Family Awarded $860K After Guards Bet on Woman's Suicide in Prison: 'Somebody Owes Me Lunch!'
Janika Edmond had “a very rough life,” spending most of her teen years in foster care and suffering several suicide attempts. She was finishing a sentence at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for a probation violation in 2015.
Edmond, 25, died by suicide just five months before her scheduled release.
“The facility was well aware that [Edmond] not only had suicidal ideations, but had acted on them before,” David Steingold, an attorney for the family, tells PEOPLE.
He said that on Nov. 2, 2015, Edmond told guard Diana Callahan that she wanted a “Bam Bam” — a suicide-prevention vest.
“She declared that she was going to attempt suicide, as soon as she did so, Diana Callahan turned around, pumps her fist three times in the air and, in a loud voice, says, ‘Somebody owes me lunch!’ ” Steingold said, citing surveillance footage from the prison.
Steingold says Callahan and another guard, Kory Moore, had placed a bet on whether Edmond would kill herself. After making the declaration, Callahan left Edmond unattended in the shower and found Moore to request a Subway sandwich, according to a lawsuit obtained by PEOPLE. She was gone for nearly 20 minutes and Edmond was found unresponsive.
“It was unbelief [sic] to me, more than anything, that they would let this go like that,” a relative of hers told MLive. “Blatant disrespect for the policy. She wouldn’t be able to hurt herself [with the suicide-prevention vest]. She’d be home right now … out of everything she done been through. It’s such a tragedy. It’s a life tragedy. Everybody failed her.”
Edmond was declared brain dead on Nov. 6, 2015, and pronounced dead days later at Joseph Mercy Hospital, the lawsuit states. Steingold says Edmond’s family was not immediately told about the incident and was only allowed to see her at the hospital on the day of her death.
Callahan was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death and sentenced to six months in jail and two years of probation, Holly Kramer, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections, tells PEOPLE. Kramer notes that Callahan and Moore were fired “for their actions.”
Moore was later reinstated after arbitration but no longer works with the department, Kramer says.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland approved an $860,000 settlement in the family’s wrongful death suit against the department, Callahan and others, a court spokesperson confirmed to PEOPLE.
“She had her whole life in front of her,” Steingold tells PEOPLE of Edmond. “She had a few bumps in the road that she needed to get over, but to snatch her life away in this fashion is something that’s gonna haunt everyone in the family for the rest of their lives.”
Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility is the only women’s prison in Michigan. The facility has been criticized for severely poor living conditions, including being overcrowded and lacking ventilation, according to Steingold and the Detroit Free Press. According to the newspaper, the roof leaks, inmates have very little access to day rooms and many have developed a mysterious rash.
Prison officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
Steingold says there is “no question” that the poor living conditions at the facility only contributed to Edmond’s depression and mood disorders. He notes the guards’ “blatant indifference” to Edmond’s condition.
“[Their] failure to properly treat Edmond’s mental illness and its actions in discriminating against her and punishing her because of it, exacerbated her mental difficulties, including her suicidal ideations, and caused her suicide,” the lawsuit states.
Suicides accounted for 7 percent of all deaths in state prisons in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Female prisoners are about nine times as likely to die by suicide as the general female population, according to a recent study.
For many, the incident highlights the violence and dangers present within the nation’s jails and prisons. Outraged social media users have noted the need for transformative and restorative justice rather than punishment-based efforts. This is not the first time activists and organizers have criticized the criminal justice system.
In a recent Forbes essay, noted activist and organizer Venkayla Haynes noted the importance of transformative and restorative justice, writing, “Within the prison industrial complex, incarcerated folks are not given the proper mental health and counseling services in addition to being subjected to deplorable conditions and violence.”
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