A Mother's Nightmare - Her Son Was Killed by FL Department of Correction's Indifference and Medical Neglect
I am a mother whose life was shattered on March 3, 2015.
There are two dates in my life that are the most important to me. In 1981, my first son was born. He is white, well educated and is now a professional living with his family in California. In 1996, my husband and I officially adopted my second son. Hanuman was black and died at the hands of a system that did not care if he lived or died. At the time of his death, he was 21 years old and incarcerated in the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC).
Hanuman was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, when he was 17. He had previously been diagnosed with cognitive disabilities which were exacerbated by the lupus and the medications to treat it. In his teenage years, Hanuman committed several felony-worthy crimes with friends, and via the popular plea bargaining system, he was named, arrested and charged with burglary some months later. We asked the sentencing judge and prosecutor to consider Hanuman’s mitigating circumstances, asking for several alternatives to incarceration, but to no avail. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. Once incarcerated, I made every legal attempt to draw the DOC’s attention to his medical needs and to get them met. His outside doctor and I wrote many letters to inform the prison doctors of the medical regimens that would be necessary to keep his lupus under control. I was terrified of what could happen to Hanuman in prison without the right medical care. My nightmares came true. He died only 11 months into his sentence.
Hanuman was not given the appropriate medications while in prison, and he became very ill with weakness, cough, fever, loss of appetite and vomiting. At one point, he requested to go to the medical unit. He was seen by a nurse (the doctor refused to see him), given an aspirin and cough drops and sent back into general population. Several days later, a medical emergency was called and he was taken to the prison infirmary. Finally, he was transported to a local hospital where he was admitted in serious condition with seizures, renal failure, influenza and an exacerbation of his lupus.
When in the hospital, my husband and I were granted 1 hour to visit our son. When I saw Hanuman I knew how sick he was. He lay in the hospital bed, shackled, barely able to walk. I wanted the medical staff that was treating him to know his extensive medical background so they could better care for him, which was welcomed by the doctor in charge of Hanuman’s care. In reports made later by Corrections personnel, I was accused of being abusive to the hospital staff and threatened to be escorted off hospital grounds by security. I felt I was not being treated with the same decency as any other worried mother simply because my son had been labeled a criminal.
Upon discharge from the hospital, Hanuman was shackled sitting upright in the back of a prison van to be transported to a medical prison 4 hours away. There were no medical personnel assigned to attend to him during the transport, nor did the guards ever check on him during the ride. He was dead when they opened the door upon arrival at the prison. What happened in the back of that van and his cause of death are still unknown, but it does not appear that he died from natural causes. I paid for a private autopsy, and the preliminary report showed bruises which indicate that he was struggling at the end of his life. An excerpt written by hospital staff, quoted from a hospital record, states:
“… the pt [patient] began yelling during transport at which time the guards demanded that he calm down, but never physically checked on the pt. When they arrived at the facility they noted the pt had expired.”
This is the criminal justice system under which we live today.
I have taken care of Hanuman since he was 13 months old. What I didn’t know then was that I would be thrust into a world of inhumanity unbeknownst to me. I didn’t know that I would be spending the rest of my life fighting for social reform because I had a child who had problems and that his problems would become my problems because I loved him and believed in a just world. I don’t claim that Hanuman didn’t do things that I consider wrong or that he shouldn’t have been held responsible for the wrongs that he did. However, I am upholding that he was a human being who needed to be treated with respect and dignity and he was not. He died after being in the hands of the Florida DOC after only 11 months as a result of medical neglect and inhumane care.
I am pursuing legal action against the Department of Corrections / any and all parties that were responsible for Hanuman’s care while he was incarcerated. I’m pursuing action for possible medical negligence, wrongful death and violations of civil rights. Although an autopsy was performed by the local medical examiner’s office, I hired a private pathologist to perform a second autopsy because I could not trust that an honest and thorough autopsy would be done on someone labeled a criminal. Hanuman’s cause of death cannot be determined until we get his medical records released from the DOC. They are now stonewalling, putting up legal barriers to prevent my lawyer from obtaining these records. We are continuing to fight for them.
Hanuman is not the only victim. Inmate deaths have been increasing in Florida prisons. Since 2014, there have been 444 deaths in the DOC. Investigative reports show that many are due to medical negligence and abuse, though for more than half of those 444 deaths, the cause of death is still pending, and many are under criminal investigation. The agency that investigates these deaths, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is under fire for their inability to conduct thorough and timely investigations. The DOC is also riddled with cover-ups and inept at providing information like medical records to investigators, families and attorneys. It begs the question: Will justice ever be served?
Hanuman was described by many as the one person who was always there when you needed him. I have suffered his loss, and my heart is broken. I mourn for him every day, and I can’t believe that I will never hold him in my arms again or see his smile. I want to know how and why he died and to hold people responsible for their neglect and lack of human decency.
I am not alone in my fight for justice. I am not alone in my pain and anger. I join hands with those who have lost loved ones to police brutality and to the inept and brutal culture of the criminal justice system in the United States. I stand with those who are dedicated to end mass incarceration, with those who believe black lives matter and with all those who believe in civil rights for all people. I will not rest until I get answers and see changes. In Hanuman’s honor, I will persevere.