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Widow Of Marijuana Prisoner Speaks Out

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Cramped conditions in a prison van, severe stress and being confined to a police cell may have contributed to Golden Bay man Stephen Cleary's death in jail, his widow believes.

Irene Cleary and other family members have asked for a full investigation into the death of the 49-year-old, described as a "gentle man and a wonderful father" by Mrs Cleary.

Cleary died in Christchurch Men's Prison on Monday, less than two weeks after beginning a one-year prison sentence for growing cannabis in a shipping container at his home.

The Pohara windchime-maker died from what is believed to be an embolism, or blockage to the heart, just five days after being transferred to the Christchurch prison from a Nelson police cell.

It was the second time Cleary had been caught growing cannabis, although a charge of supplying the drug was dropped by the Takaka police and the family maintains the drug was for Cleary's personal use only.

Mrs Cleary said her husband had suffered chronic pain since an eye operation several years ago.

"He used cannabis for pain relief and to help him cope with stress, but he was genuinely trying to give it up."

Mrs Cleary believes that cramped conditions in the prison van on the way to Christchurch and the severe stress her husband was under, combined with being confined to a cell, may have contributed to his blood clot.

The family wants to find out whether he was given medical attention in time and they also question why it apparently took several days for him to receive the bag of warm clothes he took with him on the day he was sentenced, on June 1.

"He was quite frail and suffered from stress," she said.

Mrs Cleary wondered if her husband would still be alive today had he been sentenced to community service instead of prison.

Yet despite the circumstances of her husband's death, she does not want to dwell on her anger.

"Steve told me not to get caught up in anger or a vendetta. He said it will bring you down," she said. "Our lawyer has asked for a full report into Steve's death and I will take faith in the coroner to make a fair decision."

Instead, Mrs Cleary wants people to know about her husband's qualities as a family man and a father. He had two sons, aged 20 and 11.

"He had such a strong bond with our 11-year-old son. He took him to scouts and soccer. He did everything he could as a father."

Cleary also helped to bring up Mrs Cleary's two daughters, who were aged just six and 11 when the couple first met in 1993.

"He was really patient with my daughter who has special needs. He has stood by me always when others didn't. We were very happy together."

Just the week before being sentenced, her husband built a woodshed and filled it to ensure the family would be warm in winter, knowing that a prison sentence was a possibility.

Mrs Cleary, who is a nurse, said she also believed it was time cannabis was decriminalised for medicinal use.

"I know, as a nurse, that it can relieve pain," she said.

"Prison is not the place you want your loved one to finish his life in."

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Source: Stuff.com/nz
Contact: Stuff.co.nz
Copyright: Fairfax New Zealand Limited
Website: Widow cites jail van, stress
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