Cincinnati native Whitney Holwadel Smith, born April 10, 1984, died April 4, 2009, of suicide at the United States Penitentiary (USP) in Terre Haute. Smith had reportedly been depressed and emotionally broken after being forced to spend more than a year in the Segregated Housing Unit (The Hole).
Smith grew up in Mount Lookout and was sentenced to the Dayton Correctional Institution as an adult for his first robbery at 17-years-old. From 2002-2003 he wrote a regular column on prison life and his struggle to rehabilitate for XRay Cincinnati Magazine which I published. Smith was released in 2005 and convicted the same year for bank robbery. He was sentenced to more than six years at the USP Terre Haute. Smith's blog, Super Friends: The life and times of an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute has been published since November 2008. It was notable for being an unusually lucid and frank account of prison life. Smith's writing was variously acerbic, humorous, brutal and hopeful.
After his 2005 release, Whit lived in my home. He was a kind young man with a good heart and a broken one, too. He was my friend. After many discussions in both the outside world and behind barbed wire fences, I still don't fully understand why he committed the crimes he did. He walked through his short life with a corrupted mind that led him to poor choices again and again. His choices to be a criminal were his and he deserved his time, but I also earnestly believe he was let down by a justice system that should help offenders rehabilitate — that is to restore dignity — rather than beat them down into someone more jaded and injured than they were at the time of their arrest. My 2005 CityBeat article Prisoners Forever articlewas inspired by Whit's journey through the prison system.
A memorial for Whit will be held on Wednesday, April 8 at 2:30 p.m. at the Civic Garden Center, 2715 Reading Rd. at 2:30 p.m. It is open to the public.
If you would like to make a donation in Whit's memory, the family has asked that those be made to Circle Tail, an animal shelter in Loveland, Ohio. Whit had recently told his father, Jeff Smith, that he hoped to volunteer at an animal shelter when he got out of prison. Circle Tail works with a several prisons to foster their shelter animals before they are placed in a permanent home.