The Journal of History     Summer 2008    TABLE OF CONTENTS


"Suicides" in Prisons

Open Letter to Pennsylvania State Senator Jay Costa

By Sherry Swiney
February 19, 2008

Dear Senator Jay Costa,

I have a question to ask you. If your son were found dead and you heard officials claim that it was a suicide when you "knew" it could not be suicide; and then you later heard that two other young men (sons of other good citizens) met the same fate as your son - all in a short period of time - yet officials continued proclaiming that all three were suicides, would you then go to these same officials for answers or a remedy to this? Would you then go to these same officials asking them to investigate to get to the truth of what happened to your son and the two other young men?

Would you really do this, knowing that it's possible the officials who proclaimed the deaths were suicides might not be telling you the truth but rather hiding the truth from you? I think not.

Why then have you been so thoughtless to send Ms. Angie Zheng's information regarding the death of her son and two other young men to the same officials who proclaimed these deaths were suicide asking them (of all people) to investigate? Is it because they are just "prisoners" and not viewed as human beings where it is okay that they may have been murdered by officials? Do you think all officials are honest just because they wear a uniform or have an important title?

Sending a request to these officials to investigate these incidents is like sending the hungry fox to investigate the chicken house wherein as the fox eats the helpless chickens he can report that the chickens killed themselves for some unknown reason, knowing no one will really look into his wrong doing. Do you not see the seriousness of these suicides at SCI-Smithfield Prison? Do you think this is normal that three young men wrote to their loved ones before dying, making statements like, "Hey if I am found dead, I did not kill myself - they killed me!" Do you have any clue how dangerous this situation is to others in there if it is not stopped immediately?

Sir, contacting the officials who are trying to cover up these deaths does not serve the public; it is not good public policy; and it only serves the perpetrators in a crime. Is this what you are really about? Do you not understand the words "aiding and abetting" a criminal offense and what that means? We are calling for a bonafide investigation by an unbiased, uninvolved, outside agency to get to the bottom of these suicides. We are not calling for the fox to investigate the chickens. Get the autopsy reports and photographs and have a licensed forensic pathologist study them. What? No autopsies and no photographs were done? Do you think this is normal protocol in a State Operated Facility? Do you not think this is strange? Do you not have any questions? Would you not have any questions if it were YOUR son when you "knew" he did not and would not commit suicide? Come on.

Your canned letter to Ms. Angie Zheng is disingenuous when it says "I am confident that Secretary Beard will take action to address this situation," when the Secretary is part of the cover up. The People expect more from their representatives than this. The People expect and deserve forthrightness from their representatives. Don't let them scare you into throwing your integrity away. There's more to life than being popular with the Secretary of the Department of Corrections.

Best regards,
Sherry Swiney
P.A.T.R.I.C.K. Crusade Organization

----- Original Message -----
From: PA Senator Jay Costa
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 12:20 PM
Subject: RE: Links regarding SCI-Smithfield and your story

Thank you for contacting me to relate your concern about the number of suicides that have occurred at SCI-Smithfield. I appreciate your concern about this situation, and I am sorry for any personal impact it has had on you. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your comment to Secretary Jeffrey Beard of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, as that Department is responsible for SCI-Smithfield. I am confident that Secretary Beard will take action to address this situation.

Again, thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention. Please feel free to contact me if I can assist you in any way.

Sincerely yours,
Senator Jay Costa, Jr.
43rd District
JC/ jlg

PA Senator Jay Costa -
Harrisburg Office Telephone # 717-787-7683
Forest Hills Office Telephone # 412-241-6690


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