally Ill Prisoner’s Death From Starvation In Virginia – Pete Earley.” Pete Earley. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.

Kleiner21, Sarah. “Report: Clerical Errors Preceded Death of Va. Man Jailed for Stealing Junk Food.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.

LeBlanc, Deana. “Only On 10: Inmate Who Found Jamycheal Mitchell Dead Speaks out.” WAVYTV. N.p., 13 May 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.

LeBlanc, Deanna. “Sheriff Responds after Inmates in Jamycheal Mitchell Lawsuit Claim Intimidation by Jail Staff.” WAVYTV. N.p., 22 June 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.

Satchell, Emily. “Hampton Roads Regional Jail Releases Details on Jamycheal Mitchell’s Death.” WAVYTV. N.p., 24 June 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.

Satchell, Emily. “State Police Open Criminal Investigation into Jamycheal Mitchell’s Death.” WAVYTV. N.p., 22 June 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.

Mentally Ill Boy Dies While On Suicide Watch

There is a family in Virginia whose last memories of their son and brother are in a jail’s visitation room. Lutalo Octave was feeling more like himself that day. Enough like himself that he was processing the things he had done to land himself in jail. Lutalo Octave was charged with arson for burning his family’s house down. No one was in the home at the time. It was while he was in jail that he was diagnosed with Schizophreniform, a mental disorder. The family’s story was chronicled in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Lutalo wasn’t violent. The photo of him in the paper is angelic, and from all accounts I have read, he was a sweet, thoughtful kid who liked video games, played a tuba and was a lifeguard. He wasn’t hurtful. He could have been my boy. He could have been the boy next door. He could have had a future. Life had different things in store for him though.

Something went a little wrong in Lutalo’s mind. It wasn’t a choice, no more than someone chooses to get cancer. He went off to college and a wire got crossed somewhere in his brain. I suppose no one will ever know the trigger.   It could have been destined from birth, or maybe there was some sort of environmental factor.   All that is known is that Lutalo changed. I always heard that if you raise your kids right, they will find their way back if they veer off course. Lutalo didn’t have a choice to find his way back. He had an illness. An illness that had him battling within his own head.

It’s not easy to get help if your adult child has a mental illness in this country. Often times there is nothing you can do once they turn eighteen, unless they harm themselves or others. You’re helpless. You watch. You try to make sense of it. You struggle with searching for ways to help. You try to piece together logical solutions to a problem that doesn’t follow a logical pattern. It’s like fighting a fire with a water pistol, but the hardest part is that the fire is trying to engulf your kid.

Lutalo left college. He lost his job. He was not acting himself, not because he wanted to be someone else, rather because his mind wasn’t working properly. His family could only watch in frustration. Forcing someone with a mental illness to seek help, is often a losing battle. They can’t see what you see. They don’t recognize their own illness. You wouldn’t lay a newborn baby in the arms of a mentally ill person, because they aren’t always capable of handling the responsibility. It isn’t that they wish to harm anyone. They are no more capable of making healthy choices for themselves than they would be for a baby.  But our system doesn’t take into account that an eighteenth birthday doesn’t cure mental illness.  You can’t force help on a mentally ill adult, unless they have already harmed someone. So, Lutalo’s family could only watch.

Lutalo’s illness sometimes showed up in the form of fire starting. Again, his family was unable to get anyone to help. Then he burned the house down. Lutalo was charged with arson and taken to jail. The tender hearted, book reading, video playing musician was taken into custody. He wasn’t taken to a hospital or a mental health facility. He was taken to jail. And, although the mom in me knows that Lutalo’s parents knew he didn’t belong in jail, I would imagine that, for a moment, they were able to breath, and think that he was in a safe place until they could get him moved to a treatment facility. That is what I would have been thinking, if I had never been exposed to our criminal justice system.

Lutalo’s illness may not have been curable, but it was treatable. Lutalo was diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder while at the jail. He was also placed on suicide watch after saying he had nothing to live for.

I have learned all my life that if you have something that belongs to someone else, you take better care of it than you would your own. I would like to think that goes for human beings as well. Lutalo was in the care of a jail. They took him into custody for a crime committed because of an illness that he would never have chosen to have. No one would choose schizophrenia.

Lutalo ended up taking his life in a jail cell. He was by himself. There was a metal shelf on the wall in his cell. He was supplied with a sheet. There was a broken camera in the room. There was also a functioning camera that could record only part of the room. I have to wonder if the person who was supposed to be monitoring the cameras had any concerns that one of the devices was not working. I would think that a camera meant to monitor someone on suicide watch should be operating. If it were my child, I would want it working.

Excuses can be made. Arguments can be said that there are staffing issues or funding issues. Excuses and arguments are why our criminal justice system is what it is today. It’s time to say it’s broken. It needs to be fixed. The time for excuses and arguments has passed. The system needs to be fixed, and it needs compassion to be one of its cornerstones. When the sun goes down, Lutalo’s family has to deal with the memories of his sweet face. They have to relive the last day they saw him when he was just their lost son and brother, wanting so desperately to come home with them. They had to watch him walk away from them at that visitation. They have to relive that over and over. That kind of pain leaves no room for excuses and arguments.

REFERENCES

Kleiner, Sarah, and Burnell Evans. “Henrico County Family Watches Helplessly as Ambitious Teenager Spirals into Darkness.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 15 July 2016. Web. 31 July 2016.

Kleiner, Sarah, and Burnell Evans. “Part 2: Mentally Ill Man Threatens Suicide, Then given a Cell with a Sheet and a Shelf.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 15 July 2016. Web. 31 July 2016.

Man Dead After Being Incarcerated for Theft of Soda, Candy Bar and Snack Cake

Jamycheal Mitchell passed away on August 19, 2015, in the state of Virginia. He didn’t die of old age. At the age of twenty four, he actually had quite a long life ahead of him. He was a young man who saw the world through eyes that were different than most of ours.   Jamycheal suffered from mental illness. We will never quite understand the complexities of his thoughts or his concept of death as it crept up on him. We won’t know how scared he was or his perception of his circumstances. I think it is fair to say he felt pain though.

His mental condition wasn’t a choice. I would like to think it would draw some level of compassion from those around him. It didn’t draw enough apparently. Jamycheal Mitchell died without his family around him. He didn’t have a loved one’s hand to hold or someone to brush his head and tell him help was on the way. That’s because help wasn’t on the way.

Jamycheal Mitchell died lying in a jail cell in the United States of America from probable cardiac arrhythmia accompanying wasting syndrome, as reported by Sarah Kleiner in an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch. He didn’t die in a deserted prison that had no employees or somewhere that his presence could not be seen for months. He died in plain sight in a cell. It wasn’t a quick death. It took months to get into the condition that Jamycheal died in. His condition was seen over and over again in the time it took him to lose thirty four pounds.

I hear and see it all the time – upright, righteous citizens so steadfast in the belief that we have to get tougher on crime. We were tough on crime in Jamycheal Mitchell’s case. He was arrested for stealing a bottle of soda, a snack cake and candy bar. The total value of his theft was $5. Until there is common sense and compassion in the criminal justice system, getting tougher is only going to succeed in diminishing our humanity. How hardened do people have to be to walk by this young man, day after day, and see him transform from a healthy 24 year old man to an emaciated corpse, without sounding 100 alarms?

There are investigations currently going on into how this happened. I am sure there will be a lot of people looking at how paperwork gets shuffled around.   Looking into the paper trail won’t help. The system needs an overhaul, and it needs to include training the employees who are responsible for the one out of one hundred people that this country keeps incarcerated. If we are going to put one one-hundreth of our population in cells under the care of others, I think that those people need to be held to a much higher standard.

Jamycheal Mitchell was not arrested for a crime of violence. He stole something to eat and was incarcerated for it. I am familiar enough with the criminal justice system to know that no one was telling Jamycheal that he was going to receive treatment, or explaining to him what the future of his case looked like. The prisons don’t do that for individuals that are not mentally ill. His treatment clearly shows that no one was concerned about how he might be emotionally dealing with his arrest. His treatment speaks volumes about the prison system in this country. He died alone, suffering from starvation and covered in his own feces and urine.

REFERENCES

Kleiner, Sarah. “Report: Clerical Errors Preceded Death of Va. Man Jailed for Stealing Junk Food.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.

Kleiner, Sarah. “Advocates Call for Federal Investigation of Death of Va. Man Jailed for Stealing Junk Food.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 23 Mar. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.