Sean had begged his mother in court that day not to go the route of involuntary confinement. He was being sent to a program, he told her, where he would be locked up and not allowed to continue taking the medication that was helping him with his addiction — methadone.
“I thought he misunderstood,” says Robin. “Because I couldn’t conceive that there would be an opioid treatment program that would not provide medication-assisted treatment.”
It turns out Sean was right. Although many providers say medication is the gold standard in addiction treatment, Sean was sent to a program in a state prison in Plymouth, Mass., that does not provide the medicine.
When we spoke with Sean in 2017 — shortly after he’d spent about a month committed, he said that the conditions were inhumane and that he was often placed in segregation, or “the hole” — though he had not committed any crime.
“I was punished for not eating,” Sean told us. “That’s how I ended up in the hole. If you refuse your tray, they consider it a behavioral issue. I didn’t know that — I was just sick.”
He spiraled to suicide
Sean also said in that interview that he was having trouble adjusting to life after his time in the Plymouth prison.
“I just feel different,” he said. “I have a lot more anxiety. I feel scared. I feel like I’m going to wake up and be back there.”
Less than a year after that interview, Sean killed himself. His mother says that after that stint in civil commitment, Sean could no longer hold a job. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital and was later jailed on charges of trying to break into a house. Robin believes being locked up for addiction treatment contributed to his suicide.
“I think that his trauma was very much triggered by him being in the cell” at the local jail, she says. “And he just felt like he couldn’t take it anymore.” The sheriff wouldn’t comment, but documents at the local jail confirm that Sean tried to take his own life there; he later died from those injuries.
Sean’s longtime partner, Heather McDermott, says he was never the same after his civil commitment.
“He was like a big, sad, depressed tumor that I was trying to bring back to life,” McDermott says. “We had a home. I can’t even believe we got here, and then — then he died.”