New group forms in response to Luzerne County female inmate deaths

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Rockovich -

Former Luzerne County prison inmates and other advocates have created a social media group in response to the fourth death of a female inmate at the Wilkes-Barre lockup in less than a year.

Called “Luzerne County inmates helping inmates,” the Facebook group will conduct research, hold public awareness events and coordinate efforts to provide inspirational books, visits, letters and other help for those behind bars, said one of the creators, Stephen Swiryna, of Dallas.

“We just want to bring them hope. Hope changes everything,” said Swiryna, 44.

The new group, which is moderated by Swiryna and Wilkes-Barre resident Bridgette Greene, kicked off its effort to spread kindness by securing a donated bus ticket so the father of 21-year-old Hailey Povisil could come here from Massachusetts on Friday evening. Swiryna said the father, who could not be reached for comment Friday, will be staying with him as he makes death arrangements.

Povisil, whose obituary says she’s from Hanover Township, died Tuesday night from a hanging ruled a suicide.

“He’s a mess,” Swiryna said, referring to the grief of Povisil’s father.

Swiryna said he did not know Povisil personally.

She had been facing promoting prostitution and federal firearm charges, the prison said.

Swiryna said Povisil lost her mother at a young age in 2007.

Two other inmates died from hangings deemed suicides last year — Brooke Griesing on June 8 and Tricia Cooper on July 25. Meanwhile, the July 7 death of Joan Rosengrant was ruled accidental; it was caused by the combined effect of prescription drugs complicated by her unspecified physical condition, officials determined.

‘Forgave myself’

Offering compassionate support and success stories to inmates is worth the effort because it may convince them they are capable of reversing their downward spiral, Swiryna said.

He was in and out of prison and rehab due to his addiction, and he changed his thinking when the Human Kindness Foundation sent him “We’re All Doing Time,” a spiritual growth book. He left his copy of the book behind and has received thanks from several former inmates who said reading it helped them, he said.

“I faced myself and forgave myself for all the bad things I’ve done,” Swiryna said, who views helping others as a way to give back.

The new group is not attacking the prison, noted Swiryna. However, he said some prison correctional officers are more sensitive and less judgmental toward inmates than others. More psychiatric services also are warranted, Swiryna said, questioning if that investment would reduce the public expense of prison recidivism and repeated rehab stays.

“This is all about people on the outside helping people on the inside to make this a better place,” said Swiryna.

County officials have said they are open to any viable suggestions to prevent suicides and reduce recidivism.

County Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich said Friday he is willing to meet with the new group to discuss ideas for improvements.

The new group had approximately 75 members as of Friday afternoon.

Friends and family members of inmates can request “sponsors” to provide support by joining the group and forwarding the inmate’s name, Swiryna said. Sponsors will be paired with inmates of the same gender and write letters, send books, visit and/or talk to inmates on the phone.

The group won’t accept cash to avoid any potential for accusations that money is being misspent.

A silent, peaceful protest also is in the works, but it won’t be held near the prison because the group does not want to risk disrupting inmates, said Swiryna.

“We don’t want to judge or condemn, just to open eyes and seek change,” Swiryna said, describing the prison as a “human warehouse.”


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.