Benjamin Van Zandt, 17, was tried and prosecuted as an adult after voices in his head told him to set fire to his neighbor’s house. No one was harmed—his neighbors were not home at the time of the fire—and Ben didn’t have any kind of criminal history, yet the teen who suffered from schizophrenia and psychotic depressive symptoms was sentenced to a maximum of 12 years in adult prison.
Ben served four years of his sentence, which ended in New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility. During those four years, he was raped, extorted, forced to mule drugs, isolated in solitary confinement, and deprived of the medication he relied on to keep his mental illnesses in check, according to his parents (who visited him regularly), prison records, and court filings obtained by The Daily Beast.
After witnessing Fishkill prison’s “beat-up squad” of guards torture a mentally ill prisoner right in front of him, Ben began to fear for his own life and safety. Not long after, he committed suicide.
The prison called Ben’s parents two hours after he was pronounced dead and they were given the runaround by every official they talked to thereafter. No one would tell them what had happened to their son, how he’d died, or explain what had changed after they’d received consistently good (and, as it turned out, false) reports from the facility’s team of medical professionals about Ben’s wellbeing.
The facility didn’t even share Ben’s suicide note—which read only, “Please tell my family I love them,”—with his parents until months after he died.
The full article from The Daily Beast can be read here.
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