Columbus, Ohio's main incarceration facility has a fatal flaw. It is located so remote from public transportation--requiring walking miles along a dangerous freeway -- that prisoners happily paroled, but unable to call for friends to pick them up, sometimes die walking the lonely road to freedom. So well known is this hazard that jail guards reportedly joke about it.
But no one could laugh at the cold fate of 63 year-old James Smith, Jr., whose icy body was found five days after his nighttime release from Franklin County's Jackson Pike Jail, near a cement plant a couple miles away. Toothless, mobility-impaired and heart-diseased, Smith was released at 7:30 p.m. in sub-freezing weather, with 18 mph winds. Based upon one sighting by a passer-by 90 minutes later, who observed Smith's slurred speech, running nose, and slobbering at the mouth, Smith must have stopped walking shortly thereafter, sat down, and froze to death.
There had been confusion as to who might have picked him up at the jail.
Uncertainty surrounded his potential release time, leaving his case-worker off duty, while ready-to-help relatives were not notified because jail policy is that they are too busy to make calls for parolees.
A musician by trade, Smith was damaged early in life by a dose of bad drugs. But he was never arrested until he was 61, when he possessed a small amount of cocaine. The matter was pending for two years when he turned himself in to get it over with. After 48 days in jail, the court agreed that with his obviously failing health, he didn't need to do more time. So he was released.
But freedom wasn't what Smith needed. He needed compassion, and the system didn't offer that. Discharge from the Jackson Pike Jail in the dead of winter, absent being picked up by someone, is tantamount to a death sentence. Michelle "Indian" Baker recounted her earlier experience being released from Jackson Pike in 5 degree weather, with only the T-shirt she was arrested in. Although defying her post-release warning not to solicit a ride from others [and thus risking re-arrest from even colder authorities], she found one person who not only gave her a ride to her freeway exit, but gave her the jacket he had just taken from his brother. He explained that his brother had just been booked for triple murder and would not be needing the jacket again.
Smith struggled through life with drugs, schizophrenia and a bad heart. He looked more like 105 than 63, some said. He walked slowly, placing one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. But those skinny feet were all one could see sticking out when he was found under a drift of new snow.
Nonetheless, sun or snow, Jackson Pike Jail continues to release over 100 prisoners every day of the year, at all hours. If they don't have a ride, it can be their Death March to freedom. No joke.
Source: Columbus Dispatch.
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