When Lorena Rose describes her son Malek, it’s his sense of humor she’ll tell you about first. “Silly, liked to play games on people, goof ball,” said Rose.
The next things she’ll tell you about are his two daughters. “His little girls meant the world to him. He was very, very happy, very proud of them,” said Rose. “Good dad. He wanted to be the best dad.”
It was after midnight on July 13, 2012, when Lorena Rose got a frantic phone call. “I said ‘How bad is it?’” said Rose. “He said ‘Go. Just go to the hospital.’”
On the other end of the phone was a fellow inmate of her son, Malek Rose. Malek had been living at Renaissance East, a conditional release facility in Waterbury, after serving nearly two years in prison for purse snatching. The man on the other end of the line didn’t tell Lorena just how bad things were.
Malek had suffered a severe asthma attack. It was another inmate who found him struggling to breathe.
“All of a sudden I heard a crash in the bathroom,” said Norman Machen, a former inmate and resident at Renaissance East. “When I ran back in he was laying on the floor bleeding from the bridge of his nose where he passed out.”
Machen said staff performed CPR until paramedics arrived and took Malek to St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury.
Lorena Rose didn’t make it to the hospital in time to see her son alive.
“Somebody came and took me into the room,” said Rose, “and then the doctor came in and told me Malek had passed away.”
According to the medical examiner, the cause of death was asthma. Following his death, the family started hearing from other inmates who told them that Malek had been sick for a while, but little was done about it.
NBC Connecticut started asking questions of the Department of Correction shortly after Malek’s death. Seven months later, after several freedom of information requests, they turned over a copy of their internal investigation. While there was no blame assessed, the report shows that before he died, there were warning signs that Malek was in serious trouble.
During interviews with other residents of Renaissance East, investigators noted that inmates observed Malek’s dependency on his nebulizer, a machine that delivers asthma medication, had “increased dramatically” in the days before his death. They also told investigators they were concerned with the “lack of attention” that was given to him by staff.
“Up until the day it happened he was just basically bed ridden, chilling in his bedroom all the time,” said Machen.
Three weeks before Malek died, he was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital for what the report describes as “asthma related complications.” He was seen by a doctor, but refused to be admitted. No one from Renaissance East reported the hospital visit to DOC. According to the investigation report, “this incident would have met the minimum standard for IM (inmate) Rose to be remanded to custody and placed into a correctional facility that was capable of closely monitoring and treating his medical condition.”
We reached out to Connecticut Renaissance, a private group that runs Renaissance East and two other work release facilities in Waterbury on a five year contract with the state worth more than $13 million. They refused to comment. DOC also refused an on camera interview, and in a written statement a spokesperson tells NBC Connecticut that “inmate Rose had access to medical treatment and refused. There is no suspicion of foul play for this untimely death.”
Had Malek been admitted to the hospital after that first asthma attack in June, he likely would have been forced to return to a prison facility with a dedicated medical staff. That’s the difference between living behind a fence and living in a conditional release facility where you can spend time with family, work, and have greater freedom.
Machen says he understands why Malek refused treatment after that first attack.
“No longer behind glass talking to your family, holding your baby or your kid if you want, kissing your girlfriend, talking to your mother, holding hands with your mom, stuff like that. You really don’t want to give all that up because you got sick. ”
“If you’ve got a choice between that invisible leash, and a cage, of course you’re going to choose that invisible leash. And that’s what guys do,” said Machen.
That choice may well have cost Malek his life. It’s a choice that Machen believes an inmate shouldn't’t have had to make.
The internal investigation also recommended a closer review of the medical status of inmates before they are released to a halfway house. When they enter the system, inmates are rated on a medical needs score from one to five. One means no physical or health issues, while a score of five means the inmate needs 24-hour care. Malek was rated as a two when he was sent to Renaissance East, and the report questions that rating based on the asthma medications he was taking. The investigation found “these medications would have allowed his medical need score of 2 to increase to 3. This may have prevented IM (inmate) Rose from qualifying for release to parole supervision.”
Despite what the report says, the DOC tells NBC Connecticut via email that Malek was scored according to guidelines and was placed in an appropriate facility.
“He loved his life. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die,” said his mother.
While Lorena Rose still wants to know why warning signs in her son’s death were missed, her focus now is to keep his girls connected to him through pictures, stories, and reminders of what they meant to him.
“I tell her daddy loves you, and daddy wants the best for you.”