Parents Of Suicide
Writings Library

Marge Cline
April 1, 2000

"Sh-.h-.h- Mom, it's a secret. I can't tell you." That was my son's reply when I asked him why in the world he had bought a bus ticket to Memphis. Mike left home on April 24 without saying good-bye to anyone. He was found hanged in Shelby County Prison on May 1. His suicide was exacerbated by his recently diagnosed bipolar (manic/depressive) disorder, his dislike of the prescribed medications and what we believe was unbearable stress and neglect in that prison.

Mike had no criminal record. Shortly after his arrival in Memphis on April 25, he was questioned and searched by police while sitting on a curb - bothering no one - across the street from a Citco gas station. The people at the gas station had called the police because Mike had been in their store a couple of times, had not purchased anything and had asked some strange questions. A pipe and a small amount of marijuana was found on him. He was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and booked into Shelby County Prison. No call home came from Mike even though we maintain an 800# on our phone for the kids' use. Mike had been a traveler since he was a teenager and had lived and worked in many places around the country. He always kept us posted on his whereabouts and well-being. The only call we got from Mike was discovered buried in our voice mail messages after his death. "Hi Mom, just calling to let you know I'm in Memphis and everything is cool. I've got my tickets and I'm heading for the Smokies". He made that call early on Sunday morning, immediately after arriving in Memphis... and even billed it to his own calling card!

After his arrest on Sunday evening, he was held until Tuesday when he appeared in court. He was released for time served and left the prison with the clothes on his back and a check for the money he had had in his pocket when arrested. He also owed Shelby County $1400.00 in fines. The survival kit he had packed before leaving home - a sleeping bag, clothes, his beloved drum, his personal journal and books, including his Bible, his bag of travel food - all were kept by the authorities when he was released. He was now in a strange city and culture, and still suffering from manic/depression without meds. In research Bob has done since, we have also been told he would not be allowed to use our 800# or his calling card from the prison. He would have had to call collect. If he had called collect and gotten our voice mail instead of a person at our home, he would have been unable to leave a message. Our research has also revealed that Shelby County gets a kickback from the phone company for all collect calls made by inmates!

Mike was released from prison about 6 PM on that Tuesday and walked home with another man who was also released at the same time. They spent a couple of hours at his home watching TV and then Mike went for a walk about 11 PM. His friend cautioned him about going outside because the neighborhood was a known drug area which was closely watched by police. Sure enough, a block away from the house, he was stopped for walking down the street. When told to place his hands on the squad car, Mike refused to do so. He threatened the officer, but never struck him and was pepper-sprayed and brought to the ground. He was again taken into custody after being out of jail for about 5 hours. He was charged with disorderly conduct. At this point, jail records get a bit fuzzy but sometime while in there, he jumped a guard who was involved in a dispute with other prisoners. Again, he was pepper sprayed and taken down and this time charged with assault.

We knew nothing about what has been related so far until much later - after Mike was dead. I filed a missing persons report with the Cook County police in Illinois on Thursday evening. On Friday afternoon, April 30, I checked with them about the progress of their investigation. I was told that the report was still on a supervisor's desk and probably wouldn't be assigned to an investigator until Monday. At this point I got mad and decided to find Mike myself. I knew he had that ticket to Memphis, so taking a chance, I called Mike's bank and found out that he had used his cash card in Memphis on Sunday. I called the Memphis Police Department and they gave me the phone number of the Shelby County Prison. When I reached some one there, they told me he had been booked. As I felt it was imperative to alert authorities to the fact that Mike was mentally unstable, I insisted on talking to someone who was in charge of the medical facility at the jail.

I was finally connected to John Perry, who I was told was a doctor. (This we found out later was not true. He is a MSW - Master Social Worker). He told me, yes, Mike was there and he had seen him a couple of times. I told him Mike needed medication, hadn't had the meds for almost a week, and gave him the names and dosages of his prescriptions. He said that he would see that Mike got the medications. I asked him if I could talk to Mike now; he told me no. I asked if Mike would be allowed to call me; he said yes. I asked him - in his professional opinion - what we should do, i.e., we were willing to get in the car that minute a drive to Memphis to bail Mike out. He told me that it probably would be best to get Mike started on the meds, get him stabilized and then we could come to Memphis in a couple of days and bail him out. I also asked if Mike would be assigned to a public defender, and he told me that probably wouldn't happen till Monday. Then I asked if he would deliver a message to Mike for me. He said he would. I wanted to couch my words carefully, so as not to scare Mike into thinking we were mad at him. So I told John Perry to tell Mike, "Don't be afraid to call home. Your mom wants to talk to you".

Bob talked to Perry later on, and was told that he left to get Mike from the general population after our conversation. He had Mike sitting in his office within a half an hour. Mike was very agitated and when told I had called, he told Perry, "Tell my Mom to come get me right now! " Perry said he calmed him down by promising Mike he could call home the next day. Mike was then confined to a cell in the medical unit by himself. Sources report that as this was happening, Mike begged, cried and pleaded not to be locked up in that cell alone. He also spent some time afterwards kicking and banging on the door. We don't know if Mike ever got the meds or not, but we do know he never called home the next day. Instead the jail called me the next day and told me he had committed suicide.

For many reasons, we wanted all aspects of this scenario thoroughly investigated. Most of the preceding has been discovered by the persistent and tenacious "checking out" that has been done by Mike's father, Bob. He has spent over two weeks in Memphis tracking Mike's last week of life. We wanted a second autopsy done on the corpse and were told by the Forensic Center that there was no reason to rush to remove the body from the center. Bob made arrangements with another pathologist - an expert in medical/legal forensics - to perform the second autopsy. When they went to get the corpse at the morgue on June 15, they were told that it had been buried in Poteet Cemetery on June 9 - pauper's field for the deceased with no known next of kin to bury them. They had our phone number, but we were not notified of their actions either prior to or after they took them. After much hassling with the authorities, Bob finally managed to have Mike's body disinterred on June 17. The second autopsy was then done and his remains were cremated that afternoon. Mike's ashes will be scattered in rivers and lakes throughout the country.

We are outraged, infuriated and unbelieving about the lack of concern, callousness and audacity of the police force, the prison and the forensic center in Memphis. Mike was not a criminal who deserved this type of treatment. He was a caring young man, who had the unfortunate fate to fall victim to the vagarities of mental illness. He is now dead, supposedly by his own hand, because of the incredible stress and lack of caring and concern imposed upon him. If there was a reason for his journey to Memphis, perhaps it might be to wake up citizens there and nationwide to the realities of the devastation that patients, friends and family of the mentally ill face. It's obvious now that Mike wasn't treated very well by the authorities in Memphis while he was alive, and they certainly didn't treat him very well in death either.

Marge Cline
Mike's Mom