Monday, July 13, 2015

An empty chair at the memorial service

Michelle’s teen-aged son will be buried today.  The boy’s father and grandparents will be there.  His mother will be absent.

I cannot begin to describe my emotions:  heartbreak, anger, disgust.  And I don’t even know Michelle! 

Here’s the story in a nutshell.

Our office received a message last week from the mother of a prisoner at the Women’s Huron Valley facility in Ypsilanti.  Her friend Michelle, age 44, learned that her 18-year-old son Josh had died unexpectedly at home due to an asthma attack.  A death in the family is a serious problem for prisoners…something, we believe, that must be improved in the future.

We followed the situation day by day, here’s the way it developed.

On the 7th, the day after the young man died, she was informed that she could be transported to the funeral home in the thumb area, accompanied by two officers, but she and her family would have to pay the tab:  $1,000 each way. 

On the 10th, we received a message that Michelle had found two off-duty officers willing to make the trip with her.

Then, later that same day, came this message:  The officers who were going to help Michelle have been mandated by the prison to work their regular shifts at the prison on Monday.  She wo't be able to go.  Her friends in the prison are showering her with love and sympathy.

I have difficulty accepting defeat, so I got up early this morning, summarized all of these messages, and fired off an email to one of our friends in the front office of the MDOC to ask if there was any way this grieving mother could still say farewell to her son at the 3 PM memorial service today.  And here is the response, verbatim:

I worked on this case most of Friday and unfortunately, we won’t be able to transport her today.  These funeral visits are based on the approval of the warden (which was received) and the availability of two trained staff members on voluntary overtime.  While one volunteer was located, the other volunteers could not be cleared for this assignment because they are on mandated overtime at the facility today.  As I’m sure you’ve heard, the facility is utilizing a significant amount of overtime right now because of our ongoing CO vacancies and as a result, it is difficult to find staff that are both eligible and willing to take voluntary overtime. While we ultimately had 3 staff people volunteer for the assignment, 2 could not be assigned because they were called in for mandated overtime today.  We simply don’t have the staff available to complete the funeral visit today, despite the best efforts of the family and the facility.

The name of our organization is HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS.  Giving our agency the name is one thing, but actually achieving humanity for prisoners is still another.  It’s easy to issue statements and cite policy.  It’s still another to hold the hand of a grieving mom.

I’m frustrated.  I'm angry.  I’m a parent and a grandparent. I’m hurting for Michelle.  I don’t know the answers, but I’m ashamed that my state couldn’t do better than this.  I find this completely unacceptable.

Thank God for the dear friends of Michelle behind bars who remain at her side.  May our Heavenly Father grant her peace in this difficult time, and enfold her in his everlasting arms.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

We will remember the grieving mother and family in our prayers. Hopefully procedures can change in the future to allow for this to happen for the prisoner with some leniency.