Two weeks ago one of the young people I advocate for was arrested. While he was being processed at the jailhouse he was asked a series of routine questions, one of which is: “Have you ever considered harming yourself?” I wasn’t there so the question might have been: “Have you ever considered suicide.”
When asked this question, this young African man, the survivor of a vicious civil war, torture and abduction, thought best to answer truthfully: “Yes.”
They stripped him of his clothing and put him naked in a cell with no bed, sheets, or blankets. He told me this after his release on bail the next day when I asked him why it was that he’d been unable to sleep the night before.
My colleagues in the Criminal Justice field told me he actually ‘got off easy.’ “In most cases they put you in a padded room with nothing, strip you completely, then chain your arms and legs to the bed so you can’t bang you head against the wall.” If someone were to kill themselves while in their custody, the Sheriff’s office would have a huge lawsuit on their hands, an outcry, senate hearings, investigations.
I imagine that limited resources and the burdens on law enforcement at this stage of the game render this risk-management policy sensible. I have learned over the years that as hard as it might seem, we need to have empathy for everyone. Not in their shoes, I can’t be sure as to how this policy and practice represents the best efforts of our justice system to keep an arrested individual (not yet arraigned let alone tried or convicted) safe.
As I tossed and turned with this predicament on my mind, and a historic retrospective slideshow of the previously shackled looped through my visual cortex, I managed somehow to fall asleep. Upon waking, I was surprised by the sound of my own voice uttering into the great void of my bedroom: “You can send a man to the moon?”
Something I hadn’t considered since 1969.