On September 6, 2002, Illinois death row prisoner Frankie Redd committed suicide by hanging himself inside his cell. To protest the administration’s neglect of Redd, who was mentally ill, more than 50 prisoners at Pontiac Correctional Facility’s Condemned Unit went on hunger strike for 48 hours following his death. Our hearts go out to Frankie’s family, friends and to all the men on Pontiac’s death row. Here are excerpts of letters sent to the New Abolitionist from several Illinois death row prisoners who knew Frankie.
“I’m on hunger strike because I feel that the new staff over the condemned unit right now caused Frankie Redd to commit suicide. I used to use my mirror to look over into his cell. But the new rule is that we can’t look at each other with the mirrors. Yet if someone would have been able to look over in that cell, maybe Frankie Redd would still be with us. I hope you all will put something in the paper about our loss. A soldier is dead, yet the struggle continues! I hope you can feel me. Because my heart is hurting right now. I’ll be better as time passes, but every time I think of what happened I cry. And it’s not cool. I need to find an outlet for my feelings. Maybe writing will help. I haven’t had anything to eat now for two days. I don’t know how long I’ll hold on, but I just want them to understand that we are men. With hearts. We do have people that care for us, right?”
“Frankie Redd may have hung himself, but it was Pontiac that drove him to it. A couple of weeks ago, officials put Frankie in a holding cell by the guard station, butt naked, for everyone to see for 72 hours, because he tried to kill himself. Then they released him back into his cell without any treatment. On the day he died, he kept screaming ‘they’re coming to get me.’ Several of us alerted the guards because we knew something was wrong, but the lieutenant who finally came over took one look at Frankie and said there was nothing wrong. By three o’clock, Frank was dead. The tension on the row is getting unbearable. There’s been several heart attacks and now a suicide in the past two months. What’s it going to take for people to listen?”
“The men on Pontiac’s death row lost one of our warriors. His cries for help fell on deaf ears. The administration paid him no attention. But now, they are concerned about our brother–now that he’s dead and gone. Now, they want to know what happened. Now, they want to talk about Frankie Redd. Now, they are concerned, but it’s too late. Frankie Redd was me…a man here on death row. He was a man who needed help, but none came to his aid. I’m so sorry, dear brother Frankie. To them, he was nothing. To me, he was a man and a friend.”