Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?

 

(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

For Alma Glisson, the issue is justice

Alma Glisson looks at pictures of her son, Nicholas

“Not many days
And your house will be full of men and women
weeping,
And curses will be hurled at you from far
Cities grieving for sons unburied, left to rot”

Sophocles, Antigone

Alma Glisson only wants justice. Alma Glisson is the mother of Nicholas Glisson, whose life ended in tragedy. He was murdered by the State while in the custody of the Indiana Department of Corrections. On February 21, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided that [a] something terrible had happened to Nicholas L. Glisson and [b] his mother had the right to pursue the entire institution that had killed her son. The Court’s decision offers a heartrending account of institutional malice: “Nicholas Glisson entered the custody of the Indiana Department of Corrections on September 3, 2010, upon being sentenced for dealing in a controlled sub- stance (selling one prescription pill to a friend who turned out to be a confidential informant). Thirty-seven days later, he was dead from starvation, acute renal failure, and associated conditions. His mother, Alma Glisson, brought this lawsuit …. She asserts that the medical care Glisson received at the hands of the Department’s chosen provider, Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (known as Corizon) violated his rights.”

In 2003, Nicholas Glisson was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, for which he underwent radical surgery. His larynx, part of his pharynx, parts of his mandible and 13 teeth were removed. As a result, he had a tube in his throat and needed a voice box to speak. The surgery and ongoing radiation weakened Nicholas Gilson’s neck to the point that it could not support his head. As a result, his head slumped forward, impeding his breathing. To breathe, he needed a neck brace. Then Nicholas Glisson developed cervical spine damage. In 2008 doctors placed a tube in stomach for supplemental feeding. Nicholas Glisson also suffered from hypothyroidism, depression, and damage resulting from his smoking and excessive alcohol use. Finally, there was some evidence of cognitive decline.

As the court noted, “Despite all this, Glisson was able to live independently. He learned to clean and suction his stoma. With occasional help from his mother, he was able to use his feeding tube when necessary. He was able to swallow well enough to take his food and other supplements by mouth most of the time. His hygiene was fine, and he helped with household chores such as mowing the lawn, cleaning, and cooking. He also provided care to his grandmother and his dying brother.”

Everything changed when a “friend”, actually a police informant, persuaded Glisson to give him a prescription painkiller. Glisson was charged and convicted to ten years in prison … for one Oxycontin pill. On August 31, 2010, Nicholas Glisson was convicted, sentenced and transferred to the Wayne County Jail. His doctor wrote a letter to the court, which concluded, “This patient is severely disabled, and I do not feel that he would survive if he was incarcerated.” Nicholas L. Glisson, 50 years old, died, or was killed, on October 10, 2010.

When Glisson was sent to Wayne County Jail, Alma Glisson made sure he had his neck brace, medicine, and suction machine. No one in authority seems to know what happened when Nicholas Glisson was transferred to Plainfield Correctional Facility. His neck brace never arrived. His voice box was often out of reach. On the morning Nicholas Glisson died, the suction machine used to clear his throat was outside his cell.

Nicholas Glisson couldn’t eat, and so slowly, painfully, starved to death. For 37 days, according to the Court decision, Nicholas Glisson presented the symptoms of a person suffering starvation and renal failure. His body weight, behavior, blood tests and more showed this. Finally, he was sent to hospital … and then returned to the prison. The hospital discharge included the following: “Acute renal failure/acidosis/hyperkalemia on top of chronic kidney disease; acute respiratory insufficiency/pneumonia; tracheoesophageal voice prosthesis replacement; hypothyroidism; malnutrition; squamous cell carcinoma of left lateral tongue; hypertension; chronic pain; dementia/psychological disorder/depression; pressure wound on the sacrum.” This is only a partial list.

Throughout the 37 days, Alma Glisson called Plainfield every day, “`Is he getting his medicine?’ Nobody seemed to know. They assured me he was OK.” She was never allowed to see her son. Alma Glisson was not allowed to visit her son while he was in the hospital. This is how she found about his death: “Some lady called and said, `I’m sorry to tell you your son passed.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, you killed my son!’”

What happened to Nicholas Glisson? The ordinary torture of chronically ill prisoners that passes for care. As Chief Judge Diane Wood concluded: “Nicholas Glisson may not have been destined to live a long life, but he was managing his difficult medical situation successfully until he fell into the hands of the Indiana prison system and its medical-care provider, Corizon. Thirty-seven days after he entered custody and came under Corizon’s care, he was dead. On this record, a jury could find that Corizon’s decision not to enact centralized treatment protocols for chronically ill inmates led directly to his death.”

Alma Glisson agrees, “The issue is justice.” The issue is justice.

 

(Photo Credit: South Bend Tribune / Robert Franklin)

Who remembers Purvi Patel? Where’s the outrage?

Who remembers Purvi Patel? On February 6th this year we discussed her conviction on two contradictory charges of first killing her fetus and then neglecting her baby.

Now she is sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court that never believed that her baby was stillborn, that she was scared and panicked, that she did not know when she became pregnant, that she had no intention of being pregnant, that nobody talked about her as a person.

The sentence was determined by the age of the “victim” said the judge. Of course, from her point of view the victim was not Purvi Patel.

In this competition of morality over whose life is worth being protected everybody loses, but Purvi Patel’s life is destroyed. She and the genitor needed classes on reproductive health, access to contraception and abortion services. She got prison, and he remains free.

The media told her story using populist assumptions to draw attention to details that were either unproven or irrelevant. By contrast, none of them focused on the discrepancies of the evidence presented by the prosecutor during the trial. None of them questioned the pathology report that used a dubious test to determine that the baby was alive at birth. Even the determination of the age of the pregnancy was unclear. What was clear was the determination of the prosecutor to erase the voice of Purvi Patel.

As Lynn Paltrow declared, “What the Patel case demonstrates is both women who have abortion and those who experience pregnancy loss may now be subject to investigation, arrest, public trial and incarceration.”

The real tragedy is that the State never fulfilled its responsibility to provide any help to Purvi Patel. Instead it chose to destroy her life. Where’s the outrage?

 

 

(Image Credit: Kostsov/Thinkstock)  (Original drawing by Pierre Colin Thibert)

The `taint of racism’ for Black Women and Girls On Death Row

Paula Cooper, savoring her freedom

Between Kimberly McCarthy and Paula Cooper lies either a chasm or a tremendous healing.

Texas is poised to execute Kimberly McCarthy, a 52-year-old African American woman accused of having murdered her White neighbor in 1997. If McCarthy is executed, she will be the 500th person to be executed by Texas since the death penalty was reinstated, in 1976. Texas is far and away the leader in this field, with Virginia a distant second.

According to Maurie Levin, McCarthy’s current attorney, the case must be revisited because the proceedings were `tainted by racism.’ That `taint’ is many layers deep and covers much. In Texas, 283 people are currently on Death Row: 39.2% are African American; 29.7 percent are Latino; 29.7 percent are White. Those racial demographics are geographic as well. Texas has 254 counties. In the past five years, 22 counties have sent people to Death Row. It’s not `Texas’ that fills the death rosters … but it is Texas that executes them. Rick Perry holds the record as the U.S. governor presiding over the most executions ever carried out. Texas is #1; Rick Perry is #1.

Nationally, Harris County, Texas, is the top county for executions, both in Texas and the United States. #2 is Dallas County. Kimberly McCarthy’s case was heard in Dallas County. In Dallas County, it was almost impossible for African Americans to get on a jury. McCarthy’s jury had one African American on it. That was no accident, according to Maurie Levin. It was also no accident that the attorneys who sort of represented McCarthy in her earlier forays never touched on the racial composition of the entire proceedings. Why would they? McCarthy was an African American, coke addicted woman worker who was accused of having brutally murdered a 71-year-old White woman. Case closed.

Last week, Indiana demonstrated that there’s a better way. Paula Cooper walked out of prison, not quite yet a `free woman’, but not a prisoner and not on Death Row.

In 1985, Paula Cooper was 15 years old. She was accused of having murdered Ruth Pelke, who was 78 years old. Cooper is African America; Pelke was White. Paula Cooper was convicted of murder and, at the age of 16, was sentenced to death. At that time, she was the youngest Death Row `guest of the State’ in the country.

A local, national, and global campaign erupted at the prospect of a 16-year-old girl being sentenced to death. Two years later, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed, and set aside the death penalty. The Court sentenced Cooper to 60 years behind bars.

In the intervening decades, Cooper has earned a college degree and time off for good behavior. On Monday, June 17, 2013, Paula Cooper walked out of prison.

That’s not all that changed during those decades. The prosecuting attorney in the case came to oppose the death penalty. Even further, Bill Pelke, Ruth Pelke’s grandson, has become a leading death penalty abolitionist. As Bill Pelke explains, “It was about a year and a half after my grandmother’s death, about three-and-a-half months after Paula Cooper had been sentenced to death, where I became convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my grandmother would have been appalled by the fact that this girl was on death row and there was so much hate and anger towards her. I was convinced she would have had love for Paula Cooper and her family. I felt she wanted some of my family to have that same sort of love and compassion. … I learned the most important lesson of my life that night, and it was about the healing power of forgiveness, because when my heart was touched with compassion, the forgiveness became automatic. And when it happened, it brought a tremendous healing.”

When the State of Indiana decided to forego vengeance against a child, to treat the child as one of us, as a sister or a daughter or a simply another human being, a tremendous healing began. The State can do that; it can opt for healing. Tell Rick Perry and Texas right away. Then tell everybody else.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC News)

America’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity

Recently, legislators in Oregon, Arizona, and Indiana began to address so-called seclusion rooms. Seclusion rooms are solitary confinement cells in schools. They’re also called `isolation booths’, `isolation boxes’, and `behavior support’. George Orwell is alive and well, and apparently in charge in the schoolhouses of the United States.

Jared Harrison is now 12 years old. He went to primary school in Eugene, Oregon. According to his testimony, for four years, starting in first grade, he was forced into a seclusion room pretty much every day, often for hours. Further, his parents were never informed. Ever. As his mother, Jennifer Harrison, explained, “”I was never notified. I didn’t know it was happening until I walked in and found him screaming facedown on the ground with two adults sitting on top of him.”

Parents have notified the State that they’re considering a lawsuit.

Parents in Arizona are also suing the State for having put their child in seclusion for hours on end. When the child asked, begged, to go to the bathroom, he was refused. And so finally, he urinated in the cell. The boy’s mother, Leslie Noyes is quite clear on at least one point: ““It’s like five by six, padded walls, no windows.  It is definitely like a cell.” Don’t call those rooms `seclusion rooms’, don’t call them `cool-down’ spaces, and certainly don’t call them `open air rooms’. Call them prison cells.

In Indiana, parents and advocates are also saying those prison cells are not “quiet rooms” or “safe rooms.” They’re specifically not safe because no one monitors the child while she or he is in the cell. They’re simply left there, absolutely alone. That’s not quiet, that’s not safe, and that’s not education. That’s violence.

Repeatedly, the story of violence is at least twofold, and each fold intensifies the other. First, there is the forced seizure and abandonment of a child into a cell for an extended period of time. Second, there is the discovery by the parents of what has been going on. The parents and the children share in the tragedy. When the children testify, the mothers, such as Jennifer Harrison, listen by their side and weep. The violence doesn’t stop once the door to the `seclusion room’ has been opened.

This is a tale of atrocity: “[M]ore often than not, [contemporary psychiatric]’medicine’ is a complete atrocity-comparable only to the history out of which it grew: is four-point restraint-being tied down at the wrists and ankles-an improvement over being bound with chains? Is the cage inhumane whereas the seclusion room is not?”

Speak the truth fearlessly. Solitary confinement in our prisons is torture. Seclusion rooms in our schools are an atrocity. The solitary confinement of seclusion rooms comprises the social human landscape of the United States today. Close the seclusion rooms. Do it now.

 

(Video Credit: Dan Habib / Vimeo)