Deputy commissioner Lord's attitude was "very frustrating," she said — there should always be a public explanation for a prisoner's death under unusual circumstances. "Unless we had kept pushing," Garvey said, "an investigation into Mr. Valdez's death would never have taken place." She found the lack of an official examination of Valdez's body "beyond comprehension."
Former prison chaplain Stan Moody, of Manchester, who also is a member of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, has a similar view.
"There's a shroud of secrecy" over the prison, he said, and it's especially heavy over the supermax. "They're not accountable," he said of Corrections officials. "They're defensive with the public. They don't see taxpayers as their boss."
When there's a death like Valdez's or Sheldon Weinstein's, Moody added, the prison's attitude is: "If we can stall it as long as possible" — stall in getting out information — "the public will no longer be interested."
Moody, who is a former state legislator, also was gloomy about what he described as the public's lack of interest in prison issues: "The public believes it is safer with prisoners locked up" in the prisons, but with the harsh treatment of inmates and almost no rehabilitation efforts, he said, prisons actually are machines for making the public unsafe. He held out some hope, though, that a new governor and new corrections commissioner would institute reforms.
Garvey said one action that would discourage the mistreatment of prisoners was "opening up the doors to reporters."
Lance Tapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.