Prison Requiem: Thomas Joseph Hart

Posted on April 15, 2011


Author: Stan Moody

The Bangor Daily News article said he died on April 9, about 24 hours after he slipped in the shower at Penobscot County Jail. He was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center to be treated for a fractured hip but refused treatment.

$40 Short and Five Weeks of Bad Road:

A February 28 BDN article had told of how he came to be incarcerated at the jail:

BANGOR, Maine — A local man who was arrested late Friday night after racking up a $40 cab fare without the means to pay for it remained behind bars late Monday.
Thomas Joseph Hart, 71, reportedly began his taxi ride on Walter Street and from there was taken to several area motels, Bangor police Sgt. Larry Weber said Monday, citing an arrest report.
Weber said Hart told a Bangor police officer that he had been evicted earlier that day and that his niece would cover the cab fare. He did not, however, have her telephone number. Hart was arrested on a charge of theft of services, Weber said. (Dawn Gagnon, BDN)

Cranky Old Codger:

Tom Hart was an angry, bitter, cranky, vituperative old codger (at 71 years) who learned how to infuriate security staff at Maine State Prison, his recent home after being convicted of sexual assault in 2002.

Tom was sentenced to 5 years; yet, I was a chaplain at the prison until mid-2009. He was still there, 7 years after sentencing. It was assumed by staff that he was being held because he was thought to be likely to re-offend or because administration was unable to structure a release plan, as is common with the mentally ill.

Nobody, to my knowledge, explained to him why he had not been released – at least not to his satisfaction. That led to more filed grievances, bitter harangues and animosity from staff. The best I could do for him was quietly to pass the word of his ravings, at his request, along to another prisoner with his “power of attorney.”

Tom was best known as the old mentally-ill guy shuffling around the prison grounds with a walker, hollering bitter epithets across the yard with an infectious laugh. He had forgotten more 4-letter words than I had ever heard!

Walkers Not Approved in Prison:

Why did he have the walker? He refused to take a shower at Maine State Prison until they provided a walker. Staff got tired of his odor and forced him into the shower. He fell and injured himself.

In view of the likelihood that he did not have a walker when jailed at Penobscot County Jail in Bangor, is there a pattern here? Showers seem to have been lethal places for Tom.

Sheldon Weinstein, another sex offender whose April 24, 2009 homicide hangs over Maine Department of Corrections like the Sword of Damocles, “fell” out of his top bunk at Maine Correctional Center; Tom Hart “slipped” in a shower he consistently refused to take without a walker. Hmmm!

Refusal of medical treatment, however, was indeed a pattern of Tom’s.

Rumors of a Beating Aside…:

I believe Sheriff Ross when he insists that Tom was closely supervised because of his age and health issues and was not assaulted by prisoners. I just don’t believe that Sheriff Ross has the background or capacity to deal with a case like Tom Hart.

I don’t know a staff member at Maine State Prison who did know how to deal with Tom Hart.

Tom and I got along OK – in segregation, where he seemed to spend much of his time, or out in general population. That he was crazier than an out-house rat was an earned perception, but that does not suggest he should not have been treated respectfully. To the contrary!

I can see Tom now, lying on his bunk in segregation with a folded towel over his eyes. He was one of the few I would awaken to see what I could do for him. His story was always the same – complaining about not being heard. In chapel, it was frequent that someone asked for prayer for Tom.

Be a victim long enough, and people fail to hear the cry for help.

I hope there is someone out there who cared enough for Tom Hart to grieve for him. It seems as though that is the least we might expect from this life.

To law enforcement who are investigating his death, let’s get it done on a transparent and timely basis.

Eric Russell, Bangor Daily News, April 14, 2011
Dawn Gagnon, Bangor Daily News, February 28, 2011