What happened to Brianna Beland? Just another death in the Charleston County Jail

Brianna Beland

In August 2017, 31-year-old Brianna Beland “died” in the Charleston County Jail, the same jail in which Joyce Curnell “died”, in July 2015. What happened to Brianna Beland? The same thing that happened to Kellsie Green, in Alaska; Jessica DiCesare, in Massachusetts; Madaline Christine Pitkin, in Oregon, and so many other drug dependent women who needed help and got jail. Brianna Beland is just another day in the life of the cruel and usual treatment of women in jails across the United States, where women go to jail and die.

The story of Brianna Beland’s death is almost as short as her life. In April 2017, Brianna Beland was arrested for shoplifting a pack of coloring pens, worth $3.94. Brianna Beland had no previous convictions. She did have a debilitating heroin habit. She also had a four-year-old daughter and a partner. Brianna Beland was given a May court date, which she missed. Her partner died in June “while fishing off the coast of Virginia.” Brianna Beland worked cleaning vacation rentals and was studying to become a paralegal. On Monday August 14, she was picked up on a bench warrant and given a choice of 25 days in jail or paying a fine of $1,030. Brianna Beland “chose” jail. On August 16, Brianna Beland started vomiting and feeling nauseous. On August 17, she passed out in the yard. On August 18, Brianna Beland was moved to the infirmary. Brianna Beland kept falling out of bed; she couldn’t walk or move. She said she felt that she was burning up and asked for help. The nurse left Brianna Beland to attend to other patients “because it took priority over a patient being hot.” The nurse returned an hour or so later, and “found” Brianna Beland “unresponsive”. On August 19, a little while after midnight, Brianna Beland was pronounced dead. In December 2018, her family sued the Charleston County Jail, the doctor, and the medical service.

Brianna Beland’s story mirrors that of Joyce Curnell, who also “died” in the Charleston County Jail two years earlier. Joyce Curnell also was arrested for shoplifting, also had no prior record, also was picked up on a bench warrant. Given the “choice” between jail or paying $2200, Joyce Curnell chose to pay, monthly. She couldn’t keep up the payments, and so “chose” jail. Joyce Curnell struggled with alcoholism. Her son believed that in jail Joyce Curnell would get help.  Joyce Curnell went into the jail, vomited time after time, told the staff she needed help, was given a garbage bag, and, within 27 hours of entering the jail, was “found” dead.

Both Brianna Beland and Joyce Curnell lived in trailers. For working poor women, and especially those who live and struggle with alcohol and drug addiction as well as with mental health issues, the contemporary architecture of the United States is simple and direct: take a trailer, overlay it with a jail, and overlay the two of them with a graveyard. The families sue, and generally win, but there’s neither justice nor peace nor resolution therein. There is no justice nor peace in a land in which a woman life is worth the same as a $3.94 pack of coloring pens.

(Photo Credit: Live5News)

What happened to Joyce Curnell? #SayHerName

Joyce Curnell

Last July, Joyce Curnell, a 50-year-old Black woman, died of dehydration in the Charleston County jail, in South Carolina. In her death, she joined Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Ralkina Jones and Raynette Turner: five Black women who died in one month in jails across the country. In her death, she also joined Kellsie Green, whose family called the police to arrest her because she needed help and there was no other help locally available. Joyce Curnell is the latest headstone to be placed alongside the highway of women missing and murdered by the State.

On July 21, Joyce Curnell went into hospital with severe stomach pains. She was diagnosed with gastroenteritis. When she was discharged, the local police picked her up on an outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell’s son, Javon Curnell, had call the police and told them of his mother’s location and outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell was struggling with alcoholism, and her children thought that the jail would provide her with the help she couldn’t anywhere else: “She’s my mom, but I’m trying to help her. She won’t listen, she drinks a lot. She needs some time to detox herself.” Javon Curnell saw only two choices for his mother: jail or the graveyard.

At the hospital, Joyce Curnell was hydrated, given medications and told to seek medical help if she had any more pain or vomiting. No one at the Charleston County jail did anything to address her pain. Joyce Curnell spent the night wracked with pain and vomiting. Guards brought her a trash bag to vomit into. No one moved her to any medical facility. Joyce Curnell grew too weak to go to the bathroom. In the morning she was too weak to eat and continued vomiting. No one gave her any water or helped in any other way. Medical staff “checked” her around 3 pm, and did nothing. By 5 pm, Joyce Curnell was dead. There was no failure here, but rather deliberate and lethal refusal.

The family is suing the Carolina Center for Occupational Health, which provide “health care” at the jail. As the family’s attorney explained, “This is not a situation in which Joyce needed access to cutting edge medical care to save her life. She needed fluids and the attention of a doctor. Not only has nobody been prosecuted in connection with Joyce’s death, it does not appear that any employee has even been reprimanded … You don’t need a medical license to administer Gatorade. At some point, she would have needed more than simple hydration, but early on, it probably would have worked.”

Who killed Joyce Curnell? Everyone. As has happened so often before in similar circumstances, the autopsy concluded that Joyce Curnell’s death was “natural.” What nature is that? The fault here is not in the stars but in ourselves, in our collusion with murders that, taken together, comprise a massacre. Where is the sustained outrage? The Curnell family sued the health contractors on Wednesday, and by today, the following Monday, the world has moved on, and Joyce Curnell, who died in agony, begging for help, for a drop of water, is dead.

 

(Photo Credit: The Post and Courier)