In Prison for Smoking a Joint, a Rikers Island Inmate Dies From Medical Neglect - News | MERRY JANE
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In Prison for Smoking a Joint, a Rikers Island Inmate Dies From Medical Neglect

Queens resident Wayne Henderson was serving time for violating probation by smoking weed, and was sent back to his cell to die after allegedly seeking medical help from Rikers staff.

by Zach Harris

Despite what Mayor Bill De Blasio has said, New York City cops are still arresting thousands of people for simple marijuana crimes and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing. Now, after what his family claims was improper medical attention by prison staff, a 25 year old man is dead after winding up in jail thanks to one singular joint.

According to the New York Post, Wayne Henderson had already spent 6 of his 7 adult years behind bars for an assault committed in 2010, but was sent back to Rikers Island after police arrested Henderson on a parole violation when they confronted the young black man smoking a joint last month. Before he could make it to his final lock-up, though, the schizophrenic Henderson was beaten by a guard at the Hart’s Island detention center, leaving him bound to a wheelchair and to suffer from seizures.

After repeated attempts to get her son the medical help he so desperately needed, Henderson’s mother, who was in contact with a fellow inmate and friend of her son, told the Post that her son died after being refused more intensive medical treatment by prison staff. She says the other inmate, and not anyone associated with the staff of Rikers Island, was the one who first informed her of her son’s death.

“I called the jail plenty times and said, ‘You don’t have a hold on this with the seizures.’ It fell on deaf ears. They never took care of him,” Wayne’s mother, Chris Henderson, said. Adding, “I don’t know where my son’s body is. I don’t know where they took him. When my son left that building, he left in a body bag yesterday. This is not even human, people don’t even treat animals [like this].”

The Department of Corrections stated earlier this week that it had not received any request for medical attention over the weekend. At Rikers Island, inmate care is the responsibility of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, and not the DOC, who claim that an investigation into Henderson’s death is ongoing.

In a recent New York Daily News story about the persistent cannabis-related arrests in a city that has supposedly decriminalized the drug, a lawyer from NYC’s legal aid society spoke to the work that still needs to be done in making sure deaths like Henderson’s are prevented.

“At a minimum, what these numbers are saying is that despite some good effort to reduce the number of people who have marijuana charges coming through the criminal justice system.” Tina Luongo, who runs Legal Aid’s criminal practice, said, “We still have a bit of a way to go.”

Hopefully Henderson’s barbaric and unjustified death can be a catalyst for some real change in New York City’s severely broken criminal justice system.


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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