These days, I awaken each morning with heaviness in my heart, wondering what will happen next and whose lives will be forever devastated. Will it be the woman who moved here from Washington to be close to her husband? Will it be the children I watched play and color at the Family Connection Hospitality House? Will it be me?
This is not simply an anxiety disorder or episode in the diagnostic and treatment sense of a psychiatrist's patient. Rather, it is a fact of life for myself, and far too many other women, children, and entire families. The men we love - husbands, fathers, brothers, sons - are at high risk for sudden, unexpected death by what is usually explained away as "suicide." Perhaps they committed the final act themselves, but what precluded this final lonely, desperate act of self-murder? Did anyone see it coming? Did anyone care? The last question is often answered: "Not really."
Priding ourselves on our generosity, compassion, and democracy, we live in a country where these men are almost instantly invalidated by the general public. Their worth as loving, feeling human beings dismissed. Their families are arguably the most invisible, ignored, and under-represented group in our population. Our men are inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, and we're wondering who will be next. In other circumstances, I would never give a thought that my husband could or would "hang it up." Never. Even in his current situation I feel and know his strength and hope for what the future holds. Tragically, I can also tell you that the families of the men who have so recently lost their lives in the prison would also tell you their loved ones were not expected to leave prison in this way. So what happened?
Inmates and their families have many questions, and we rarely get any answers. Those of us who question, investigate, respectfully assert ourselves are often given the run around or ignored by those who should respond. If we are following posted procedure and someone with a uniform there tells us differently, we are immediately in danger of violating policy if we do what the person says, and penalized if we point out their error. If we follow procedure and policy, those which we're "allowed" to know, and it doesn't suit the interpretation of whomever it affects, then policy is rewritten or obscurely revised to back up their position. Requests for information or help to interpret policy often go completely unacknowledged. Ask too many questions, or request accountability for actions, and you could be denied visiting privileges on the grounds you are a threat to prison security. If you are an inmate, you will lose ALL "privileges," such as they are, and find yourself in "The Hole." In penning these feelings, I could be risking my and my family's privileges. Who knows what kind of repercussions my husband will encounter as a result of these words? The fear and silence is the power that allows the status quo.
The Inmate Family Alliance was formed as an advocacy group to help give a collective voice to those who have felt powerless to stand alone - inmates, families, concerned groups. There is no official ombudsperson or advocate for the inmates or their families to speak with. With no accreditation organization to administer a system of checks and balances within the walls, and with trust in the department's own system at an all time low, the inmates and their families MUST have a watchdog organization to ensure they have a voice, and that "someone" is taking notes. As taxpayers, perhaps the families can get the recognition, respect, and answers from those who seem to have forgotten who funds their paychecks. Our men are convicted, sentenced, and serving their punishment. They aren't forgotten. They aren't a sub-human group of beings. Their families and friends serve the same amount of time on the outside of the walls. We want to know what is wrong up there at the penitentiary that is causing South Dakota to race back to the top as leader of the "per capita inmate suicide" list. Those of us who are family members of inmates are tired of wondering "Who's next?" We want to know "Why?" We feel the public should know, too.
Although I feel deep anguish and bitterness toward the way our warden runs the South Dakota State Prison , I must speak out about the very sad death of a fellow convict, who recently hung himself.
If some could only fathom the years of suffering a person goes through in prison, they may understand that though it's prison and we're all here for a reason , we are human.
We must remember we live in a world where good behavior is not always rewarded and bad behavior is not always punished. We see prisoners that are suffering and say "that's wrong." And it is. But twisted justice (rules) our world, unpredictable and ugly.
To the family and friends of Mr. Masters, I say: We prisoners of the state give our respects and apology for your loss , We can only be grateful that he's now in a better place.
People in Protest
04/05/01 04:32:24 PM
Sept 11, 2001
"Our prayers are with all those who have been injured and the families who have lost loved ones "
The artwork of Robert Eagleman.
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