Darlene McDay still feels heartbreak when she reads through the letters her son, Dante Taylor, sent her while he was in solitary confinement. She says, through those letters, she could feel her son was struggling.
“He was writing letters to me. I just saw his mental state really deteriorating," McDay said. "He was telling me, ‘I can’t take this. It’s really depressing. I’m getting really sad.’”
The warning signs in the letters went unanswered. The New York State Department of Corrections says that on October 7, 2017, Taylor committed suicide while incarcerated at Wende Correctional Facility. He had spent three months in solitary confinement.
His mother says not enough was done for her son, a former Marine with a history of suicide attempts.
McDay decided to channel grief into action. She organized with others to advocate for the HALT solitary act.
“I started seeing more and more that my story, my son’s story, could help other people. To help change things," McDay said.
What You Need To Know
- Darlene McDay lobbied lawmakers, alongside others, to pass the HALT Solitary Act
- This is after NYS Department of Corrections said her son, Dante Taylor, committed suicide after a three-month stay in solitary
- The bill limits solitary confinement to 15 days, introduces rehabilitative alternatives to solitary, and excludes certain groups from it, including pregnant women, the eldery, minors, and those dealing with mental illness
The state Legislature passed the HALT Act and Gov. Cuomo signed the bill into law this week. McDay says she worked hard to change minds, including those of high-level government officials.
“He was initially kind of negative," McDay said, regarding one New York state legislator that her group spoke with. "He felt like the bill was important and he was going to vote "yes," but at the same time, he said, '“But I don’t know if I can co-sponsor it.'”
"The call was almost over. I hadn’t spoken yet, but then I did start speaking, and I told him my story. Suddenly, things changed and he signed on as a co-sponsor after that."
The law establishes a maximum of 15 days in solitary for an inmate, and provides more options for rehabilitative therapy. It also protects certain individuals from solitary confinement, such as those struggling with mental illness, persons younger than 21 or older than 55, and pregnant women.
“I have a friend in the HALT campaign that gave birth to twins while she was in solitary confinement," McDay said. "And she gave birth to those twins at 5 months and one of them died because she was in solitary confinement and didn’t have the help that she needed.”
A mother's journey to establish humane conditions for incarcerated people, in memory of her son.