From the Womb to the Tomb - The Tony Lester Story

A Culture of Death in an Arizona Prison

Non-Fiction - Grief/Hardship
500 Pages
Reviewed on 10/03/2020
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite

From the Womb to the Tomb - The Tony Lester Story: A Culture of Death in an Arizona Prison by Carl R. Toersbijns is a bold examination of how incarcerated people with mental health issues are treated within the walls of Arizona prisons and exposes a flawed criminal justice system. Toersbijns is an experienced prison professional and consultant for sound correctional practices, and he uses his experience and skills to bring to light the tragic story of Tony Lester, a Native American suffering from mental illness who died in the Tucson Complex. “He was a victim of a culture of negligence concerning mentally ill inmates in the Corrections Department,” as Toersbijns puts it. We follow Lester’s aunt, Patti Jones, as she advocates for better treatment of mentally ill prisoners so that the tragedy of her nephew will not be repeated.

Real-life stories are more tragic and thought-provoking. From the Womb to the Tomb by Carl R. Toersbijns is an investigative and sympathetic look at the way inmates with mental health issues are handled and what makes it an urgent call for immediate reform. What is deplorable is that the administrative officials and psychiatric staff evaluated Lester as a “manipulator” and a “gamer.” He was prescribed to remain on psychotropic medications, yet his prison conditions were not conducive to sustain whatever limited mental competency he had. Cells with no windows, poor lighting, ill-trained staff, property restrictions, and delayed access to medical and mental health care are among the many factors that trigger mentally ill inmates to get worse. Videos on the web attest to the failure to provide Lester with sufficient care when he was found in a dark cell with self-inflicted injuries. May this book serve as the catalyst to reform the criminal justice system. It is a powerful tool to understand the dynamics of Lester’s case and how it can be used as a blueprint for penal reform.