I suppose I spent the Memorial Day Weekend much as many people did. I mostly did yard work, planting flowers and cleaning up the detritus that gathers in a yard over a winter. I talked with neighbors who were walking their dogs or pushing a stroller with a studious little face peeking out from its depths, sometimes perturbed by the big dog barking behind the screen door, and sometimes wanting to crawl out to go join the dog.
I also chatted with my departed Papa, it being Memorial Day Weekend and he having served in WWII. He made it through the blitz in London and the liberation of Paris in one piece, and spent the next five decades raising a family and making more difference in more people’s lives than most of us could imagine. George Bailey had nothing on him.
I was also thinking about someone for whom no day or weekend was made to honor.
I come across a lot of information as I gather material for this blog that I simply don’t have time to post, given the need for a regular income and an occasional full night of sleep. There’s one story I located the end of last week that I planned to post over the weekend, but I wasn’t able to figure out how to do justice to it. I have finally realized there is no way to do justice to it—or more importantly, to the young woman whose story it is. We can’t humanly do justice to Ashley Smith, who died at age 19 in a Canadian prison.
Where things went wrong or Ashley was when she was incarcerated at age 16 for throwing crab apples at a postal worker. While in prison she acted out—not surprising for a 16-year-old who’s been imprisoned for throwing crab apples—and wound up with a 6 year sentence.
According to various reports, all available online, she struggled with mental and emotional instability, and who among us at that age wouldn’t, in those circumstances? But for some reason or reasons known only to God, prison guards who saw on a prison monitor that she had “tied something around her neck” in a “segregated” cell didn’t think there was any reason to check on her. She died of asphyxiation.
There were clear rules, regulations, and protocols.
Not just one, or even two, guards failed to follow them.
Three guards and one supervisor were fired.
How do four responsible adults fail to follow protocol with a teenager who has a long history of instability?
Moreover, where were the mental health people? How did Ashley wind up spending so much time in segregation? How could anyone have imagined that wouldn’t have contributed to her instability? How could anyone have thought a 19 year old in those circumstances might not want to kill herself?
I wasn’t there, and with even the most well-adjusted teenagers, there are times every responsible adult around them has thoughts of throttling them, so I’m not faulting anyone for what they may have thought of Ashley’s behavior, or how they may have felt toward her. But thinking and feeling are one thing, and acting is quite another. In Ashley’s case, there were many people who did not act according to the protocols issued to them.
Sometimes bureaucrats succeed even where bureaucracy fails. In Ashley’s case, it was both bureaucracy and bureaucrats who failed her.
In memory of Ashley Smith. Peace.