In a report titled Kentucky Inmate Starves to Death, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Monday that James Kenneth Embry, age 57, died of starvation at the state penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky, on January 16, 2014. There is an additional report with a timeline of events. The story is both shocking and heartbreaking and begs the question: How many more may there have been that we do not know about?

Kentucky State Penitentiary

Kentucky State Penitentiary complex in Eddyville, Kentucky, United States

Had the AP not acted on a tip and filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the autopsy report and other documents, the public would not have known what happened. Egregious and horrific events like this are not supposed to happen in this country and without documentation no one would believe it. Indeed, this is the sort of story that a researcher might come across in a history book, or in PubMed, describing famine in a country experiencing conflict in combination with limited resources.

There is a common misconception about incarceration, that inmates have access to all of the best medical care in America, the best free food, warm, cozy comfortable beds to sleep in, really awesome dental care, totally amazing, free university education as well as a collection of graduate degrees, and a whole host of other cool amenities. All are false.

Dental care is nonexistent in the jails, where the vast majority of Kentucky nonviolent drug offenders serve their sentences. In prison, dental care consists of a counting of the teeth, or a pulling of all of the teeth. All educational materials are specifically banned in the many of the jails, and the only reading material allowed is certain types of religious material. In prison, there is vocational school; any education expenses beyond that come directly off the inmate’s books. Medications are all automatically stopped at arrest. One must move mountains to get any sort of mental health medications whatsoever. This often involves a gatekeeper process that many of the mentally ill simply cannot navigate.

It does not make sense that a mentally ill individual stressed by the harsh environment of jail or prison must act as one’s own medical advocate, leaping through hoop after hoop after hoop, begging for help, begging for medications, just begging…but that is how it is. Things spiral out of control, and often, the more the mentally ill inmate cries, yells, bangs his head, or spreads feces on the wall, the harsher he is punished. Inevitably comes “suicide watch.” Suicide watch is a euphemism for the hole, as is “medical watch.” These are punishment cells.

In other words, the caged mentally ill in America are not receiving any sort of adequate medical care. They are in many cases not receiving any medical care at all. Rather, they are being punished for a condition that they did not choose to have, and then, they are being blamed for it later on. For example, the Kentucky Medical Examiner listed “suicide” as the cause of death in James Kenneth Embry’s case, according to the AP report (please. see link). Mr. Embry was 6 feet tall, and he weighed 136 pounds.

For today’s post, you must refer to the references:

Kentucky Inmate Starves to Death LOUISVILLE, Ky. April 21, 2014 (AP) By BRETT BARROUQUERE Associated Press
(note- Many papers carried the AP story, including the Louisville Courier-Journal.)

NATIONAL NEWS Timeline of events in fatal prison hunger strike April 21 The Associated Press

Kentucky prison doctor fired after inmate starves to death Published time: April 22, 2014

Off-topic and unrelated:

BREAKING: The Georgia Legislature has passed a bill that the governor will sign into law, effective July, making this the official state bottle opener.

Georgia Governor To Sign ‘Unprecedented’ Gun Bill

And, as always, our Beloved Decorah Eagles!

Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.