A few days ago The New York Times published this special report about an inmate’s 2010 death at the Clinton Correctional Facility. Leonard Strickland, an inmate who suffered from Schizophrenia, had been serving four and a half years for possession of a weapon. Strickland got into an argument with the prison guards and ended up dead, suffering multiple cuts, bruises and internal bleeding by the time the ambulance arrived. We’ve heard this story before.
We’ve heard this story before and we haven’t heard this story before. Or maybe it’s that we haven’t heard it enough. Another inmate (Bradley Ceasar) died a couple years before Strickland at this same facility under similar circumstances. According to the article, several prisoners have filed officer brutality cases at Clinton and I’m sure with the right amount of research, one wouldn’t be hard pressed to find similar occurrences at jails and prisons around the country–deaths waived off as medical emergencies or necessary for keeping the peace. Witnesses never allowed to testify or even sought after.
In the last part of this piece we see a glimpse of how our system of incarceration reverberates to families and communities. Strickland’s 70 year old mother would take a six hour bus trip once a month to visit her son because, in New York State (and many other states), prisoners are kept as far from their neighborhoods and loved ones as possible. Mrs. Strickland did not have the financial resources to provide a funeral for her son and he was buried at the Clinton Correctional Cemetery a mile from the prison–an ending no mother envisions for her child.
I wonder if Mrs. Strickland grieved the dreams she had for her son Leonard or if she grieved a system that allowed for things to end this way. Or if she had long ago stopped dreaming.