Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for care

Sarah Lee Circle Bear

On July 6, Sarah Lee Circle Bear was “found” unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Women’s bodies keep being “found” in jails across the United States. Police are killing Native American women, such as Christina Tahhahwah, at a staggering rate. Overrepresented in prisons and jails, Native Americans are beyond overrepresented in jail mortality rates. They are the dumped and “found”. Sarah Lee Circle Bear’s death is typical as is the excruciating pain and suffering she was forced to endure as she died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 years old, a Lakota woman, the mother of two children, aged one and two. She was picked up for a bond violation, which is to say for not much. According to other prisoners, before being transferred to a holding cell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear told her jailers that she was suffering excruciating pain. The staff told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking”. Inmates called to the staff to help her. The staff came, picked Sarah Lee Circle Bear up off the floor, dragged her out of the cell, and transferred to a holding cell. Later, they “found” Sarah Lee Circle Bear “unresponsive.” Her family is now seeking justice.

Prisoners, and especially those in jails, die in agony, begging and screaming for care. From 2000 through 2012, close to 13,000 people died in local jails. The State lists “cause of death” but never includes the State among those. Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for help. Her fellow prisoners screamed as well.

This is Chuneice Patterson’s story. A prisoner in the Onondaga County Justice Center, in Syracuse, New York, Chuneice Patterson died, November 2, 2009, of ectopic pregnancy. She spent hours in agony begging for care. No one came. Amy Lynn Cowling died, in December 2010, in excruciating pain in the Gregg County Jail, in Texas. From coast to coast and border to border, a national community has built with the shrieks of women in jail, dying in excruciating pain and suffering, screaming and begging for care. No one comes or, worse, they come and drag her away. The dead who are “found” are “unresponsive”? It’s the other way around.

What happened to Sarah Lee Circle Bear? Nothing much. All part of the plan. Just another Native American woman dead in a jail somewhere in the United States.

 

(Photo Credit: Terrance Circle Bear, Sr. / Indian Country Today)

Prisoners die in agony, begging and screaming for care

Amy Lynn Cowling went for a drive on Christmas Eve, 2010. 33 years old, a grandmother of a one-day old child, bipolar, methadone dependent, and with only one kidney, Amy Lynn Cowling went for a drive in East Texas, where she was picked up for speeding, then arrested for some outstanding warrants on minor theft charges and traffic violations. Five days later, in the Gregg County Jail, after a day of wailing and seizures, of excruciating pain and suffering, of agony, Amy Lynn Cowling died. Amy Lynn Cowling died after five days of her family begging and pleading with the prison staff to make sure they gave her the life sustaining medicines she needed. The pills were just down the hall, in Amy Lynn Cowling’s purse, in the jail storage room. Nobody went, nobody came. Amy Lynn Cowling died.

Gregg County Jail is `troubled’. Since 2005, nine prisoners have died there, one of suicide, eight from `health conditions.’ Prisoners are dying, and prisoners are coming out hurt and injured. Across the country and across the world. Some suggest that Amy Lynn Cowling’s death `exposes health care problems in local jails.’ History suggests otherwise.

Ashley Ellis was twenty-one years old when she went for a drive one night, in 2007, in Rutland, Vermont. She hit a motorcycle and partially paralyzed its driver. Two years later, she was convicted of misdemeanor negligence. Ellis was sent to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, Vermont.

In the two years between the accident and the sentencing, Ellis had gone from120 pounds to 86. She was depressed. She was under treatment for anorexia. This treatment required her to take regular potassium pills. She told the staff at the prison. Ellis’s doctor faxed the prison all the necessary information concerning her illness and treatment. At that time, the prison health services were outsourced to a private corporation, Prison Health Services, or PHS.

Ashley Ellis told the Prison Health Service staff that she needed the potassium pills, to live. They said they were out, they give her food, they did not provide the pills. After two days in prison, Ashley Ellis died. That was August 2009. In January 2010 Vermont suspended its contract with Prison Health Service, because the contract had `expired’. Prison Health Service advised its employees not to speak to anyone. The investigation went nowhere.

The medical examiner found that Ashley Ellis had died in part because of denial of access to medication. As we noted last year, a similar case occurred in New York, at about the same time. Chuneice Patterson, a prisoner in the Onondaga County Justice Center, in Syracuse, New York, screamed, writhed for nine hours in pain before dying of an ectopic pregnancy. She pressed the emergency button. Nobody came.

The New York State Commission of Correction concluded: “Chuneice Patterson was a twenty-one year old black woman who died on 11/12/09 at 8:30 a.m. from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy while in the custody of the Onondaga County Sherriff at the Onondaga County Justice Center….Had Ms. Patterson received adequate and competent medical care, her death would have been prevented.”

It’s too soon to say the exact cause of death for Amy Lynn Cowling. It’s too late to claim that another women dying in prison exposes anything. As attorney, prison expert and University of Texas faculty member Michele Deitch notes, “Until it affects a family like this, no one knows how bad things are.” As long as incarceration means isolation, as long as prison is a form of exile within the borders of one’s own state, as long as prisoners are invisible to `citizens’, they will continue to die in agony, begging and screaming for care.

 

(Photo Illustration: Todd Wiseman / Callie Richmond / The Texas Tribune)

 

In our community, prisoners die in agony begging for care

In the past five days, there have been two stories about young people in U.S. prisons who died “in agony”.

Adam Montoya was in the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois. Pekin is “a medium security facility housing male inmates.” In May 2009 Montoya pleaded guilty to passing counterfeit checks and cards. He had a history of methamphetamine abuse. He was ordered to stay clean while awaiting sentencing, which he did until mid-June, when he was diagnosed as HIV+. As his father Juan Montoya says, the news “hit him like a ton of bricks.”

Adam returned to methamphetamine, failed a urine test, admitted to using, and was locked up.

In mid-October, he was sentenced to a little over two years in Federal prison. His father thought it was a reasonable sentence, and, reasonably, started planning with his son for a life after prison. People living with HIV live long lives. Adam’s family was supportive. He had a job, a family, much to live for. His father noted that when Adam reached the prisoner transfer center, in Oklahoma, ARVs were waiting for him. He thought 27 months is not a death sentence. He was wrong.

Adam entered Pekin Correctional Institution on October 26. Eighteen days later he was dead: “For days before he died in a federal prison, Adam Montoya pleaded with guards to be taken to a doctor, pressing a panic button in his cell over and over to summon help that never came. An autopsy concluded that the 36-year-old inmate suffered from no fewer than three serious illnesses – cancer, hepatitis and HIV. The cancer ultimately killed him, causing his spleen to burst. Montoya bled to death internally. But the coroner and a pathologist were more stunned by another finding: The only medication in his system was a trace of over-the-counter pain reliever. That means Montoya…had been given nothing to ease the excruciating pain that no doubt wracked his body for days or weeks before death. `He shouldn’t have died in agony like that,” Coroner Dennis Conover said”

Before agony meant extreme bodily suffering, it meant mental struggle and anguish. Adam Montoya suffered extreme bodily suffering. Adam Montoya begged. Adam Montoya pressed the panic button over and over again. No one came. He was a prisoner. He had the right to press the panic button. He did not have the right or power to expect anyone to answer.

Chuneice Patterson was 21 years old when she found out she was two months pregnant. She was in the Onondaga County Justice Center, in Syracuse, New York: “The Onondaga County Justice Center, located in Syracuse, New York, is a “New Generation”, direct-supervision, maximum-security facility designed with state-of-the-art technology. The basic mission of this facility is to safely and securely house arrested, pre-trial, and Federal, State, and County inmates awaiting transfer to correctional facilities with an intention to positively impact those who are incarcerated and, consequently, our community.”

When Chuneice Patterson was processed, on November 10, she complained of stomach cramps. Her pregnancy was noted in her medical record at the jail. In the next day, nurses visited her three times. Although her pregnancy was on the record, no tests were requested: “Around 6 p.m. on November 11, inmates at the Onondaga County correctional facility told officers that Patterson had been vomiting in her cell. A nurse was called to check on her, no vital signs were taken. A few hours later, Patterson was lying on the floor in her underwear complaining she didn’t feel well and was hot. The same nurse was called again, and again she left without following proper protocol for examining a pregnant inmate. For the next nine hours, deputies saw Patterson rolling around on the floor of her cell, making noises and even splashing water from the toilet on her face before hitting the emergency button when she said she could not breathe.”

Here’s how the New York State Commission of Correction concludes the story: “Chuneice Patterson was a twenty-one year old black woman who died on 11/12/09 at 8:30 a.m. from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy while in the custody of the Onondaga County Sherriff at the Onondaga County Justice Center….Had Ms. Patterson received adequate and competent medical care, her death would have been prevented.”

A local news agency reported the same event: “Chuneice Patterson died from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and as the commission’s investigation shows she spent hours in agony begging for care.”

The same thing happened in 1996: “Patterson was the second inmate to die from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy in the past 14 years. In the previous case, the Commission of Correction found that three nurses and a doctor at the jail repeatedly failed to monitor inmate Lucinda Batts’ worsening condition before she collapsed and died from an ectopic pregnancy. Her death in March 1996 could have been prevented with proper medical care at the jail, the state found.”

The Justice Center is the state of the art of community. Chuneice Patterson had an emergency button, which she had the right to press. She did not have the right or power to expect a response.

Adam Montoya and Chuneice Patterson died in agony and left to their parents agony as their estate. These two stories together tell us that we, we who read the stories, we who comment on and discuss and share the stories, and we who choose to ignore the stories, we live in an Age of Agony. It is the state-of-the-art technology of our community. It is how we make prisoners die.

 

(Photo Credit: Syracuse.com)