I’ll probably delete this… but enjoy it while it’s up!
A mundane day at a web café in Nanaimo, British Columbia would change the world.
It’s two days after Christmas 2003 and I’m surfing the web with my older brother, Gino. I’m posting stories on an ABBA forum and he’s playing online poker.
Tired of lengthy discussions on Frida’s latest hairdo or previews of Agnetha’s new album I decided to web surf.
“I wonder how our father’s doing,” I tell Gino. Our father had been in Indiana prisons since 1982 and I thought it’d be fun to show Gino how he can look up our father on the internet. “You just go to this offender database thing and punch in his name, it’s that easy!”
“Gino… I think our dad is dead.”
He doesn’t turn away from his poker game.
It’s not a big surprise. He was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease earlier that year and he was expected to go any time. In some ways it was a relief. Death was his only escape from the pain of that illness.
But still, I couldn’t be sure. The prison hadn’t called me or sent a letter.
I called up the prison and asked the guy who answered the phone if my father had passed away. “I can’t give that information out, it’s not public information,” he said in a thick Indiana drawl. “Yes, but I’m not the public, I’m his son. I read online that he had died and I’d like to know if my father is dead or alive.” Without changing tone the man told me that I’d have to call back on Monday when his worker was in. His worker told me that they attempted to call his two daughters, and left a message with the younger one.”He only has one living daughter and nobody contacted her about this!” His worker then said something about not having the correct contact information for us, which was a lie.. My sister and I had written our father and prison officials on several occasions. They had our current information on file but made no attempt to locate it.
I was told that his body wasbeen cremated at a local mortuary on the 27th. Nobody in my family authorised this. Nobody asked us ‘what did you want to do with his remains?’ The prison just went ahead and cremated his body before his family even knew he had died.
I instructed Brian Hughey, the internal affairs officer at the prison, to mail the ashes to my sister’s address.
She never got them.
Three months later I got the rest of his stuff, but no ashes. Mr. Hughey insisted they had been sent out.My sister never got them, nor did I.
Consequently there’s no grave site, no tombstone, no closure. No place to mourn, just ashes lost in the mail.
His death was understandable. He had a terminal illness and we could expect the outcome. It was easy to accept that, but I could never get over how they lost his ashes.
Yes, he was a prisoner with a long list of convictions and arrests but once he died he was a free man. He’d paid his debt to society. The prison denied his children the right to a proper funeral and burial.
It was never our fault that he was in prison; we suffered more than anyone for it. But when the staff of the Wabash Valley Correctional Institution failed to produce his remains they robbed us of any dignity and closure surrounding his death.
At the time I thought it might be best to “let it go”, but four and a half years later it still hurts like hell. I need to know what happened to his ashes. I want to bury him, have a funeral and finally grieve.
Since he died I haven’t spent anytime mourning his death or celebrating his life. Every time I see his photo or touch something that belonged to him I am haunted by the incompetence of the staff people that denied me the natural grieving process.