Shaylene Antoinette Graves, 27, was found hanging in her cell on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at the California Institute for Women Correctional Facility in San Bernadino, California. She was to be released in six weeks after serving an eight-year sentence. The Sheriff’s Department has alleged her untimely death, one of many, as a “suicide.” Friends and family of Shaylene challenge their statement and seek answers.
Shaylene’s mother, Sheri M. Graves, wants the public to know about her daughter and writes the following:
“My daughter, Shaylene Antoinette Graves, was definitely a one in a million person.
Many people are described as special, under normal circumstances but Shaylene was exceptionally special in the worst of circumstances. In past eight years, she woke up every day in “hell on earth.”
She was one of the most verbally expressive people. She could walk in a room and light it up with her humor, upbeat attitude or agenda. Shaylene was just one of those people with who you could really enjoy life.
From the time she could first speak, she was extremely perceptive. I was amazed at the things my two year old would say. She would sense your emotions and immediately address them, expecting answers. There was no hiding from Shaylene.
She was so small in stature but you didn’t even notice because her heart and drive were so big. If she loved something, you knew it. If she didn’t like something, you knew it.
Everything she committed to, you knew she was “going hard” and giving her all.
She enjoyed basketball and played on an all-boys team when she was around 8 or 9 years old. Although she was the smallest one on the court, she would take the ball to the hoop with boys a foot taller than her. Sometimes she made it, sometimes she missed, but nothing stopped her from doing what she loved.
My daughter was verbally gifted and a gifted writer as well. I encouraged her to write while she was locked up but she would tell me it was so hard to allow herself to feel in there. She said that it made you vulnerable to tap into your inspiration there and if you allowed yourself to think deeply, you would “loose it.” Still, she kept journals and I was excited to read them upon her release.
Yet, her dynamic personality could not be hidden. Ask the inmates, staff, even family members, any race both down here and upstate, Shaylene knew how to make you feel good whether it was singing, dancing, playing cards, or telling her stories. She enjoyed interacting with people but this in itself is a another vulnerability when you’re locked up.
Shaylene deeply loved her son, Artistlee, but she forced herself to suppress her incessant thoughts of him.
A debt is due when an offense is committed. Shaylene, as well as her family, understood that. Prison is punishment, but that punishment should not include dehumanization of inmates or their families.
Shaylene, at age 19, had never been arrested. She never been in a gang was only 10 credits away from completing her high school diploma when she was arrested.
Shaylene had become friends with a couple boys who had the wrong mindset. She was driving when they decided to go on a 24–hour crime spree. The boys robbed three mini marts for about $400 dollars in total. They were all caught. She was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison.
Although every day of incarceration was a new struggle, she did her time “well.” She participated in training for transitional care as an empowerment coach. A year ago, she wrote a business plan for her future non-for-profit organization called “Out of the Blue,” a resource for newly released inmates, offering the services she learned – transitional support and empowerment coaching.
Shaylene was only about 6 weeks out of completing her 8-year sentence.
I last talked to my daughter on the evening of Memorial Day. She was her usual self, asking for money on her books for a barbeque sale, asking what I was sending her to wear home, and asking what type of cell phone we would have for her when she got out.
Thirty-six hours later, I got a call, “your daughter has died in custody.” They said she was found hanging. My son said, “Shaylene would not hang herself.” The officer said, “I know.”
The prison system failed my daughter. The prison system failed her son, Artistlee. The prison system failed our family, her friends and everyone she would have blessed with her vision for her organization.
Most of all, the prison system had failed to protect her life. She lost her right to freedom in order to pay her debt to society. But, she wasn’t supposed to lose her right to life and protection while incarcerated.”