Statement from the Palakovic Family
Nearly two years ago now, our son, Brandon Michael Palakovic, was pronounced dead in a hospital in Altoona after hanging himself with his bed sheet while in solitary confinement (RHU) at Cresson State Correctional Institution. His last moments on earth were of such torment and misery that he felt the only escape was death. As his parents, we have found it hard to conceive of death being his only way out. So we have spent the last two years trying to heal, understand his final decision and memorialize Brandon for the person that he was, not the animal that we have come to find out he was treated like.
Brandon was so much more than what the Cresson SCI guards, therapists, psychiatrists and staff reduced him to. He was funny, vibrant, handsome, intelligent and loving. He was not perfect. He made bad decisions and was paying his debt by serving out the sentence handed down to him. But, while serving his sentence, he needed and deserved proper mental health care for his long-standing, well-documented mental health issues so he could be the person that his family and friends knew him to be.
We hear and read stories practically every day about the need for changes in the mental health care system in the United States and how treatment must be comprehensive, ongoing and closely monitored and that as a society, we cannot ignore this reality. These articles, stories and reports are written by health care professionals with the same licenses, degrees and ethical responsibilities as the therapists and psychiatrists working at Cresson SCI. So, then how is it that our son and others behind these prison walls were and are somehow different from the rest of the country? Why did the doctors charged with taking care of Brandon’s mental health care needs feel it unnecessary to monitor his medications and provide regular check-ins or therapy? They ignored his needs. His only therapy was more time in solitary confinement and more medication. He was taunted and left with no hope and no choice.
Brandon’s death has left a hole in our family and our hearts that can never be filled. We have lost our beloved son. Our son and daughter have lost their big brother. Our parents have lost their first grandson. Our family has lost a nephew, a cousin, a great grandson, a Godson and a future uncle. The loss we have sustained simply cannot be properly expressed in words, but is felt deeply and painfully every day.
The system that we have respected all of our lives and taught our children to respect failed Brandon and feels no remorse for their actions. Instead, they have been cold, non-responsive, rude and evasive at every turn. The evening that we had to identify Brandon’s body was the single worst moment of our lives. When there was confusion at the hospital as we arrived, we had to make a call to Cresson so they could release his body to us. When I identified myself as Brandon’s mother, the guard simply yelled to another person “It’s the mom of the one who hung up last night. What do you want me to do with her?” They clearly didn’t see Brandon as a person. They saw him as a thing; trash that could just be disposed of without a second thought and his death meant nothing to them.
After two years, his decision to end his life still haunts us, and probably always will, but we can at least begin to understand his despair a bit better. Why did Brandon think this was his only option? Cresson SCI provided him with no other options; only more medications that made him suicidal and sick and tormented his thoughts. Why didn’t Brandon ever reach out for help? He did ask for help on numerous occasions. Cresson SCI ignored his requests for help and determined that solitary confinement would be the only help he would get.
Brandon is finally at peace and can no longer be drugged, locked up and ignored, but we know there are others that are still enduring similar nightmares. We hope and pray that somehow, someway Brandon’s death can bring attention to these serious issues within Pennsylvania State Correctional Institutions and save other prisoners and their families from this same pain.
Renee and Darian Palakovic
July 6, 2014