Depressing enough that I, who strongly dislikes trigger warnings of all flavors, am going to put one up: this post will be discussing our prison system, mental illness, and death. If none of that is something you feel comfortable reading about, please go look at puppies or kitties for a while but do not continue further.
Because this won’t be a very pleasant post. I just... need to talk about it.
Backstory: I grew up in a very small, tight knit, rural community. Everyone knew everyone, and for better or for worse everyone knew everyone’s business. Ah, the rumor mill that thrives in small town America! There were 80 kids in my High School - I wasn’t best friends with all of them, but it does lend itself to a certain level of camaraderie that stays with most of us for all of our lives.
There was one kid in the grade below me who had been in my elementary school class (it was an alternative room cooperation, which has sense been disbanded, so we were taught with all other grades and in accordance with our abilities, rather than our grade), who has my undying gratitude mostly because of how he treated my brother. My brother was different, you see, and in the time honored tradition of the American education system, he was bullied because of it. But K (what we shall call this kid) was always kind to him. He was one of those kids who was maybe not the smartest, but he was nice, and funny, and talented, and a sports star. But he had had a hard life - most of the community where I grew up was living at or below the poverty level, and he and his parents were no exception.
Two years ago, he was diagnosed bipolar. He improved with medication, but he still struggled. While I’ve experienced my share of mental illness, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be struggling with that on top of finding your way as a young person, trying to create a life for yourself, trying to pull yourself into a better life, for yourself and your mother (I’ve rarely seen a mother/son relationship that was so loving and genuine as what K shared with his mom). It can’t have been easy.
With no prior charges (and I don’t know what the impetus behind it was, though I imagine his mental health did not help), he was arrested for attempting to cash a fraudulent check. The amount was, frankly, not very much. He missed his court date.
He was thrown into county jail.
For 13 days, he was denied parental visitations, as the doctor who examined him determined that would be too “aggravating” for K. Of course it would be - he was denied all his medication while he was being held. Between the bipolar disorder, the anxiety, and the probably very human worry, I’m not at all shocked that he was branded ‘totally psychotic’. It would have been a miracle if he hadn’t been.
But, because we are in America, he was a Difficult Prisoner, and was therefore completely ignored by the prison staff.
In the 13 days he was in jail, he went from a troubled but otherwise healthy young man, to dead.
It’s been determined that he died of dehydration and malnutrition.
According to the medical examiner, he would have been dead at his last check, when it was recorded that he was breathing. Either that check didn’t happen (a likely scenario), or whoever checked him didn’t look very closely.
There was a hospital three blocks away. It should NEVER have gotten to that point.
He was 23 years old.
I just... feel defeated. I hope that charges are pressed - the jail has already started instituted improvements, but I hope people are punished for this. For their negligence, for their lack of empathy, for allowing a young man, with no prior charges and a history of mental illness, to die on their watch. But I don’t have any faith that someone will actually be held culpable.
This post will probably go kaput at some point in the future. I just had to get it out there. I’m feeling pretty torn up - more so than when I first found out and the jail was trying to brand it a suicide. Suicide would have been bad enough, but this seems somehow so much worse. We weren’t particularly good friends, but I’ve known him and his mom since we were both little. He was a part of my life, from a very happy time in my life, and I mourn both him and the future he was never allowed to have. The life he will never experience. The success he will never obtain.
He wanted to live.
He wasn’t allowed to.