04 July 2007

In Case of Emergency

Who is your emergency contact? Is that phone number still working? Does that person know she's your emergency contact?

I ask these questions because one of the inmates died yesterday. It was a heart attack. He got help quickly, got CPR, but he was dead within 20 minutes. I got a phone call from an administrative assistant asking if I "took care of things" when the regular facility chaplain isn't available. I do, so she told me to wait for a call from the shift lieutenant.

The shift LT told me the details about the death and then I asked if he wanted me to inform the family. With more relief than he realized, he said yes. So I went to work.

In every computer record for every inmate, there's a page that lists things like tattoos, place of birth, and the name and number of an emergency contact. And so there it was. The only problem? The phone number had been disconnected.

I went to his unit and looked through the brown bag of his belongings. The man had only been at our place a couple of days, in transit from six months of county jail waiting for a court hearing headed to his original institution later this week. There wasn't much in the bag: shower shoes, a razor, some legal work. No phone book.

Back to the computer, I looked at his file and found a reference to five brothers in different states. An hour later, I still hadn't found any names that matched in the online phone book. I contacted our investigations people, asking if they could find out if he'd made any phone calls recently with his prison PIN number. No luck.

The bulk of his property is at another institution. There may be a phone book there. But I am guessing that his family has cut ties with him.

This morning, the investigations people let me know that they'd finally tracked one of his brothers down--across the country on vacation. So now the coroner can release the inmate's name. They'll be doing an autopsy because the death didn't happen in a hospice situation. In other words, normal procedure.

The same thing happened a couple of years ago. An older inmate died. His emergency contact's number was disconnected. Further reading of his file showed that she'd died a couple of years before. He'd never updated the information. He was cremated and his remains sat in the coroner's office for several months. Finally, in December, someone sent him a Christmas card and we were finally able to write and ask for family contact information.

It's my turn now. I usually put down my best friend's name and number in that spot. But I need to let her know she IS my emergency contact, and I need to let her know my sister's phone number. It's been too long. What about you?

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