What happened to Sarah Reed? The routine torture of Black women in prison

Sarah Reed

On January 11, Sarah Reed, 32 years old, Black, living with mental health issues and drug addiction, the victim of a famous police brutality case, was “found dead” in her cell at Holloway Prison, north of London. Her death went relatively unreported for almost a month, until the family managed to contact Black activist, Lee Jasper, and so now the reports of “failings” begin. There was no failure. The State got what it wanted: Sarah Reed is dead.

In 2012, Sarah Reed was viciously attacked by a Metropolitan Police officer. The attack was caught on camera, and, in 2014, the officer was dismissed from the force.

In October 2014, Sarah Reed was in a mental health hospital when she allegedly attacked someone. Her family says she wrote to them saying she had acted in self-defense. On January 4, Sarah Reed was shipped over to Holloway Prison, to await trial. While there, according to her family, she received no mental health treatment.

Prison authorities have claimed that Sarah Reed “strangled herself” while in her bed. Her family doubts that narrative. Further, they say they were called to the prison to identify Sarah Reed and then were prevented from seeing her body and were treated “in a hostile and aggressive manner.”

None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Holloway Prison, the largest women’s prison in western Europe, is slated to be closed, precisely because it is unfit for human habitation. As outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, noted, “Holloway has a fearsome reputation.” When Holloway’s imminent closure was announced, some hoped that the closure would begin a “prison revolution”, but they had forgotten that Holloway had already undergone its revolution. From 1971 to 1985, it had been “completely rebuilt”, and yet it remained a fearsome, loathsome place.

That’s where the State sent Sarah Reed. There was no failure. The State wanted Sarah Reed dead, and Sarah Reed is dead. What happened to Sarah Reed happened to Sandra Bland happened to Natasha McKenna happened to Kindra Chapman happens. Rebuilding the prison never ends, or even diminishes, State torture of Black women. Shut it down.

 

(Photo Credit: Lee Jasper / Vice)

What happened to Kindra Chapman? The new normal for jails and prisons

Kindra Chapman

On Monday, July 13, #BlackLivesMatter activist and outspoken critic of police brutality Sandra Bland was “found” dead in a Texas jail. On Tuesday, July 14, in Homewood, Alabama, 18-year-old Black teenager Kindra Chapman was arrested, at 6:22 pm. At 7:50 pm, Kindra Chapman was found dead, hanging by a bed sheet in a holding cell.

While the case of Sandra Bland has attracted extensive and intensive attention, with one or two exceptions, the death of Kindra Chapman has not.

Suicide in jails and prisons, and in particular women’s jails and prisons, is the new normal, and not only in the United States. For example, just yesterday, it was reported that, in the United Kingdom, the number of people dying in police custody has reached its highest level for five years. We reported on this earlier in the year. The story’s the same in Italy.

Meanwhile, the jails of America are filling up to choking as the prisons are “releasing”, and women, and especially Black women, have been the principle actors, and targets, of this new phase of mass incarceration. And then there are the immigration detention centers. At Women In and Beyond the Global, we have been covering this trend for years. Here are just some of the individual women’s stories we’ve followed.

In 2007, in a Canadian prison, after years of mental health torment and begging for help through self-harm, 19-year-old Ashley Smith killed herself, on suicide watch, while seven guards followed orders, watched and did nothing. Now Ashley Smith haunts the Canadian Correctional Servicesor doesn’t.

In 2013, in England, Ms. K died. Her death was exemplary. A woman enters prison for the first time, a troublesome woman, and within weeks is found hanging in her cell. For the Ombudsman researchers, Ms K’s case is “one example” of the “failure” to “consider enhanced case review process” when a prisoner’s history suggests “wide ranging and deep seated problems.”

Last year, on Thursday, September 18, Megan Fritz hung herself. On Monday, September 22, Mary Knight did the same. Both women were incarcerated at Pennsylvania’s York County Prison when they committed suicide. Yet neither woman was on suicide watch. Why not?

Josefa Rauluni left the island nation of Fiji for Australia, where he applied for asylum, or “protection”. He was turned down. He was taken to Villawood Detention Centre, run by Serco. He continually appealed the decision, saying he feared for his life if he returned to Fiji. In response, the State told Josefa Rauluni that he would be deported on September 20, 2010. The night of September 19, Josefa Raulini sent two faxes to the Ministerial Intervention Unit at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. They read, ”If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body”. The State did nothing. On the morning of September 20, 2010, Josefa Raulini informed the guards, “I’m not going, if anyone goes near me, I will jump“. The guards did nothing for a while, and they they tried force. As they moved in, Josefa Raulini jumped from a first floor balcony railing. He dove, head first, hit the ground, and died. The State did nothing; the Villawood staff had no suicide prevention training.

On December 20th 2013 Lucia Vega Jimenez committed suicide, hanging herself in a shower stall of a bleak border facility at the Vancouver International Airport under the jurisdiction of Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA. She died eight days later in a hospital. She somehow found a rope and hanged herself. Who brought the rope and who tied the knot?

Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, 19 years old, and her four-year-old son had been held in Karnes “Family Detention Center” from October to June. She had applied for asylum, explaining that she had fled Honduras to escape an abusive ex-partner, six years older than she, who had beaten her regularly since she was 13. Her application was denied. In early June, she locked herself in a bathroom and cut her wrists. She was removed from the bathroom, held for four days under medical “supervision” during which she was denied access to her attorneys, and then deported.

The line from Sandra Bland to Kindra Chapman is direct, a line of Black Women killed in police custody. The coroner’s report may say they hanged themselves, and they may have, but if there’s an epidemic of self harm and suicide and the State does nothing, that’s public policy, and it’s murder. Likewise the line between Canadian Ashley Smith and English Ms. K and Mary Fritz and Mary Knight and Kindra Chapman is direct, as is the line that binds asylum seekers and immigration detention prisoners Josefa Rauluni, Lucia Vega Jimenez, and Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales. These women, and men, are captives in jails and prisons in which there is no suicide prevention training or planning. Quite the contrary, prisoner suicide is part of the plan. #IfIDieinPoliceCustody say my name. If she dies in police custody, #SayHerName.

 

(Photo Credit: al.com)

 

What happened to Sandra Bland? The routine tortured death of Black women in jail

#BlackLivesMatter activist and outspoken critic of police brutality Sandra Bland was “found” dead in a Texas jail. The jail claims Sandra Bland killed herself. The FBI is investigating. Waller County, where the jail is located, is now “discovered” as fraught with racial tensions, “racism from cradle to grave.” Some describe the circumstances as “mysterious”.

Sandra Bland’s arrest, for a minor traffic violation, was caught on video. At one point, she is thrown to the ground, and she yells, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear.” After that, all is silence.

That’s the ordinary of U.S. jails, and so is abuse, torture, rape and death, especially for Black women. That’s not overstated. The jails of America are filling up to choking as the prisons are “releasing”, and women, and especially Black women, have been the principle actors, and targets, of this new phase of mass incarceration. At Women In and Beyond the Global, we have been covering this trend for years. Here are just some of the individual women’s stories we’ve followed.

In 1998 Gina Muniz was incarcerated in the LA County Jail and the California state prison system for her first arrest, related to the theft of $200 related to a rapid onset of drug addiction-in the aftermath of her father’s death. The theft was bizarrely classified as a carjacking, although no one was harmed, and no car was stolen. Muniz received life in prison; her lawyer told her she was agreeing to seven years when she pled guilty. Six months after Muniz was arrested, she was dead: “Gina Muniz, September 2000, handcuffed to her deathbed and under 24-hour-guard in Modesto Community Hospital. Next to her is her daughter Amanda. Gina suffered horribly for six months from diagnosed but untreated cervical cancer. When it was diagnosed in L.A. County Jail, early and aggressive treatment would more than likely have saved Gina’s life. Grace Ortega, her mother, was finally able to win compassionate release for her daughter two days before her death, so that she could die at home”. Compassionate release.

Amy Lynn Cowling went for a drive on Christmas Eve, 2010 in East Texas. 33 years old, a grandmother of a one-day old child, bipolar, methadone dependent, and with only one kidney, Amy Lynn Cowling 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.

A year before, in Onondaga County Justice Center, in upstate New York, Chuneice Patterson, 21 years old, Black woman, died similarly, screaming and writhing in pain and ignored.

In 2012, Autumn Miller was in the Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, in Dallas, Texas, for a probation violation. She was in for a year. Miller knew something was wrong. She asked for a PAP smear and for a pregnancy test. She was denied. Her cramps and pain increased. One night, her pains became too intense for guards to ignore, and they took Miller down to the `medical unit’. There are no doctors at Dawson overnight, and so guards `took care’ of Miller. The guards said Miller merely had to go to the bathroom, gave her a menstrual pad and locked her in a holding cell. Despite Miller’s pleas, nobody came in to check, and so Autumn Miller gave birth to Gracie Miller, in the holding cell toilet. Guards then came in, shackled and handcuffed the mother, and took mother and daughter to the hospital. Gracie died four days later, in her shackled mother’s handcuffed arms.

Alisha was tried and charged as an adult in DC Superior Court when she was 16 years old. She was sent to DC’s Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF). There are no special units for female youth at CTF, so Alisha was sent to solitary confinement. For weeks at a time, she was on lockdown for 23 hours a day, unable to attend school, and could not participate in any programming available at the jail. Her attorney fought to move her to a more appropriate place that could also address her mental health concerns, but she remained there for a year and a half. In solitary confinement, she attempted suicide.

In early February 2015, Natasha McKenna was killed by six officers in the Fairfax County Jail, in northern Virginia near Washington, DC. McKenna was 37 years old. She was the mother of a 7-year-old daughter. She was living with schizophrenia. She was a diminutive woman, 5 feet 3 inches, 130 pounds. And she was Black. She was killed during a so-called cell extraction, when six deputies tackled her and took care of business.

This is the cruel and usual treatment of women in U.S. jails, across the country. There is no mystery here. There is no mystery concerning what happened to Sandra Bland. Hers was a death foretold. #SayHerName I can’t even hear.

 

(Photo Credit: Facebook) (Video Credit: YouTube)