November 9, 1950-October 7, 2003
by Paul Wright
On October 7, 2003, long time Prison
Legal News contributing writer James Quigley was found hanging in his cell in the segregation unit of the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans, Vermont. His death was apparently a suicide.
Jim was one of PLN's early subscribers. In 1996 he became one of our first contributing writers and submitted articles on a regular basis thereafter. An outstanding jailhouse lawyer and outspoken advocate for prisoner rights, Jim and I corresponded regularly for nearly a decade. His ascerbic wit and humor, coupled with a strong intellect and perceptive insights always made his letters enjoyable and anticipated.
In 1980 Jim was sentenced to life in prison by a Broward county court in Florida for the 1979 shooting death of one drug dealer and the shooting of another. Jim challenged his conviction on various grounds over the years and had recently won a Florida state appeals court ruling in his favor. In 2001 Jim transferred from the Florida prison system to Vermont's to be closer to family in the Northeast.
During his imprisonment, Jim became an accomplished jailhouse lawyer, litigating civil rights and criminal cases on behalf of himself and other prisoners as well as working with legislators, journalists and outside advocates and other prisoners for prisoner rights. In addition to PLN, Jim also wrote for, and was a board member of, Florida Prison Legal Perspectives.
Jim had been in segregation for almost four months at the time of his death, apparently in retaliation for being a jailhouse lawyer and advocating for the rights of prisoners.
On October 23, 2003, a memorial for Jim was held in the visiting room of the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, Vermont. Attending the memorial were eight local prison activists. Members of the Alliance for Prison Justice (of which Jim was a member), his mother Claire and sister Kelly, and around 25 prisoners who knew him. Janice Ryan, deputy commissioner of corrections was the only Vermont Department of Corrections employee to attend.
APJ member Doug Brassch described the memorial: "We made tribute to Jim through music, poems, paintings an sharing stories of his life. It was both a sad and wonderful evening filled with love and appreciation-the best that is in all of us filled the room for a few brief hours and we all held the hope for something better."
Several people have commented to me that Jim was the strongest person they have known. His death came as a shock to those who knew him, simply because "he was such a fighter," as Bob Posey, editor of Florida Prison Legal Perspectives said.
Jim will be sadly and sorely missed. I've lost a friend, PLN has lost a vital contributor and the cause of justice has lost a strong and tireless advocate.
Jim is survived by his mother Claire and sister Kelly. Vermont attorney Barry Kade is representing them in securing justice in the wake of Jim's death. PLN is assisting in that effort. Jim's death is being investigated by the Vermont State Patrol and a legislative oversight commission. Jim's death was the fifth death and third suicide in Vermont's prison system during a six month period in 2003. The entire prison system holds around 1,500 prisoners in state and 550 out of state.
At the memorial, Jim's mother Claire said: "Jim has passed the torch on to me and his many devoted friends to continue the struggle." In that spirit, this issue of PLN is dedicated to Jim and his unwavering commitment to the struggle against injustice. PLN is proud to carry on that struggle. Everyone at PLN extends our condolences to Jim's family and many friends and supporters. g
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