Five suicide attempts, including at least two United States military veterans, have taken place at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts, according to Marty Gottesfeld, an activist currently in pre-trial detention.
Gottesfeld writes in a letter, “Federal arrestee William Lufkin, whose friends and family called him Billy, hung himself,” while confined in an isolation unit.
Lufkin died the day after the U.S. Marshals Service “dropped him off” and five days after a previous letter by Gottesfeld.
An obituary for Lufkin indicates he died on February 18, 2017, but no cause of death was cited. Gottesfeld suggests the death of the 26 year-old was never reported by the correctional facility, which is under the purview of the Sheriff Joe McDonald, or federal authorities.
Another veteran, Joshua L. Daniels, was deployed to Afghanistan and is disabled. Daniels allegedly tried to commit suicide while in the facility’s isolation unit.
“Due to what I can only describe as callous negligence and/or reckless disregard for both human life, as well as Joshua’s sacred service to our country, the 24-year-old father of two was placed in segregation despite his PTSD diagnosis and previous suicide attempt in this very same facility,” according to Gottesfeld.
In Marty’s last letter in Shadowproof, he warned the acting director of the US Marshals and state attorney general that an insufficient and punitive approach to mental health at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility would lead to suicides,” Dana, Gottesfeld’s wife, said. “It was ignored, and within a week, one federal inmate was dead and an Afghanistan war veteran with PTSD and a record of self harm was seriously injured.”
He insists veterans like Daniels, who are struggling with mental health issues, should not be put in solitary confinement conditions and the state-licensed mental health staff should not authorize such placement because the impact on people with mental health problems is well-documented.
Gottesfeld additionally alleges Daniels is being denied the care he needs at the Bridgewater State Hospital, a hospital with a notorious history that fifty years ago was the setting for a documentary by Frederick Wiseman known as “Titicut Follies” that highlighted cases of patient abuse.
During June 2016, the Disability Law Center released a report on the death of Leo Marino at the facility. He reportedly committed suicide by ingesting toilet paper. The facility apparently gave Marino the toilet paper used to kill himself, even though he had tried to kill himself that way a few days prior. A “specially trained observer” failed to monitor his isolation unit in the hospital and prevent his death.
The Disability Law Center believes the hospital should be under the purview of the Department of Mental Health and not the Department of Correction.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently proposed new funding to “improve” the hospital, according to the Boston Globe. (Baker’s office was contacted for comment, but did not respond prior to publication.)
Gottesfeld is an activist, who faces charges stemming from a digital sit-in he engaged in against the Boston Children’s Hospital’s website. He learned about the case of Justina Pelletier, who was institutionalized in a psychiatric ward in 2013 against her parents’ wishes. He allegedly organized with members of Anonymous and participated in a distributed denial of service (DDOS) operation that disrupted the donation portal for the hospital website.
On October 3, 2016, Gottesfeld launched a hunger strike. He was at the Wyatt federal detention center in Rhode Island but was moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. After a few months, he was transferred to the facility in Plymouth County in February.
While awaiting trial, he has written multiple letters, which describe alleged human rights abuses.
This most recent letter highlighting suicide attempts is a follow-up to a February letter addressed to the United States Marshals Service, the state government of Massachusetts, the attorney general of Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine.
The February letter described conditions for prisoners placed in the facility’s isolation unit known as “Q5,” which is a “small 40-degree room with a bare tile floor.” Typically, prisoners put in this unit have requested mental health treatment.
“Inmates are locked in ‘Q5’ alone, naked or nearly naked, and without a mattress,” Gottesfeld wrote. “As an additional indignity, there is no toilet in ‘Q5.’ Instead, inmates must defecate in a hole in the floor. Human beings endure these deplorable conditions for days, never receiving therapy, before they are asked if they still need help. Anyone who answers that they do is held there longer.”
According to Gottesfeld, he has passed along “ten complaints” to the Massachusetts Department of Health that show the punitive nature of mental health treatment at the facility. However, the department has not shown any willingness to follow-up on his concerns.
No officials responded to Gottesfeld’s first letter on the issue of mental health treatment at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility. He chose to press the matter again.
“How many families must lose a son, grandson, nephew, father, or grandfather to this place and these abhorrent practices before action is taken? I hope none,” Gottesfeld declared.
The alleged case of “Mr. Des.” was also mentioned by Gottesfeld. “Des.” apparently “slit his wrist under his bed covers.” He was “no more than 35 feet away” from Gottesfeld and was fortunately “discovered before he lost too much blood and was alive when staff wheeled him out.”
Gottesfeld wonders if the Massachusetts Board of Registration and Medicine and the Department of Mental Health will continue to be “mere rubber stamps” and allow this to continue. He also would like to know if Baker’s office or the Massachusetts Attorney General will address any of these alleged human rights abuses and the tragedy unfolding at the correctional facility, where he awaits trial.
The Massachusetts Department of Health was contacted for comment but did not respond prior to publication.
There currently is no scheduled date for Gottesfeld’s trial, as his case is still in the discovery phase. He is being prosecuted by Carmen Ortiz, who is well-known for her zealous prosecution of Aaron Swartz.