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.
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.