the boston globe is running a chilling three-part series on prison suicide. though jail and prison suicide rates have declined since the 1980s, those working in or around correctional facilities will tell you that self-harm remains an all-too-common occurrence.
notes such as this one, left by russ dagenais, raise as many questions as they answer. i discuss suicide notes as a data source in my sociology of deviance course, but the work i've seen generally approaches them from a psychological or psychiatric perspective. in my view, sociologists are best positioned to examine them from a structural or institutional perspective.
suicide notes contain personal cries for help or compassion, but some of these voices are also crying out for better health care, access to prescription drugs, or more humane living conditions. these latter concerns point to matters of social choice and public policy rather than (or in addition to) individualized problems, troubles, or pathologies. i don't know for certain whether such a study would make for a good dissertation, but a solid historical or comparative analysis would contribute greatly to knowledge. by giving voice to those who left such notes behind, a sensitive study might also help do some good for current inmates.
simply put, those who write such notes are trying to tell us something important. here are two more examples from the globe series:
#1. Consider my life sentence paid in full, I have continued to complain to HSU about my headaches adn how I was reaching my tolerance but no one would listen, including psy services.
I did the only thing I felt I could do to stop my headaches. I have plan this for almost a month, there was no one I could ask for help without being put in worse conditions than I am in already. I can not continue to live each day with these headaches, I got tired of walking on egg shells just so I would not bring on a headache.
It really sucks that death is a better choice than living under the present prison conditions. I hope for the prisoners left behind things get better if not I fear I will be seeing a lot more of you. I have sent a copy of this out, so whoever reads this, make sure it is turned in, don't lose your job over this. If I am dead, and I hope I am, I did this after the second round after 11:00 p.m.
#2. To: Internal Affair I can't breath in this room -- I just had surgery recently the Capt. on the First shift threaten to four point restrain me with a move team. I paralyzed I can't fight any longer I'll loose my mind if I'm beat again. I going crazy just being in here this long Don't let this happen to nobody again.