This article was published in collaboration with Vice.
When I learned my 18-year-old daughter had been arrested for heroin possession, it was a nightmare. But, I thought at the time, There might be a silver lining. Maybe she will get help.
Instead, her four days in jail became a death sentence.
Tori had been a talented anime artist, and she was the best debater I had ever known. But once she started using drugs, it didn’t take long for my girl’s life to unravel. During her senior year in high school, she became emotional in a way I’d never seen before. She started crying all the time.
Finally, I broke down and read her diary. That’s how I learned about the heroin, and how I learned she had been spending a lot of time with a boy who was an addict.
So I took away certain privileges. I confiscated her phone. I didn’t allow her to go online or hang out with friends. I tried to ground her. But of course there were limits to what I could do. She was going to school; I couldn’t control everything she did.
About a year after I realized she was using, law enforcement officials contacted my husband and me. They asked us about the location of my daughter’s boyfriend, who they said had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear for a court hearing.
It was around this time that I began thinking, Maybe if her boyfriend gets arrested, Tori will finally get the help she needs. I knew there was a chance she could get arrested, too — and it would be her first brush with the law. But maybe jail would be the best place for her — she would finally be safe and get healthy. My husband and I gave the agents the address to the apartment that Tori and her boyfriend had moved into a few days earlier.
Two days later, on March 27, 2015, Tori was arrested. I immediately tried calling everyone — the agents who contacted me, the arresting officer, the jail. I felt like I had betrayed my own daughter.
I went to her apartment to clean it out, believing that when she was released from jail, she could come back to our home and start anew. I repainted her bedroom, even drawing a sun on the ceiling.
But she’d never see it.
When she called me from jail a few days later, Tori sounded delirious; she was difficult to understand. She said that she was seeing people die and that she was going to die. She asked me to put money on her account so that she could buy lemonade, which she didn’t usually drink.
My husband and I tried to visit her, but we were told she was in quarantine. We asked the correctional officer at the front desk if he could call someone to check on her. He made a call and then told us she was fine. We felt reassured and left.
Later that night, I turned my phone off thinking that Tori was finally safe, with medical staff nearby. I remember hearing an ambulance go down the road outside our home and feeling like I didn’t have to worry anymore when I heard sirens.
I woke up to a voicemail from the warden telling us to call him back. He didn’t include any other details. I made several frantic calls to find out what happened; I finally learned she had been airlifted to a hospital trauma center about an hour away.
When I got to Tori’s hospital room, I dropped my purse and went to her side. Every machine was hooked up to my little girl. There were tubes going into her mouth, medical equipment attached to her head. Her skin was pure white. Her eyes were slightly open, but vacant.
Four days later, with no hope of her improving, there was no other option but to remove Tori from life support. She died on Easter Sunday.
Less than 48 hours before I saw her in the hospital, the jail had told me she was fine. But, based on what I have learned from other women who were in the jail with her, Tori was far from fine; she was severely ill from heroin withdrawal and a day away from collapse. She was unable to maintain fluids and rapidly lost weight; she suffered hallucinations and confusion; and she was so weak she could hardly sit up, let alone stand. The only people who seemed to care for her, I later learned, were her fellow inmates, who repeatedly told staff she needed to go to the hospital.
I still don’t have answers to everything that happened while Tori was at the jail1. But I do know that moments after seeing the medical staff, she passed out, stopped breathing, and went into cardiac arrest. They finally got her to the hospital, but by then, it was too late: my daughter was in a vegetative state.
I don’t know whether anyone at the jail has been held accountable for Tori’s death in any way. I do know that on her Facebook tribute page, one of the correctional officers in the jail who had interviewed Tori when she was admitted actually wrote:
“I find this so funny that people want the tax payers to pay for people going through withdraw in prisons… So, I say let them do there [sic] ‘hard’ withdraw and spend the money on someone that is gonna appreciate it!!!! You do the crime, it is up to you to do the time!!!!”
My daughter needed medical care. She should have been kept safe. She deserved compassion.
She deserved better.
Stephanie Moyer is a graphic/web designer in Lebanon, Pa. On July 11, she filed a federal lawsuit against Lebanon County and correctional and medical officers at Lebanon County Correctional Facility, alleging deliberate indifference to her daughter's medical needs and violations of civil rights.