Our Gulag

Long before Guantánamo, the United States had its own domestic prisoner-abuse problem. The high rate of incarceration in county jails, and in state and federal prisons, coupled with a general lack of public awareness, makes such abuse almost inevitable.

Take a case I am familiar with, that of twenty-one-year-old Timothy Joe Souders of Adrian, Michigan. He died in an isolation cell in the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility at Jackson on August 6, 2006. Souders was mentally ill, and spent the last four days of his life naked and shackled to his bed in a four-point restraint. An autopsy, released last November thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union, listed the cause of death as an accident resulting from hyperthermia and dehydration.* Partly because of this case, Federal District Court Judge Richard Enslen ruled that medical care at the facility—whose Web site describes it as housing inmates with “specific needs,” including medical needs—was deficient, and he placed Southern Michigan Correctional Facility under federal supervision.

Timothy Souders arrived at the facility after being sentenced to two to four years for attempted robbery. According to the local paper, he was carrying a knife when the police approached him. Souders walked toward them and called out, “Go ahead, kill me.” After being put in jail, Souders tried to commit suicide, using another knife he had managed to...

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About the Author

Lois Spear, OP, has worked in prison ministry for many years. She is the author of God Is with You: Prayers for Men in Prison (St. Anthony Messenger Press).