A public inquest into the death of an inmate at Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) has now reached the halfway point.
For five days, six jurors have heard testimony from correctional staff, nurses and physicians who worked with Kinew James around the time of her death.
The 35-year-old was set for release in August 2013, after spending nearly half her life behind bars.
“She had plans, she had concrete plans for coming home,” her sister Cheryl said.
James who was one of the youngest in a large family, had obtained a university credit in psychology while incarcerated and was looking forward to reuniting with her son.
That day would never come. On Jan. 19 of that year, James was found unresponsive in her cell at the RPC and died of an apparent heart attack.
“It’s devastating, it’s incredibly hard on the whole family – I mean we were all expecting her to come home.”
On Friday, court heard from Donalee Spence, a correctional officer who said James was lying face down on her bed on the evening of her death.
Both she and a nurse tried to get James’ attention through the cell hatch but to no avail. Spence testified there were no strange noises coming from her cell, just more snoring sounds while they waited for a second officer to arrive before they could all enter the cell.
Once inside, the nurse checked James’ blood pressure and within minutes Spence issued a code blue and began administering CPR.
James, who was schizophrenic and had Type 2 diabetes was on a dozen or so medications at the time. A physician earlier in the week testified that in the days leading up to James’ death, her blood sugar levels were never within normal range.
“It seems to me that they’re trying to blame my sister for her illnesses,” Cheryl James said.
“She was healthy when she went in there. Everything happened when she was there – all the stressors, the weight that she gained.”
At times, testimony during the first week has been hard for the family to hear. A nurse who was performing CPR on James said it was like performing CPR on a waterbed.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is how incredibly insensitive, disrespectful just plain racist, discriminatory – this whole system is towards our indigenous people specifically to our indigenous patients.”
When this inquest concludes, the jury can offer recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
The inquest will continue Monday and is expected to run the entire week.
The family says, so far during the inquest, there is one thing they still haven’t heard and are not sure they will – an apology from staff who worked at the institution when Kinew died.