Yet Another Heartbreaking Inmate Death

posted by Crane-Station. cross-posted at MyFDL, Firedoglake (Over Easy)

In a report titled Kentucky Inmate Starves to Death, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Monday that James Kenneth Embry, age 57, died of starvation at the state penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky, on January 16, 2014. There is an additional report with a timeline of events. The story is both shocking and heartbreaking and begs the question: How many more may there have been that we do not know about?

Kentucky State Penitentiary

Kentucky State Penitentiary complex in Eddyville, Kentucky, United States

Had the AP not acted on a tip and filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the autopsy report and other documents, the public would not have known what happened. Egregious and horrific events like this are not supposed to happen in this country and without documentation no one would believe it. Indeed, this is the sort of story that a researcher might come across in a history book, or in PubMed, describing famine in a country experiencing conflict in combination with limited resources.

There is a common misconception about incarceration, that inmates have access to all of the best medical care in America, the best free food, warm, cozy comfortable beds to sleep in, really awesome dental care, totally amazing, free university education as well as a collection of graduate degrees, and a whole host of other cool amenities. All are false.

Dental care is nonexistent in the jails, where the vast majority of Kentucky nonviolent drug offenders serve their sentences. In prison, dental care consists of a counting of the teeth, or a pulling of all of the teeth. All educational materials are specifically banned in the many of the jails, and the only reading material allowed is certain types of religious material. In prison, there is vocational school; any education expenses beyond that come directly off the inmate’s books. Medications are all automatically stopped at arrest. One must move mountains to get any sort of mental health medications whatsoever. This often involves a gatekeeper process that many of the mentally ill simply cannot navigate.

It does not make sense that a mentally ill individual stressed by the harsh environment of jail or prison must act as one’s own medical advocate, leaping through hoop after hoop after hoop, begging for help, begging for medications, just begging…but that is how it is. Things spiral out of control, and often, the more the mentally ill inmate cries, yells, bangs his head, or spreads feces on the wall, the harsher he is punished. Inevitably comes “suicide watch.” Suicide watch is a euphemism for the hole, as is “medical watch.” These are punishment cells.

In other words, the caged mentally ill in America are not receiving any sort of adequate medical care. They are in many cases not receiving any medical care at all. Rather, they are being punished for a condition that they did not choose to have, and then, they are being blamed for it later on. For example, the Kentucky Medical Examiner listed “suicide” as the cause of death in James Kenneth Embry’s case, according to the AP report (please. see link). Mr. Embry was 6 feet tall, and he weighed 136 pounds.

For today’s post, you must refer to the references:

Kentucky Inmate Starves to Death LOUISVILLE, Ky. April 21, 2014 (AP) By BRETT BARROUQUERE Associated Press
(note- Many papers carried the AP story, including the Louisville Courier-Journal.)

NATIONAL NEWS Timeline of events in fatal prison hunger strike April 21 The Associated Press

Kentucky prison doctor fired after inmate starves to death Published time: April 22, 2014

Off-topic and unrelated:

BREAKING: The Georgia Legislature has passed a bill that the governor will sign into law, effective July, making this the official state bottle opener.

Georgia Governor To Sign ‘Unprecedented’ Gun Bill

And, as always, our Beloved Decorah Eagles!

Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

21 Responses to Yet Another Heartbreaking Inmate Death

  1. J4TMinATL says:

    Thanks for covering the ridiculous Georgia gun bill signed on Wednesday. I appreciate it. I agree with Fred’s comment on the post where I asked if y’all would mention it on a blog post.

    • masonblue says:

      CS here. Thank you for your reply! It is a great idea for a separate post. To tell you the truth, I do not know all of the details of it, so I only put a link. It is worth a more in-depth look, and I will ask Fred to look at it, much appreciated.

  2. gblock says:

    Some time back, I read an article in the LA Times about the medication issue as it exists in the very overcrowded California prisons. As with Kentucky, prisoners are not permitted to take their medications to prison with them. The same or a comparable medication must be prescribed by a prison doctor. But because of backlogs, it can often take 2-3 months to see a prison doctor to get a prescription. This is a serious problem for prisoners with chronic conditions like diabetes or glaucoma, where there can be serious medical danger in being off of medication for that length of time.

    • masonblue says:

      C-S here, thank you gblock, excellent point. Also notable- the Bureau of Prisons formulary ie, the approved list of medications is not the same as what is available on the outside. This is especially true for mental health medications.

      I am going to now use the term “grand mal” seizure even though I am aware it is outdated. These seizures are so common on Kentucky prison grounds that inmates literally walk around the person. Always, another inmate responds, and holds the seizing inmate, turning her to her side. This is a serious condition, and Kentucky’s idea of treatment is apparently 1) no treatment or 2) see upthread, strap the inmate in leather restraints in a tilted back metal chair, and pepper spray at close range during the seizure, killing the inmate.

  3. crazy1946 says:

    Crane-Station: Yet another great article to expose the underbelly of our criminal (non) Justice system… You and the professor have offered more insight into the inner workings of the system than a person could have acquired in many years searching on their own. For this (if for no other reason) you guys are to be commended for you dedication to justice for all people! May your lives be filled with blessed moments. As for me, all good things must eventually come to an end, and the time for me to more or less retire from posting on this and other blogs before I offend too many more people.. Keep on keepin on….

  4. bettykath says:

    The fired doctor says he was targeted b/c of his 160,000+ salary. That may be but he also says he never even saw the man. That, in itself, is incriminating. Embry’s condition was brought to his attention more than once and he signed off on paperwork. I used incriminating b/c I think the dr. should be charged, not just lose his job.

  5. lady2soothe says:

    It’s not the first time this doctors work has been called into question. The doctor has been sued in federal court 103 times since 1992 by inmates and their attorneys.

    A nurse checked on Embry on Jan. 4, finding him weak and shaky, and advised him to resume eating. Embry responded that it had been too long for him to start taking food again. Nine days later, on the very day he died, an advanced practice registered nurse named Bob Wilkinson refused a request from other medical staffers to move him to the infirmary at 11:51 a.m. and said the inmate should be taken off a hunger strike watch, according to the internal investigative report. Guards found Embry unresponsive in his cell hours later, his head slumped to the side. He was pronounced dead at 5:29 p.m.

    On Jan. 16, three days after Embry’s death, Steve Hiland, the lead physician at the maximum-security prison, signed off on a nurse’s note about Embry consistently refusing food and being taken off of the hunger strike watch because he drank tea. During the internal investigation, Hiland said he believed a hunger strike consisted of missing “six or eight meals” and ended when the inmate ate or drank anything at all.

  6. Two sides to a story says:

    This is a topic I could write about all day long, but suffice it to say that Americans should be deeply ashamed of their prison systems and alarmed by the numbers of innocent people, overcharged people, and mentally ill people who land there.

  7. racerrodig says:

    Maybe the Gov. of Ga will pass a law making the bottle opener the official “hat removal tool” as well. The new gun law article has to be a joke of some sort. So if Rev. / Pastor / Father / Rabbi John says something about gun nut Jack, it’s pistols at pulpit paces ??

    • CS here. ROFLOL, racerrodig!

      I know, huh…I am not actually into gun control. But, I don’t believe in pimping them either. For example, I thought it was already legal, actually to carry, in a bar. It’s kind of a terrible idea to encourage mixing alcohol and guns though, having worked in trauma ICU, I can say that the two don’t mix all that well. It was good when they made the glass in beer bottles radiopaque, so it shows up on xray. No kidding!

    • The Georgia legislature has turned into a non-stop Onion parody.

  8. Trained Observer says:

    OFF TOPIC: Michael Dunn trial de layed until June ….

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