By the time Nelson Rodriguez, 26, entered a Massachusetts prison in 2004 after being convicted in a stabbing case, he had long since been diagnosed as mentally retarded and mentally ill – a man unable to grasp even the most basic concepts, says the Boston Globe in the second in a series. As an inmate, he was routinely punished for acting out in ways he could not control. Time and again, his jailers used the same blunt tools – isolation and loss of basic privileges – to deal with him. The discipline never improved his behavior; in fact, he got worse.
During 18 months in state custody before he committed suicide, the young man with the lazy eye and troubled mind spent a quarter of his time – about 145 days – in solitary confinement. When it comes to suicide behind bars, it is impossible to expect total prevention, officials say. With some determined inmates, Associate Commissioner Veronica Madden said, “It seems that they really wanted to die.” The Globe reported on Rodriguez’s short life and sorry end as a way to understand why men like him wind up behind bars and why too many die there.