Today’s Times-Picayune reports that the ACLU is looking into deaths at Orleans Parish Prison. Near the end of the article it reads: Gusman emphasized that Miceli, who stopped breathing less than five hours after she was put into the restraints, didn’t die at the jail but at University Hospital. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital after she was resuscitated by jail medical staff.
“She was revived,” Gusman said. “She didn’t die here.”
It’s just as I noted in my original post, hardly anyone “officially” dies in jail. Except this time, the facts are even more horrible. Cayne Miceli, a severe asthmatic for years, was restrained flat on her back with a heavy strap across her torso FOR MORE THAN FOUR HOURS! Sheriff Gusman said it himself.
Orleans Parish Prison is a torture chamber. It violates basic human rights and international laws regarding detainees. It must be held accountable. Nobody is safe. Going to jail for a municipal charge, without arraignment, can result in a death sentence with no judge, no jury, no indictment and no mercy.
I am ashamed of my city right now.
The family is holding a Catholic Mass in remembrance of Cayne on Saturday, Jan 24 at 10AM at Our Lady of the Gulf in Gulf Shores, AL where Cayne spent her childhood. Friends are planning other events and memorials as well. Information can be found first at the Yahoo group dedicated to Cayne.
With those poorly phrased words in Wednesday’s Times-Picayune, Sheriff Marlin Gusman rationalized Orleans Parish Prison’s mishandling of asthmatics like Cayne Miceli and others whose medical conditions are obviously beyond the scope of OPP’s capabilities for humane and legal treatment.
And with the death of yet another holding cell inmate this week, the spotlight only got brighter. However, no matter how revealing the coming days may be, the fact that OPP violates human rights in its treatment of those remanded to its care, and the consequent deaths and permanent disabilities caused by this public institution, make us taxpayers all participants in these cases of injustice. With each death and each abuse, we too, bear blame for our failure to demand that our public servants and institutions do their jobs better.
But OPP is not the only institution we need to demand be held accountable. Hospital Corporation of America/Tulane Medical Center’s responsibility to care for patients who receive drugs administered by its staff is paramount. Cayne knew prednisone could have serious side effects. In fact, prednisone’s potential for psychosis is widely known. Cayne’s reaction was hardly rare. Medical personnel on duty that night should have recognized the fruits of their labor–and it remains to be learned whether they were given the chance. Instead, someone reacted in an improper manner and then passed their duty to the police.
Then, Orleans Parish Prison killed Cayne Miceli. There are no other words to describe it.
Nevertheless, the painful fact remains: our dear, magical, sweet, spiritual, compassionate friend was basically tortured to death in OUR jail, by OUR employees.
Marlin Gusman’s statement seems to lack compassion and rubs salt into the wounds of family and friends. And he is reacting predictably. But OPP has blood on its hands, extracted in a cruel, inhumane manner for which OPP and the people in charge of Cayne Miceli bear culpability, liability and responsibility.
If this is “maybe the best medical care” OPP has to offer, all I can say is “God please help us.” And may God have mercy on their souls.
Yesterday I learned that while my partner Grasshopper lay in bed reading, while Maj. Elder of the 3rd Dist NOPD addressed our neighborhood association, while I sat in Israeilite Baptist Church helping with a presentation for the AgCenter (and a funeral for a murdered 18 year old took place mere feet away), one of our neighbors, a petite 80+ year old woman, was brutalized when from a moving car, thieves snatched her purse, dragging her screaming to the ground for at least 10 feet and injuring her severely. Her husband, a WWll vet, witnessed the event. In his own state of shock, he put her in his car and drove to his son’s house in Metairie and then they took her–with 2 broken legs and internal bleeding–to East Jefferson Hospital. As of today, I don’t know if she’s going to live. This happened on the side of my house at 11AM Saturday morning on a short, narrow street that only runs for 2 blocks between Trafalgar and Castiglione by the Fairgrounds, where construction workers are on the job 7 days a week rebuilding Langston Hughes Elementary.
The Wades are a beautiful couple. They are gentle souls who, like our friend Cayne Miceli, didn’t deserve to have their lives ruined–or the hands of death visit–like this.
Of course this week has also been marred by a son who stabbed and killed his 72 year old mother for drug money.
Did someone change the signs on the edge of town to Hell?
I am numb.
UPDATED 1/10/09: Note: When I originally wrote this, many facts were unclear. Now that more information is available, I have re-written parts of this piece to reflect more accurately the chain of events and overarching realities that have come to light. This being a blog and not a printed publication, it is a living document and one that can be improved and edited to improve its veracity. I hope that’s what I’m doing. Regardless, I cannot possibly capture all the truths at work here. Suffice to say, Cayne turned to the system for help and it killed her.
Update: Jan 13, 2009-Shoeless Eric was with the family at Cayne’s bedside when the decision was made to remove her from life support. He’s created a moderated group site where you can find more information about what happened and what is going to happen: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/caynemiceli
Here is Cayne’s MySpace page, updated on the day she sought medical treatment.
Update Jan 14, 2009: Karen Dalton-Beninato’s blog on Huffington Post today is about Cayne. It’s a beautiful piece and features a piece Cayne wrote.
The lack of psychiatric beds, health care resources and basic human rights in New Orleans produced yet another tragedy. After being treated at Tulane Medical Center with a powerful steroid, prednisone, for her severe asthma, my friend Cayne Miceli believed she was having an adverse reaction to the drug. She sought to be re-examined and/or admitted and was turned away because the hospital felt it had done its job, and because she had no insurance. Unable to contain her frustration, her emotional state aggravated by the steroids, she flew into a rage and was taken away to jail. She allegedly attempted suicide and was put into 5 point restraints, aggravating both her mental state and her ability to breathe. She reacted badly to the restraints and was further subdued by two jail personnel. Subsequently, she “became unresponsive.” Jail staff intubated and “revived” her so that her “actual” death occurred at University Hospital with the decision of her family to remove her from life support. The facts are still unclear and may not be clarified for a while. But one thing is clear: the system failed her.
Cayne was a vivacious but troubled soul. She had a magical quality that connected her deeply to New Orleans. She was a survivor like the rest of us. She was full of life.
Cayne wasn’t afraid to reach out when she needed support. When she sought medical assistance for her asthma, it wasn’t done lightly. She has lived with asthma for many years. Cayne knew she needed help and did the best she could to get it. In Post-Katrina New Orleans, she found no room for her illnesses.
New Orleans without Charity Hospital is a city without compassion. That we continue to have too few psychiatric beds is unacceptable. That we continue to be haggling over the rebuilding of our health care infrastructure is abominable.
New Orleans is a city filled with Cayne Miceli’s, uncounted troubled and traumatized souls who keep things together most of the time. But when their lungs, hearts and minds can take no more, New Orleans provides no shelter, no bosom into which to retreat because Charity Hospital has not been rebuilt.
I now officially join the voices of those opposed to the tearing down of houses to build a new, fantasy hospital. Charity sits unused and ready to be restored while victims, the detainees–die lonely deaths in jail, our default system for handling the mentally troubled.
The people who seek to extend this process because they refuse to fix Charity Hospital have blood on their hands. I will remind them. Then again, maybe we all have blood on our hands these days.
Note: Jan 10, 2009: It’s clearer to me now that health and justice systems are in a dance of death lottery that can start when you say “I need help!” or merely, “I can’t breathe!”
It’s also clear to me that if someone at Tulane had said, “OK, we’ll examine you again,” instead of “call the police,” Cayne would probably still be with us.
Now that we know more about Cayne’s horrible experiences and death, the lack of beds is only part of this problem.
In Post-Katrina New Orleans, we live with layers and layers and layers of problems, of missed opportunities, of disorganization and incompetence that infect the system from within our “rebuilt” homes to the halls of power in Washington DC. I pray we see that improve in 2009.
I also learned that I have a dear friend whose brother suffered gross mistreatment in a local jail. That this isn’t the first asthmatic to die in a local jail. That the last person to die on that torturous medieval restraint system died a medieval torture death: dehydration.
It’s bad enough my country justified torture. Now I know that my community tortures, too.
And I’ve learned that best estimates put those shining new hospitals opening in 2016.
At the current rate of death and disablement happening in area jails, I’m probably going to personally know several more victims before the next seven years pass.
Our jails and prisons are maiming and killing too many people who often haven’t even been arraigned. And now our hospitals can’t recognize the symptoms of the drugs they administer and dump their patients on the police? Suffice to say I find this unacceptable/abusive/you fill-in-the-blank.
We’re losing basic human rights. I hope we’re waking up.
As Cayne so often said when she reached a stopping point in the conversation: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Peace & Love! Peace & Love!”