What happened to Kellsie Green? Just another death in Alaska’s state of prisons

Kellsiee Green

In Alaska this week, KTUU News has run a three-part special series, “State of Prisons.” In early February, Dean Wilson was tapped to be the new Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections. Why all the sudden interest? On January 10, 24-year-old Kellsie Green died in the Anchorage Correctional Complex, and her death was perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is the story of one woman and her family who tried the best they could; and of a policy of criminal and vicious abandonment that passes for neglect. Kellsie Green was not neglected nor was she failed. The State wanted her dead, and she’s dead.

According to John Green, Kellsie Green’s father, Kellsie was a happy girl-child, until she was sexually assaulted by schoolmates. Then Kellsie’s life turned to tragedy. She switched schools, to no avail; got involved with alcohol and drug abuse; and started engaging in self-harm and then suicide. Her family tried to help. They sent her to counselors; they took her to the hospital. Kellsie went to Arizona to try to detox, which didn’t work. She returned to Alaska. The Green family lives in an area known as the Mat-Su, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, about 35 miles north of Anchorage. There are no detox centers in Mat-Su. In Anchorage, there’s one detox center. It has 14 beds. Anchorage alone has around 300,000 residents.

Desperate to assist his daughter and knowing no other route, the family called the police. John Green explains: “We believed that our last option was to have her arrested. That it would save her life.” State troopers arrested Kellsie Green, turned her over to Anchorage police, who then dumped her in the Anchorage jail. Six days later, she was dead. Cellmates report that Kellsie Green vomited continually, struggled with withdrawal symptoms, and grew weaker and weaker. When she died, she weighed 80 pounds.

The Green family turned for help for their daughter who suffered and lived with a drug addiction and wanted to find a way to healing and healing. Instead, according to John Green, they encountered this: “Their protocol is to throw these people on the floor and let them vomit … It’s pretty clear that the protocol they have in place for dealing with addicts and people who are detoxing isn’t adequate, and that needs to be addressed. When you weigh 80 pounds and are as sick as she was, that’s a no-brainer. Anybody would say she needs to be in a different facility.”

Kellsie Green was finally moved to a different facility, a morgue.

None of this is new or surprising. The prisons in Alaska have been filling up for over a decade, at the same time staff numbers have plummeted. Drug abuse has skyrocketed across the state, and mental health facilities have been defunded in the ongoing economic downturn in Alaska. Yet again, prison and jail has become the largest mental health provider, except that there’s little to no health provision.

For women in the system, the situation is even worse. Between 2010 and 2014, the female prison population in Alaska increased by 24%, while the male prison population has increased by 14%. Alaska’s Department of Corrections reports that 169 prisoners have died in Alaska prisons since 2000. In 2015, fifteen died.

The new Commissioner, the Green family, the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, the media and pretty much everyone agree. Something bad happened, and Kellsie Green is dead. But here’s the thing. The State had report after report that documented the lethal and worsening conditions in Alaska’s prisons and jails, and nobody did a thing. More to the point, everyone persisted in doing nothing. The State of Prisons is a State of Abandonment, and it’s vicious and violent. Despite her own efforts and those of everyone who loved her, Kellsie Green was never meant to survive … and she did not. Kellsie Green was the latest, not the last, woman to die in agony, begging for help.

(Photo Credit: Alaska Dispatch News)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.