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A mother asks: Why did my daughter die in prison?

Before she went to prison, 26-year-old Dominique Worrell had begun auditioning for a modeling agency and studying for a degree in social work.
Before she went to prison, 26-year-old Dominique Worrell had begun auditioning for a modeling agency and studying for a degree in social work.

Dominique Worrell was distraught.

The 26-year-old Goldsboro native had never been to prison before. And she was upset about having to spend many months away from her two young daughters.

After Worrell reported to prison in April 2015, she repeatedly asked for an appointment with a prison psychologist or psychiatrist – but she never got one, her mother, Gloria Worrell, said.

On the afternoon of Aug. 26, 2015, she was found dead at Southern Correctional Center, about 60 miles east of Charlotte. Prison officials said she was discovered hanging in her cell.

“She was crying out for help and they didn’t help her,” said Gloria Worrell, a former prison correctional officer.

Her daughter had been housed inside a segregation unit, where inmates are supposed to be checked regularly by correctional officers.

A prison spokesman said he could not discuss Worrell’s case because of regulations aimed at protecting the confidentiality of inmate medical and mental health information.

Worrell’s mother said she’s still not sure how or why her daughter died. But she vowed to keep fighting for answers.

Gloria Worrell shared her daughter’s story at a time when the state prison system’s suicide prevention efforts are under scrutiny. In a recent 17-day period, four inmates committed suicide – compared to three all of last year.

Earlier this week, state prison leaders unveiled a new policy designed to prevent inmate suicides. Among the plan’s goals: improving mental health treatment for those at risk of killing themselves.

Interrupted dreams

Gloria Worrell said she will always remember her daughter’s generosity, her thoughtfulness, her soft voice and her radiant smile.

At Charles B. Aycock High School, north of Goldsboro, Worrell excelled on the track team and at Junior ROTC.

Later, she began auditioning for a modeling agency and studying for a degree in social work from the University of Phoenix.

What she loved most, her mother said, was spending time with her two daughters, now ages 6 and 9.

But in September 2014, Gloria Worrell says, her daughter got caught up in a fight with several young women at a Raleigh sports bar. By the time the fight was over, Worrell had stabbed a security guard who had tried to stop the fight. She said she never meant to cut the guard, her mother said.

Worrell was serving a minimum 33-month sentence for assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, felony breaking and entering and larceny.

She made mistakes, her mother said, but she didn’t deserve to die.

“I wish I could hear that little voice again,” her mother said.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex

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