If the shock of seeing her daughter on life support wasn’t devastating enough, nothing could have prepared Natasha Martin to hear she was dead.
“My heart is broken. My only child is gone,” Martin told The Telegram not long after 27-year-old Skye Martin died at the Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital in Clarenville.
“I don’t know how I will go on.”
Skye was an inmate at the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville, where the incident that caused her death happened.
According to police, while Skye was eating her lunch in her cell, a piece of sandwich became lodged in her windpipe. A few days after the incident, RCMP Staff Sgt. Larry Turner told The Telegram that a corrections officer who was checking on Skye saw her pointing at her throat before she suddenly collapsed.
Corrections officers performed CPR before she was rushed to hospital, Turner said.
“My daughter struggled with mental illness for a long time and I’m angry that a psychiatrist thought she was well enough to be released and have her sent to prison. I’m angry because she didn’t belong there … "
Upon arrival, Skye was put on life support and showed no brain activity. She was pronounced dead at 3:30 a.m. on April 21.
Results of an autopsy were not released publicly, but Turner said all indications point to asphyxiation.
“It was an unfortunate incident,” he had said, “just one of those freak things that could have happened in my own kitchen.”
But it happened in a prison — somewhere the young woman didn’t belong, according to her mother.
“She should never have been released from the Waterford Hospital in the first place,” Natasha Martin said. “My daughter struggled with mental illness for a long time and I’m angry that a psychiatrist thought she was well enough to be released and have her sent to prison. I’m angry because she didn’t belong there …
“My daughter did not want to die. ... My daughter is dead and she shouldn’t be.”
Martin said Skye struggled with mental illness from the time she was a child. She showed early signs of obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, but despite her mother’s efforts to get her help, she wasn't diagnosed until years later.
Skye showed periods of improvement through the years, she said, and had a daughter of her own.
“She was a wonderful mother. Her daughter was her life,” Martin said.
But Skye struggled with addictions as well as mental illness. She got into the methadone program and was taking medication for anxiety.
She seemed to be doing better but then her life seemed to become more difficult.
“It was a tough time for her,” Martin acknowledged, adding her daughter was in and out of jail and the Waterford Hospital for the next 3 1/2 years. “She was fighting it so much.”
Skye was arrested and eventually convicted of attempted armed robbery, for which she served a year a jail.
When she was released from prison in December 2017, she was staying at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre and was also getting help from staff at the Stella Burry Centre, her mother said. But a month later, things turned bad again, and her mental illness got out of control. She was admitted to the Waterford Hospital at the end of January 2018.
While in hospital, Skye responded well under the care of Dr. Nazar Ladha, Martin said.
Shortly afterwards, however, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal ruled that Martin’s sentence on the attempted armed robbery had been insufficient and ordered that she serve another six months behind bars.
“Why — when both lawyers did not want additional jail time, her sentence was done and the crime paid for? She was released from a mental hospital and sent to Clarenville. How did this happen?” Martin said.
“When I went to see her at the end of March, she was in a manic state. Her mind was racing. A scheduled hour-long visit lasted 10 minutes. She couldn’t sit still. Imagine a hamster running on a wheel — this is what the brain feels like in a manic state like that.
“A guard told me she shouldn’t have been there and said they don’t know what to do with her. Sometimes they just locked her in the cell.”
Martin is demanding to know what happened and has many unanswered questions.
“Her mental health had deteriorated drastically,” she said. “Why was the medication that was prescribed by one doctor changed by another? Why was food allowed in a cell when the person was showing signs of mental distress? …
“I don’t know how long she was not breathing in her cell. I wish they had watched her closer and checked on her more often, but I do know that the resources are not there in prison to deal with mental illness…
“When you have a child with mental illness, the fear is always in the back of your mind that you’ll get that knock on the door from someone telling you something bad has happened. But I thought she was safe when she was in Clarenville.”
Martin said there have been great strides made in addressing the stigma of mental health. However, she said what happened to her daughter indicates much more work needs to be done and changes need to be made.
She said she will always keep her daughter’s memory alive and continues to talk to Skye’s nine-year-old daughter about her.
“Skye had a big, big heart and was beautiful from the day she was born,” Martin said, breaking down in tears. “A lot of people, including the inmates, loved her so much. She called every (female) she met ‘girlie girl’…
“Skye knew I loved her. I want to tell every parent, grandparent, guardian to hug your children every day, because in a moment you may never get the chance."