Today I want to take a moment to honor the life of Janika Edmond.
The story below is a hard one, involving mental health, incarceration, and suicide. If those topics are especially challenging for you, please take care as you read this story, or feel free to skip it if that’s most helpful.
Janika Edmond was twenty-five years old. She had a family. She had personal likes and dislikes. She had dreams. She had personhood. She had worth.
But all of this was disregarded on November 2, 2015, the day she died at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
About a year ago, at march on behalf of Flint, I first heard the name of this prison voiced aloud. Someone mentioned the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in a list of justice concerns in Michigan. I am ashamed to say this, but at the time, I did not know that this prison was a mere fifteen minute drive from my house. In fact, I live off of the very same street.
But that’s how it often is with prisons.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Out of awareness.
Outside of accountability.
Janika Edmond had mental health concerns, and these were exacerbated during the period of her incarceration. After her arrival in 2013 and before her death, she attempted suicide six times at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. Clearly, she continued to need care, but instead, she received disregard, negligence, and a horrific experience of dehumanization.
On November 2, 2015, Janika Edmond was struggling. She approached prison guards and requested a suicide prevention vest, but they did not provide her with one. Instead, corrections employee Dianna Callahan and counselor Kory Moore, took her life in their hands and treated her like an object for their own amusement. Callahan had previously made a bet with Moore as to whether Janika Edmond would become suicidal. When she requested the vest, Callahan said, “Somebody owes me lunch!” and pumped her fist into the air three times. It was all caught on camera.
After this, the footage takes an especially frightening turn.
About six or seven minutes after this comment, choking sounds from Janika Edmond can be heard on the footage. Without the aid she requested, and given no supervision or compassionate accompaniment, she completed suicide in the shower.
Callahan and Moore were both fired shortly thereafter. Callahan was then charged with involuntary manslaughter and neglect of duty.
Kory Moore, however — again, a counselor — has been reinstated with the Corrections Department after arbitration.
This story has been back in the news over the last few days as a lawsuit has been brought by Janika Edmond’s aunt, claiming that prison officials additionally engaged in obstruction to keep these details unknown. Warden Anthony Stewart, fourteen current and former corrections officials, and the department as a whole are being charged with violating Janika Edmond’s constitutional rights, the failure to make accomodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the failure to train and supervise.
This is a gross level of negligence, disregard, and dehumanization. And here’s the thing I keep thinking about: This kind of behavior does not emerge overnight. It festers in a particular kind of culture – a breeding ground for abuse.
It makes me wonder how many horrific things are happening right now in a facility largely out of our public eye — indeed, just fifteen minutes from my house.
Janika Edmond is a beloved person with value and worth. She should have received that message and tangible forms of care. Instead, she struggled and died, and her mug shot is the most frequent image chosen to represent her in the news stories.
But Janika Edmond was much more than a mug shot. She was and is a human being.
Let’s keep her in our sight.
Let’s keep accountability in our sight.