Exactly one week before Bourgeois killed himself at Walpole, convicted murderer Eduardo Soto hung himself by a bed sheet at OCCC, while six months earlier inmate Steven Koumaris took a razor to his femoral artery and neck after repeated complaints of officer abuse went unanswered. More recently, in March of this year, OCCC inmate Michael Caputo suffocated himself with a plastic bag. The same month, John Pappargeris — who had alleged to advocate attorneys that he was denied his anti-psychotic medication — hung himself in an OCCC mental-health unit. His case remains open.
The Bitch Boards provide an enlightening look into how certain officers feel about mentally ill inmates, and particularly those who hurt themselves. One thread, on a board addressed to all DOC officers, reads: "You might have been in corrections too long if . . . You have contemplated holding a seminar titled 'Suicide — Getting It Right the First Time.' " On the OCCC-specific board, a post from last month asked: "Just who had the idea that moving all these brains full of mush into one prison would work out? Can't wait till [sic] a dozen or more cut up at the same time."
The man who led the charge in transferring mentally ill patients to OCCC is Commissioner Clarke — the same administrator who the DOC claims is not aware of racial tensions at Old Colony. Reformers, including inmate-turned-advocate Dellelo, say Clarke is not interested in reducing recidivism rates. Clarke is president of the American Correctional Association, a national trade organization. He is heavily criticized for spending significant time traveling outside of Massachusetts, for his history of double-bunking maximum-risk prisoners, and, most of all, for failing to institute meaningful re-entry programs. In the 2011 DOC budget, only one percent of expenditures will go toward job training and rehabilitation.
"When you put people behind the wall, and you don't teach them how to socialize in a positive way, there are going to be problems," says Dellelo. "You have to rehabilitate the prisoners or else it's just going to be more of the status quo."
Adds Darrin Howell, a longtime volunteer at OCCC and candidate for state representative in the Sixth Suffolk District: "If we're serious about public safety and about reducing violence and recidivism in our communities, we need to come together. [Re-entry] initiatives play an important role in this dialogue and healing process because they bring together community leaders, victims, as well as perpetrators to speak out against violence in one collective voice."
Not everyone is so dismissive of the effort underway at OCCC. A source who still works with the department, and has worked with mentally ill convicts at Old Colony, says the DOC is making its best effort under the circumstances, and that it's unrealistic to think that any prison can be re-wired overnight: "You can't fire everybody," she says. "That's not a fault of the department — that's just how it is. You just have to force it — that's why change happens slowly."
The inmates tell a different story. "If you bring those mentally ill inmates here they will not be safe," says Jones, who is now incarcerated at MCI-Norfolk. "They will be abused mentally and physically, and they will not be carefully watched over. I'm calling for an investigation before they bring any of those mentally ill inmates here. It's time for them to look at what's going on."
Chris Faraone can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.