Following the highly-publicized suicide of a mentally ill inmate in the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, in Florence, Colo., the Federal Bureau of Prisons sent a "suicide prevention" memo to all prisoners in federal lock-ups to encourage them not to "lose hope."
The memo was uncovered by The Atlantic's Andrew Cohen, who has been reporting extensively on a lawsuit challenging solitary confinement and mental health care at the prison facility. The suit was launched a month after prison officials were sued after the suicide of inmate Jose Martin Vega, who hanged himself in his cell after allegedly facing "cruel and usual punishment" by prison officials, who also failed to provide adequate treatment for the prisoner's paranoid schizophrenia.
The memo, dated July 20, 2012, was written by the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Charles E. Samuels, Jr., who urges struggling inmates to seek help from prison staff if they experience suicidal thoughts.
"At times you may feel hopeless about your future and your thoughts may turn to suicide. If you are unable to think of solutions other than suicide, it is not because solutions do not exist; it is because you are currently unable to see them," Samuels wrote. "Do not lose hope. Solutions can be found, feelings change, unanticipated positive events occur. Look for meaning and purpose in educational and treatment programs, faith, work, family and friends."
The memo concludes with a quote from Albert Einstein: "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow."
Cohen points out that the June lawsuit, known as Bacote v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, alleges that there are only two mental health professionals responsible for the care of 450 prisoners at ADX Florence. With such a ratio, Cohen writes, "it's ridiculous to think that even those inmates who want to accept Director Samuels' kind invitation are going to be successful in doing so."
He also described the state of some of the prisoners who presumably received the memo, which includes one man who "has cut off his scrotum, and a testicle, and has amputated some of his fingers," and another who "allegedly crawls around ADX Florence on one leg because prison officials have refused to replace his prosthetic [leg]," and another who "tried to commit suicide in 2008 [and] was promptly returned to the cell in which he had made the attempt, a cell which was still covered in his own blood."
The Bureau of Prisons reportedly has not formally responded in court to either of the two lawsuits filed against the agency.
ADX Florence -- also known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" -- houses inmates deemed to be the most dangerous in the federal prison system. Some of the inmates currently being held at the facility include the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, Al-Qaeda senior member Zacarias Moussaoui and the "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in U.S. prisons and the second in jails, according to a 2006 report from the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. The victims often either have untreated or undiagnosed mental illnesses, according to the report.