Curtis Dawkins

The Six Most Popular Ways to Die in Prison

Curtis Dawkins continues his series about the realities of life in prison. This article lists the six most popular ways people die in prison.


6) Attempting Escape

At a prison in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula for you non-Michiganders), a twenty-something who had murdered his entire family. I don’t know if they gave him a warning shot, but at least one hit him in the head. I know this because soon after the kid’s head was blasted into fragments, the prosecutor (wanting to appear tough on crime for the next election) gleefully announced that the would-be escapee died, ironically, the way he’d shot his victims: in the head.

Incidentally, the flaw inherent in sentencing so many Michigan prisoners to “life without the possibility of parole” (I’m not saying that the dead escapee didn’t deserve such an outcome, but a “natural life” sentence should be the exception) is that they have less than nothing to lose. One would think the Correctional Officers’ Union might protest such lengthy sentences as a danger to them, but they don’t.


5) Weight Loss

At the E.C. Brooks Facility in Muskegon, in summer, a man was jogging, wrapped in trash bags under prison blues, cooking himself to the point of death on the track of the Back 40.

Now, if the heat index rises about 90, a heat alert is declared and all strenuous activity is forbidden, and we all curse the cooked dieter who started it all.


4) Mental Illness

This death took place in summer as well. A mentally ill man was “restrained” to a table and died of dehydration. I saw the picture on a local news station, and I’ll never forget them. Protocol for dealing with such cases is different now, but it always takes a sacrifice.

As a summer side note: the MDOC no longer supplies personal fans for inmates, as a way to save money, which it will, until someone’s family sues their stupid asses for the heat-related death of their loved one.


3) Having a Bunky (and we all have them)

Recently at a prison in Saginaw, a bunky murdered his cellmate. An investigation is ongoing, so I don’t know the details, except that the deceased had been in prison since January and was convicted of molestation.

The stereotype of prisoners hating pedophiles is actually one of the few that is true, and the consensus of those around me is that his crime is the reason he’s dead.


2) Natural Causes

By far, much more common than dying by violence. We are, no doubt, healthier since the removal of tobacco six years ago, but I wonder if this only results in more deaths due to #1.


1) Suicide

The most popular way to die in prison. And the least publicized.

Suicides come in waves: For an entire year, no one will die in this manner, and then, suddenly, there will be several. Hanging is the most popular way, followed by razors, then pills.

When I learn of a suicide at a prison I’m in, I always try to remember if I had ever seen him, what he sounded like, and if he seemed sad. Even if I can’t remember him, I never forget him.




Curtis Dawkins

Curtis Dawkins earned an M.F.A. from Western Michigan University and is currently an inmate at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Michigan for murder. He was battling with drug addiction at the time. After a jury trial, he was convicted of felony murder which carries a mandatory sentence of "life without the possibility of parole." He is not scheduled to be released. Ever. But writing gives him hope.

Related posts