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Mother's grief over son's suicide in Vt. prison - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Mother's grief over son's suicide in Vt. prison

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

"He would give anybody the shirt off his back," Ellie Jimmo said.

Jimmo will never forget the last conversation with her son.

"It breaks my heart," she said.

R.J. Mossey called his mom from the state prison in Newport, where he was being held on a theft charge. The phone call lasted just one minute, but Jimmo says that was enough time to know that something was terribly wrong.

"It's just like he knew," she said. "And he was calling to say goodbye."

Mossey hanged himself with a bed sheet in a prison bathroom broom closet the next day.

"I'll miss our talks," Jimmo said, crying.

R.J. Mossey had a history with addiction, namely prescription pills and crack. His petty crimes were all drug-related.

"He wasn't a bad boy, but because of the drugs, he made a lot of bad choices," Jimmo said.

His mom says he had a history of depression, too, that prison officials in Newport knew about.

"This isn't or wasn't R.J.'s first rodeo up there," Jimmo said.

Now, she wants to know if his mental health needs were being met, if prison officials missed the warning signs, and how he managed to get into the mop closet to kill himself.

"I find it really hard to believe that the ones who really know him couldn't start to see the change in him," she said.

"All of those things need to be looked at to be certain there wasn't any employee misconduct," Vermont Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said.

Pallito says three separate investigations will try to answer those questions and if another person helped facilitate Mossey's suicide.

"That closet was supposed to be locked other than during cleaning times. We have some concerns about how he was able to gain access to that closet," Pallito said. "Was a staff member involved or was another resident involved?"

Mossey's suicide is the first in Vermont prisons since 2004. That's when Corrections went through a major overhaul. Officers now get more training to spot suicidal inmates. Mental health experts now work at prisons. And some cells are furnished with beds, tables, lights and vents to make it harder for prisoners to hang themselves.

Despite a spike in inmates with acute mental health issues trying to hurt themselves, the number of near-fatal suicide attempts dropped to three in 2012, down from eight the year before.

"It is almost unheard of for a system to go this long without a suicide," Pallito said.

Reporter Darren Perron: How did R.J. Mossey slip through the cracks?

Andy Pallito: We have a series of investigations to learn what we could have done better... Our track record is amazing, but we have individuals in our custody that have a whole host of issues.

"Any parent, brother, sister with someone in the system, and if they sound depressed, don't let it go," Ellie Jimmo advised.

Jimmo wishes she had pressured the prison more to make sure her son was OK, but says it's ultimately up to Corrections to keep inmates safe. And she would give anything for one more day with R.J.

"I'll miss telling him, 'remember your guardian angels,'" she said. "That's how I end my conversation with all of my boys, 'Don't forget your guardian angels.'"

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