All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

O death, where is thy sting? In prison!

Death. It’s a dark subject, and it’s been on my mind too much these days! 

Within a matter of weeks, I lost my wife of nearly 65 years, a fellow member of HIS MEN whose friendship dates back to 1958, my old fishing buddy with whom we had vacationed for decades, and a long-time neighbor whose kids grew up, played with and camped with our offspring. That’s enough for now, thank you. 

Amidst the sorrow and grief, however, there were positives. The lengthy lives of Marcia, Hermie, Arnie and Ellie gently came to an end with family and friends on hand. All were people of faith who realized that this was not the end. Arrangements were properly handled by capable and caring professionals. Loving support came to their families from all directions. Appropriate memorial services were conducted. 

Sadly, that’s not the way it is in prison. 

This message came today: “Mr. P fell in the dayroom at about 7:00 last night and died. Staff had covered his body with some type of black tarp, and his body remained in the dayroom until 11:30pm. I have been to almost every prison in the MDOC in the past 33 years. I have seen a number of people die as the result of many different causes. Never have I seen, nor have I ever heard of, a prisoner's dead body left laying for 4 and a half hours, while the prison went on about normal operations. This has greatly affected me, to the point that I stayed in the cell, have not slept and my depression is quite deep this morning. 33 years, I've seen people murdered, and the body was not left laying for display for any amount of time, let alone 4 and one-half hours!” 

The MDOC later clarified for us that the prisoner died of a medical condition, but the body could not be removed until police had investigated and agreed to the release. Thus, the delay. 

Still, I’m sure that Mr. P was somebody’s long-time friend, too. Possibly someone’s old neighbor. Perhaps an old fishing buddy. Certainly a member of a family. But, no one was there with him in his final hours. Medical and spiritual personnel didn’t meet with family and friends. Another day, another death. 

Some years ago New York Times reporter Rachel Bedard wrote a feature about dying alone in prison. Her chilling words: As the doctors told him that his life would soon be over, his officers watched television, ate snacks, and read the newspaper. One day on my way out of his room, I asked an officer whether the patient would be told that he was being moved to a different prison once he left the hospital. He wasn’t entitled to know, said the officer flatly, because he was “property of the state.” 

The State of Michigan lost another piece of its property this week. 

For some, that stings. For others, it’s another available bed.

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