What's Mom Worth?: When a Woman Became Deathly Ill in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Jail, Guards and Nurses Ignored Her Agony

Deborah Braillard, mother

Mom taught me to sew.

And I' m going to teach my own baby, Jennylee. Eventually.

Jennylee is a quick study for a 6-year-old.

She watches as I sew her Minnie Mouse costume. She is double-twice excited, though honestly, I think I like Halloween as much as she does, even if it is a gloomy time of year.

Come, sit here, Pumpkin, and watch now how I pin the paper pattern here on the cloth. You see that, sweetie? You cut this out while I trim the red polka dots for your bow.


You take a good look at these pieces and try to guess where they'll go. Mommy will be right back.

As mother and daughter work inside their little trailer, outside, slate-stained cumulonimbus clouds menace, gray anvil domes await the strike.

Deborah ducks, briefly, into the tiny, plywood-framed bathroom for a little pick-me-up. When she emerges, the sweetness of this moment with Jennylee does not escape her notice.

But lightning in the darkness overcomes it.

Deborah shivers in spite of herself.

Hey there, Pumpkin, here's the last part.

I'll just straight-stitch the seams, roll the fabric to make a hem, and secure the bow with a whip-stitch.

Let me iron up the white apron and spray it with starch to give it a little oomph.

You look perfect.

Wait! Wait! . . . Here, a little mascara, we'll make a black dot for your nose and whiskers. Hold still now, a little lipstick.

Okay, let's walk over to the community center.

Grandma will meet us there.

Jennylee, if you aren't the best mouse ever . . .

Jennylee Braillard, daughter
(2010 interviews)
"Just about my first memory of my mom was the Minnie Mouse costume she made me at Gold Bar, which is where you can hook up your trailer just outside Monroe, Washington.

"I won first place that Halloween. My prize was a six-pack of root beer."

As Jennylee speaks, her own infant daughter, Kaylynn, coos and looks around, a bow tied to her little, full-moon head.

"My mom was always happy. She was nurturing, caring. She was my mom."

Her mother's ashes sit in a container in Jennylee's home in west Phoenix. The dust is such a small amount inside a little vessel; you'd hardly believe that someone's remains could amount to so little.

It is a fact that Deborah Braillard did not always make good choices.

She died an agonizing death in a diabetic coma that would wring the life out of her over three weeks that seemed without end.

The bigger truth is that she was hurried on her way.

Deborah Braillard's passing is never far from Jennylee's thoughts; after all, she watched the worst of it.

"I was terrified to open the plastic bag with her ashes. I put mom in a big jewelry box. I think about taking her back to Gold Bar. That's where my grandmother and great grandmother are buried. It's been in the family forever. There are nature trails there . . .

"But I worry if something happens to my uncle who lives there [what would happen to Mom]."

Consider: In May 2010, researchers at the University of Wisconsin find that, in stressful situations, cortisol levels in girls soar. But for many of the young women, simply hearing their mother's voice is enough to wash away the anxiety, replacing the stress hormone with feelings of love.

Men have no such relief.

What happens between a mother and daughter comes from God.

Tamela Harper, inmate

(2007 deposition)

Tamela Harper is detained in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail when they put Deborah Braillard into her cell in January 2005.

"She was unconscious [on the evening of the 2nd]. She wasn't hardly there. She walked back to her bunk, and that was the last time I saw that lady walking. People were helping her. She was throwing up constantly. [Next day] that's when she started moaning and groaning and throwing up. She was basically unconscious at the time. She couldn't speak. She couldn't eat. The officers kept saying she was kicking heroin.

"She defecated on herself several times. There was no help for her. We kept telling the officers, you need to help her."

Brenda Tomanini, inmate

(2007 deposition)

Deborah Braillard threw up on other inmates, from her bunk to theirs. No guards, no nurses. The inmates, and Deborah, were alone on the 3rd.

On the morning of the 4th, medical asked to have Braillard brought into the clinic. But trusties could not wake the unconscious Deborah. She was left vegetating.

"I couldn't get Ms. Braillard up. Couldn't do it. She wouldn't respond to me at all. I could tell that she was breathing, but I couldn't get a response out of her.