Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Upcoming Boston Globe investigative series on prison 'suicides'

Upcoming Boston Globe investigative series on prison 'suicides' and what you (we) can (will )do


Hello All.

I understand that the Boston Globe Spotlight Team will FINALLY publish its investigative series on Massachusetts prisoner 'suicides' beginning next Sunday December 9. Four reporters have been working on this effort for almost 8 months.

The stories - as many of us close to the prisoner families know- are compelling and should 'shock the conscience' of all. We do not believe for one moment that all these deaths were by suicide. Nor do we believe that all those who did commit suicide were 'mentally ill'.

While it may be true that many folks diagnosed as 'mentally ill' may attempt or complete suicide attempts it is the DOC's abuse of prisoners that brings many to a terrible choice: to live in unending deprivation and despair or to end their suffering. A 'healthy, normal’ person would soon sink into depression, anger and hopelessness under the daily conditions inside MA prisons and jails. Prisoners who come into correctional facilities with a diagnosis of psychiatric disabilities are targeted for mistreatment by staff. Indeed there are probably more suicides than the DOC has 'reported.' The so-called good guys are free to torment and humiliate incarcerated citizens. Most legislators will not act to hold the DOC accountable because they’d prefer to look tough–on-crime.

What many should know is that the Commonwealth, the Legislature and correctional legal services, the Disability Law Center and the DOC all agree that the solution to this torture is to spend more money to create special Residential Treatment Units within correctional facilities for 'mentally ill' prisoners. This is the real craziness! The abuse will continue. It'll just be in a different location. What the state does not address is the root cause of the conditions within prisons. RTUs will not stop extra-judicial punishment or, medical neglect. It is not the cure for the lack of oversight. It's just sending another 40 million tax dollars down a rat hole!

It seems that Globe Spotlight Team has worked thousands of hours to bring this story ('suicides') to light. The team is comprised of fabulous journalists. However- they took direction from state-funded agencies. While families of the lost prisoners were consulted at great length- there was very little use of grassroots organizations and activist friends & families.

There is an opportunity to bring OUR insight, our expertise to this issue and to the greater public next week. What will you do? How is the epidemic of suicide connected to the call for a jail in Somerville? Who will speak about state complicity in the death of the prisoners? Who will demand accountability? There are many avenues here for effecting REAL CHANGE.

Let's hear from you.

Thank you.

Susan Mortimer

1 comment:

andrea said...

From: Susan Mortimer
Date: 12/11/07 12:20:36
Subject: [MaSHaRC] Boston Globe series on prison 'suicides'

Dear Friends ---- I urge you all to read the investigative series on prisoner 'suicides' with a journalist's eyes.
I was a friend of Tony Garafolo's's and was in touch with him until a week before his death. We spoke by phone, too.
I am close to his mom Lorraine. ( I have Blind CC'd three family members of deceased prisoners here.)

I knew that the series would focus on mental health and how mental illness can lead to 'suicide'. I am aware
that the skilled reporting team spent thousands of hours going through materials, reports, talking to parents,
"experts" and DOC. Still, I was not prepared to see how much information would be omitted in order to make
all these folks look 'mentally ill'.

It was very difficult to read Tony's story as it appeared in the Sunday issue. So much was left out that may have
shown that Tony was not 'ill' and that he almost certainly did NOT kill himself. So, I am left to wonder what was
omitted from the tales of others' misery.

For instance the first few paragraphs of the first part set up the reader to see 'suicide' as something that only
'mentally ill' people do AND that all folks who commit suicide ARE "mentally ill" and that that is the reason why
their lives ended. ("A system strained", "careless errors" ) Those of us with folks behind bars know how false this is.
Yes, people DO end their lives in these desperate situations. Just as many are driven by guard taunting to do so.
Some do NOT die by their own hand but, the Dept of Correction wants you to believe this lie.

A couple of factual omissions in Tony's Globe story illustrate how missing info might lead a reader to understand
that he was not "mentally ill". A sentence, 'to Tony, it seemed hot' is outrageous. First, reporter could not
possibly know how it "seemed" to Tony because he was dead months before she wrote these lines. In fact, Tony
was in a closed room for five days. During that time the daily outdoor temperature averaged 89 degrees! Even the
DOC report acknowledges that Tony Garafolo was pounding on his door for hours because it was so hot inside his room.
The reporter was provided with the Internet meteorological reports for the week.

I don't believe the report mentioned that Tony's intestines were protruding through his lower back; that he was not
given replacement colostomy bags because the Health Services Unit staff said they were "on order."

Might a man desperate for fresh air scream and pound on the metal door of his cell? Would he eventually
scream out threats and profanities to get a reaction to his situation? If you were unaware of the fact that he was
sweating profusely in a 90 degree room, might you think he was "mentally ill"?

The Globe says Tony left a 'suicide' note. The report did not mention that his note was addressed to Internal Affairs!
Would knowing that his note was written to I.A. about the conditions cause you to think differently about the status
of his mental health? The Globe had the death scene photos, (as do I) including a photo of the note carefully arranged
on his desk in an otherwise filthy room but chose not to mention this. I will let the reader decide how this information
could change the your perception.

Before the investigation even began there was a push from several entities to add Residential Treatment Units to
prisons. The strange thinking is that mentally ill prisoners will be treated better in an RTU. WHat is not acknowledged is
that DOC culture will be the same in an RTU as it is outside it. But the legislature is all for it; correctional legal services,
the Disability law Center AND the DOC too!

I urge you to scrutinize the journalism. How is the issue of 'suicide' and 'mental illness' framed? What type of statements
by experts go unchallenged? What kind of access to prisoners was permitted by DOC? DOC staff was present - as were
its lawyers- at these prisoner interviews. Our folks were very courageous. Who screened/provided the list of people to be
interviewed by the Globe?

I urge our website www.massdecarcerate.org to preface its snippets from the Boston Globe articles with an advisory
to the reader. "SHaRC cannot confirm the veracity of this series. Reader beware."

Thank you, Susan Mortimer