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‘She Was Afraid To Go Back To Jail’

By Liz Adetiba, The Huffington Post

Athena Covarrubias, 40, was arrested in August 2015 on a drug charge and three bond forfeiture warrants. She was taken to Texas’ Travis County Jail, where she hanged herself 12 days later. Her cousin, Kelly Rivera, talked to The Huffington Post about Covarrubias’ life as part of our ongoing series of stories about deaths in jails across the country. 

As told to Liz Adetiba:

I think I’m part of the problem too. I wasn’t there for my cousin. I knew she shouldn’t have been in there but I didn’t push to get her out, and unfortunately she took her life. So I’ve been beating myself up for that since then.

She was a repeat offender, minor crimes, you know? Nothing major. She was an addict, so she would get pulled over for speeding and of course she might have had a little drugs on her and they would take her in. And she’s had history in our current jail system here at Travis County.

She was afraid to go back to jail, so she never went back to her court date. She was a heroin addict. She was on methadone ― she went to a clinic and she was trying to clean herself up.

She was trying to get her life together and get off that stuff.

She was in the Travis County Jail for less than two weeks, and my aunt went up there to go see her. She said she looked like a completely different person. She was going through withdrawal. It was a decent temperature in the cell, but she was wrapped up in blankets and shivering, but not getting any care at all.

We didn’t have enough funds to get her out of jail because we had just done three garage sales to get her out of Williamson County Jail. She was trying to get her life together and get off that stuff. 

Athena Covarrubias died while in custody at the Travis County Jail in August 2015, at the age of 40.

I thought she was OK, so I blame myself. She lived with me almost right up to the day she first went to Williamson County. I got into a small altercation and went to jail and was telling her how I felt. She looked at me and said, “There’s no way I can go back to jail. I just can’t do it.” So my smart remark to her was, “Hey, you enjoy jail. It’s not a big deal for you, you can always handle it.” But she said, “I can’t.” And I looked in her eyes and realized that she really couldn’t.

I hold onto those memories and I wish I could’ve done something differently. But it’s not all on me. It’s the freaking system.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

The Huffington Post reached out to the Travis County Jail, which declined to comment on this case. The jail has not responded to a publish records request for additional details.

Originally published by The Huffington Post on August 22, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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