The word indifferent was used in an article I read to describe the ‘deadliest’ jail in my state. I thought it was an adequate word at first. I have written about the death of Jamycheal Mitchell at that same jail, and the ‘indifference’ in that instance was hard to ignore. It was blatant. In that case, a young man with a mental condition was allowed to die of ‘wasting’. I, as a layman, would call that starving. There was never any acknowledgement by the facility of wrongdoing in that case, nor remorse.
After careful consideration, I have changed my mind. The word ‘indifferent’ is too kind. It would not be a sufficiently strong enough word if it were my 24 year old son who had wasted away. I would probably use words more along the lines of incompetent. Knowing me, if it were my son, I would call his death ‘criminal’. In Mitchell’s case, the jail investigated itself and found its officers and staff guilty of no wrongdoing.
Another man died in that same jail not too long after Jamycheal. Henry Clay Stewart was 60 years old when he passed away. Mr. Stewart was at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail because of an upcoming trial for allegedly violating the terms of his release on a shoplifting conviction.
Mr. Stewart was not sentenced to life or ten years or even one. He was simply awaiting trial. While at the jail, Henry Stewart became ill. He repeatedly requested help. Some might say he begged for help, with words like, “I keep asking to go to the emergency room,” and “I need emergency assistance right away.” He informed employees that he couldn’t hold down his food or water. More concerning than that, he reported to them that he had blacked out twice in less than 24 hours. Mr. Stewart needed help.
If you were to believe another inmate’s statements, Stewart had also been coughing up blood for weeks, and had lost weight. Staff determined that Mr. Stewart’s August 4th plea for help, which wasn’t his first, was ‘not an emergency’.
Two days later, Stewart was found dead. The medical examiner’s office listed Stewart’s death as ‘perforated gastric ulcer due to chronic lymphocytic gastritis, H. Pylori positive’.
Following the death of Henry Clay Stewart, Lt. Col. Eugene Taylor III, the jail’s assistant superintendent said, as he did after Jamycheal’s death, the jail did not plan to change any of its policies, because its investigation found that none had been violated.
The jail’s previous superintendent, David L. Simons, was said to have stated that the death ‘was a natural death’ and there was ‘nothing out of the ordinary’.
Indifference is not strong enough a word in my opinion. The federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act entitles inmates to medical and mental health care.
‘Indifference’ would be a lack of sympathy or caring. The corrections profession has become one of indifference. This case, and the countless like it, is an indication it has gone beyond indifference. By not acknowledging the problem and striving to correct the indifferent system we have, the trend will continue to surpass indifference. It will continue to grow more incompetent, and eventually criminal. Kindness and compassion are of vital importance to any successful relationship or system, and those are qualities that don’t exist in our current Criminal Justice System.
Dujardin, Peter. “Regional Jail Inmate Died of Perforated Ulcer, Medical Examiner Says.” Daily Press. N.p., 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.
Kleiner, Sarah, and K. Burnell Evans. “Hampton Roads Regional Jail Is Deadliest in the Virginia for Inmates.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 03 Sept. 2016. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.