News from the Inside
Solitary confinement, coercive medication and psychiatric neglect in SCI Cresson suicide: On July 16, Brandon Palakovic committed suicide by hanging himself in his solitary confinement at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cresson in central Pennsylvania, a facility that is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for warehousing mentally ill prisoners in the hole and depriving them of mental health treatment. Information has begun to emerge from prisoners, prison staff, and the family of the late Brandon Palakovic indicating that his death could have been easily prevented.
Prior to being incarcerated, Brandon had been institutionalized for mental health issues on at least four occasions since he was eleven years old. He had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and behavioral and impulse control problems. At times he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, though at other times this diagnosis was rejected. His family related that “Brandon was in several institutions during his adolescence. He only did well in one—the last one. The last one he was in was not a facility where drugs were handed out like candy in order to subdue or neutralize patients. It was a facility where there was structure, counseling and assistance with decisions, discussions regarding consequences and fair treatment of all. Brandon had the same struggles while at this last facility, but they were handled in a consistent manner, with compassion and regard for him as a human being. When he made bad decisions, he knew that someone would sit and talk to him about it and try to help him to make a better decision in the future. Brandon was successful in this type of setting and looked back on his time there positively.”
He had been incarcerated for less than a year and a half at the time of his death, and much of that time had been spent cycling in and out of the solitary confinement units. Staff at SCI
Cresson had been prescribing him the anti-depressant Celexa, according to his parents, despite his not being diagnosed with depression. Suicidal thoughts and impulses are some of the side effects of Celexa documented in clinical studies
After his death, an employee of SCI Cresson’s medical staff told the Palakovic family that four days prior to his death Brandon had refused to take his medication. He was issued a misconduct report for refusal to obey a direct order as a consequence and sent to solitary confinement in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) as punishment. The same staff person also stated that prison documents allege that he was seen by psych staff after this incident, and that he had agreed to take the medication. Whether he was seen by staff or began taking medication again has not been verified.
A report from a prisoner in the RHU stated that Brandon was not taking his medication at the time of his suicide, though whether that was his choice or not was unknown. This report also discussed how Brandon had begun talking to non-existent people in his cell. Other prisoners on the block referred to Brandon by the nickname of “Suicide” according to two prisoner reports.
Speaking to an HRC advocate, Brandon’s family remembered him in the following words: “Brandon was such a funny, talented and intelligent person. So much so that people had a hard time handling him as a child. He wore his babysitters out. He exasperated and infuriated many of his teachers. He did all of the aforementioned to his parents and close family members. But he always made us laugh and he let the world know that he was alive. He never sat still and sleep was his enemy. I’m sure he was afraid that he would miss something exciting if he shut his eyes for more than a second. He had the most beautiful blue eyes you could imagine and the face of an angel. I know all mothers say that, but trust me, he did. He loved to draw and he was very good at it. He made us handmade cards while he was in prison to celebrate holidays and special occasions. He also started to write poetry while in prison and the last time we spoke I told him he was really getting good. His subjects were a bit too dark for my taste, but the writing was real and meaningful. He loved to read murder mysteries and he and I would discuss them when he would call. We both loved James Patterson. His true passion, however, was always computers. He self-taught himself computer programming and could do just about anything he wanted with a computer. His intelligence was off the charts. I only wish that he could have seen all of the things that we saw in him. He was our beloved son, our baby boy and no one could have loved him more than we did. We will miss him terribly.”
The family also had a message to share with others upon the death of their beloved son: “We loved our son, Brandon Palakovic, with all of our hearts. He was a beautiful human being who struggled in some areas in his life. Things that came easy for many were a challenge for him. However, his intelligence was something that many marveled at and something that we hoped would be the key to his success someday. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to see his someday. Our hearts are so sad knowing that Brandon’s last thoughts on this earth were of desperation and hopelessness. If only he could have felt our love for him at that precise moment, maybe he would have changed his mind. We will never know. Although we cannot change what happened in that prison cell on July 16th, we can hopefully impact others and bring to light the neglect and mistreatment that many prisoners are forced to live with. If Brandon’s death can positively impact even one other prisoner’s situation, or help a family to avoid the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, then perhaps we will begin to heal and feel like his death was not in vain.”
Brandon Palakovic is survived by his mother and father, Renee and Darian Palakovic; his brother, Corey; and his sister, Madison. He will be missed.
Native American Prisoner called Racial Slurs by Guard at SCI Frackville: Norman Bradford reports that he was subjected to racial slurs while being purified in a Native American religious ceremony on May 22nd. During a shift change, Officer Connelly and Sergeant Oday walked by the religious ceremony and commented that they were going to make a fake Native American circle to go to the pow-wow, so that they could eat all of their food, have sex with their women, and kick all of their big nose babies. Chaplain Germer, who is the Native American spiritual advisor at the prison, told the guards that she was offended by their comments and they were violating DOC policy and the law.
According to reports, this was not the only time that Officer Connelly has subjected Bradford to racial slurs. After Bradford filed a grievance, Officer Connelly read it and told Bradford that he was going to gut him open and scalp him. He also asked other guards if they were Indian givers in the presence of Bradford. Since then Bradford has been subjected to constant harassment by Officer Connelly, including not allowing him to finish his meals and subjecting him to racial slurs almost daily. Officer Connelly asked Bradford what color Native Americans’ skin is, and then without waiting for a response stated, “fucking red skins.” When it is raining Officer Connelly will make comments such as “I guess you won’t be having a fucking pow-wow today.” SCI Frackville is , not only for the extreme amounts of abuse perpetuated by the guards, but also for having the one of the most corrupt grievance systems. Prisoners report that Grievance Coordinator Damiter rarely does anything to stop the perpetual abuse in Frackville, and has also been known to facilitate it.
Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 7-9 pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
If you’d like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, come to Write On!, to our monthly general meetings (second Wednesday of each month, 5-7pm), or call us at 215-921-3491, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./
Write On! – Letter writing to prisoners and HRC
work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC
/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh, email: email@example.com
or call 412-654-9070.
You’ve been listening to the Human Rights Coalition’s PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
Keep up the fight!