Epstein Case Highlights Widespread Issue

I am going to state up front that I believe Jeffrey Epstein was murdered. There are now reports of yelling coming from his jail cell just before his time of death. He had too much dirt on too many powerful people.

However, I expect as much truth to be revealed on this as I expect the truth to be revealed in Seth Rich’s murder. It is very possible the same people at some level were involved in both deaths.

Be all that as it may, this highlights a widespread problem in our jail and prison system. The inadequate access to mental health care in our incarceration facilities and inadequate quality of care in those facilities.

In 2016, there were 372 suicides in local jails across the US. In 2014 there were 4371 reported suicides in state and federal prisons. Those are only the successful suicides, not the number of attempts.

Keep in mind that most of these people who took their own lives were not rich, were not famous and did not have access to the kind of legal representation that Epstein had.

We know Epstein was guilty and flaunted it. “Lolita Express” was not some nickname ascribed to his jet by the media, it is the ACTUAL name which HE had painted on his private jet. He even kept the name on the jet after suspicions and legal charges arose. Any innocent human being would have asked themselves what such a name looked like in the first place and definitely removed it in the face of such criminal charges.

That said, being incarcerated is a highly stressful, life-altering, life destroying event for many. This is even more true for those who are incarcerated while innocent yet see no way they will be exonerated. Others fear the violence in jail and prison. Still more are subjected to rape and torture. Most incarcerated long term lose everything, their jobs, careers, professional licenses, homes, vehicles, savings, spouses and children. Just the very realistic threat of such loss can drive those prone to depression (like many arrested for drug use) over the edge into suicide.

As a prison nurse myself, I ca attest that we have inmates on suicide watch on a daily basis. Some are trying to avoid debts they owe and cannot pay to other inmates. For good reason because the threats they face are very real. Others are genuinely suicidal. The reason doesn’t matter. I have had inmates who said they would rather take their own lives than have someone else kill them. There are gang wars and race wars in jails and prisons.

Yes, there are dirty officers who bring drugs into the prisons and are part and parcel of the violent conditions. They won’t get their hands dirty, they pay someone else to do the dirty work and then turn their back for a few minutes. All it takes to be a target is saying the wrong word to one of these officers, being “disrespectful” and your life is over. Who does an inmate tell but another officer. who may be in league with the one reported? Did you think this was all drama on TV and movies?

I agree, some people belong in prison. I deal with them face to face, so it’s not some abstract concept to me. Others not so much. Do non-violent offenders incarcerated for drug possession deserve to be in such conditions? What if the person is not even guilty? We see reports continuously of police planting evidence on innocent people.

No matter whether a person is incarcerated for justifiable reasons or not, what does it say about our system, our society when those facing emotional crises are not kept safe? When someone is supposed to be on suicide watch yet not watched? When counseling consists of a few seconds of questions a day by an apathetic worker who doesn’t want to be bothered? Could you merely accept these conditions if it were someone in your family?

Even the conditions for inmates on suicide watch, while rational and necessary, are highly undignified. All their clothes and shoes are taken away. They are given a padded smock and a bare mattress and placed in an isolation cell with concrete walls and floor which can sometimes be very cold. Isolation. Just what you need when you feel emotionally isolated.

What does it take to be removed from suicide watch? Just say you are no longer suicidal. Seriously, that’s it. Many inmates commit suicide immediately after being removed from suicide watch.

I suspect the actual suicide rate to be much higher than reported. The most common methods for an official suicide pronouncement is wrist cutting or hanging. Others may obtain drugs and intentionally overdose. Others may start a fight which they intend to lose with the most violent inmate. These are not reported as suicides.

Our prisons have been overrun with people with chronic mental illness increasingly for decades. Meanwhile, mental illness is on the rise due to the general conditions in our society. Treatment is poor and focuses on prescribing pills with little therapy, if any. That’s not only true for inmates but as a whole. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide has been on the rise for years. In 2017 (last reported year), there were 1.5 million suicide attempts and 47,173 suicides. Suicides cost the US an estimated $69 billion. Yet that is only direct cost which does not include the human cost on those left behind, years of therapy for survivors, etc.

You can have your conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death and I will agree with some of them. I have my suspicions. Even if he did commit suicide, in the process he victimized his victims even more by denying them the chance to confront him.

Otherwise, we need to use this as an issue to raise awareness of the very real problems we have in our society. With how our citizens, including our inmates are treated when faced with depression. Whether you like it or not, inmates are members of our society. We would likely have fewer inmates if we lived in a society that cared more about each other than the “cost” of caring. In other words, not caring costs us far more than caring would.

As a final note, I will state that this is not an abstract issue for me. I attempted suicide three times when I was young. They were very real attempts, not attention seeking stunts. Somehow they failed and I was lucky, though did not feel that way at the time. Karma? Fate? Fucked up body chemistry? Who knows? Personally, I am no longer at risk. I could have easily become a prison inmate, considering my upbringing. In which case, I would not be writing this. I would not be a nurse, my daughter would not have been born, I would not have saved the thousands of lives I have saved. Each life has potential value in some way. We need to recognize this.