It wasn’t that Ms. S wanted to get even. She just wanted to be able to sleep at night.
Ms. S had a prison job as a volunteer. She was assigned to be an observer in a unit where mentally ill prisoners are housed. Some may be suicidal, and the state wants to catch the problem before it worsens. The Michigan Department of Corrections says that this program has been quite successful.
But in the case of Ms. S, she claims that she witnessed atrocities that should not have happened. A woman of faith, she takes her Christianity seriously and felt that she could no longer remain silent when mentally ill prisoners were being abused. Besides that, those visions of evil-doing kept her awake at night.
And so she spoke out, not only in the prison system, but to sources outside the prison. Retaliation was predictable and swift. She lost her coveted job as a volunteer. Her communications were monitored. Prison life became difficult. But Ms. S was not to be deterred.
She had witnessed shameful treatment of two mentally ill inmates, and daily she fed her information to outside contacts. One woman was actually hogtied, and left that way “until she could learn to behave.” Another was denied a sip of water until she was so dehydrated she could no longer drink. The second victim was given drugs to sedate her, but even after she was unconscious a nurse continued the injections. Eventually the inmate was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Life support has now been removed, and word is that she will not survive.
Ms. S not only detailed these atrocities in daily dispatches, but persuaded other volunteers to sign on. We have in our possession clumsy affidavits on bits and pieces of paper signed by additional courageous volunteers who dared to stand up and be counted.
For weeks nothing happened, as the HFP office continued to stir the pot behind the scenes. But then came some movement. The ACLU, with co-signers from the U of M Law School, sent a scathing 5-page letter to the director of the MDOC as well as the prison warden demanding changes and requesting an immediate meeting. Ammunition for this letter was provided by HFP. In addition, our office filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding these alleged 8th Amendment violations: cruel and unusual punishment. This week, according to inside sources, the DOJ was to make an appearance at the prison in Ypsilanti. As a third step, HFP consulted with legal counsel in hopes of initiating legal action on behalf of a victim's family.
If the state will not listen to the voices of the little people, perhaps it will take note of the collective voices of the DOJ, the ACLU and the U of M. Perhaps the threat of legal action will get some attention.
There will be changes in the way mentally ill women are treated in prison. You can bet on it.
We can all learn an important lesson from this. Silence is not an option when we witness wrong-doing. One person can make a difference.
Perhaps, in between psych-therapy sessions, our whistle blower, Ms. S, would have time to take a bow.
She deserves it.