Thursday, June 11, 2015

A tale of two women

Two women, relatively unknown.  You’ve never heard their names before.  Their incarceration doesn’t make the news.  Their family members have been relatively silent.  To those of us who live in Michigan, Jane and Sally don’t really have names, they’re just a statistic.  They are among an estimated 10-20,000 state prison inmates who are mentally ill. 

I’d like to focus on the predicament the families of these two women are facing, just to give you an idea as to how cruel and inhumane our system is when it comes to handling mentally challenged prisoners.

Jane is 25, Sally is 40, and neither should have gone to prison in the first place.  A system with a heart and with adequate facilities would have admitted them to a psychiatric hospital.  But that’s not the nature of our system, so they’re in prison now, in what is called the acute unit.  And as of today, neither family has any idea as to how they are, or how they’re being treated

Jane’s mother has not been permitted a prison visit since the first of the year.  Can’t talk to her by phone, either.

Sally’s two sisters drove to Ypsilanti all the way from the Upper Peninsula the other day for a prison visit.  It never happened.  The stories were conflicting, but the visit was denied.  They returned to the UP with no idea how Sally is doing.  They’ve received only one letter from her in the past two years, and it was so confusing they learned nothing.

In both cases, families are in the dark and for obvious reasons, they are concerned.

Perhaps these questions are not valid (we have no way of knowing), but the sparse bit of information available certainly prompts them:

Why the secrecy?
Are the women being mistreated?
Is the state trying to keep something quiet?

It isn’t that the families haven’t tried.  They’re trying to make contact with these prisoners.  They’re trying to get medical records.  They’d love to get them out and place them in a psychiatric facility.  But they get no answers.  They continue to try, day after day, but to hear them tell it, they keep running into stone walls. 

If our little agency knows of these two incidents, how many more might there be in our state where more than 40,000 people are in prison, 25-50% of them mentally challenged?

And so a huge challenge to the new Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections focuses on one important word:  COMMUNICATIONS.

Perhaps the care is excellent.  Perhaps the prisoners are in great shape and are being treated with decency and respect.  Perhaps the incarceration is improving their mental state and healing is taking place.  But we have no way of knowing. 

The prisoners deserve better.

Their families deserve better.

Michigan taxpayers deserve better.

There's an old hymn that I love:  Does Jesus Care?  I love the melody, I love the words, and I love it that he really does care.

At least somebody does.

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