ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WVEC) -- The daughter of a prison employee killed in an escape attempt hopes change will come from her mother's death.
Veronica Darden’s daughter, Jasmine Herring, wants North Carolina officials to hear her message. Veronica managed the sewing plant at Paquotank Correctional Institution, where inmates beat employees and tried to break free last fall.
Jasmine is studying criminal justice at a North Carolina university. As she follows in her mother's footsteps, she has some strong words for prison and state leaders.
Text messages and phones calls are the everyday moments most of us don't think twice about. For Jasmine, the moments we take for granted are now the moments when her heart hurts the most.
“I still feel like I should be able to call my mama,” she lamented. “When I wake up in the morning, 7 o'clock in the morning, she's about to go to work and I can't call her. And I do that every morning.”
The pain of her mother's absence is constant.
“People don't even realize it when they talk about their mom, it kills me,” she exclaimed.
Jasmine was at work when she learned of the attacks at the prison where Veronica was a Correction Enterprises employee.
“Just that second, I thought something was funny, like I felt funny,” she recalled. “My insides were just tingling.”
Veronica and three other people lost their lives in the failed escape in October. Since then we've uncovered reports, which detail a severe staffing shortage, deficiencies in safety equipment and training, and even a gun cabinet left open inside the prison.
“I wonder how many other prisons are like this?” Jasmine questioned. “I really, really want to know how many prisons in North Carolina are like this.”
Sometimes her curiosity becomes anger.
“I don't think they care about their employees,” she alleged. “They may care more about the money.”
Correction Enterprises was set up as a work program to train inmates, but it is also a source of revenue for the state. The products made in facilities like Veronica's sewing plant are sold for a profit. State agencies are supposed to give preference to those products.
“They go to work so Correction Enterprises and the State of North Carolina can make money, but you all are short so the inmates don't need to be out,” Jasmine said.
In the past few months, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety has sent out multiple releases, which detail reforms they are working on inside the prisons. But Jasmine doesn’t believe that action is enough to protect her mom's co-workers left behind at Pasquotank.
She wants change to come from her mother’s death.
“She was a good person,” Jasmine mourned. “For a good person to leave this world, there's got to be a change.”
Until widespread change happens, Jasmine fills the moments without her mom, with memories. They are reminders of her mission to make sure other families never go through this kind of pain.
“I always wanted to make her proud and I will do that,” she added.
13News Now contacted the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to address some of the concerns.
“I don’t pretend to understand the depths of the loss and the grief that they are suffering,” Interim Chief Deputy Secretary Reuben Young wrote. “The folks who lost their lives are heroes and are part of our family."
Young went on to write, “When we lose one, it affects all of us. We are still grieving. That is what drives, I believe, the reforms to some extent we must make because when we get up every day to do this job, we not only do it in an effort to make it secure for our employees, but we do it in honor of those who lost their lives.
“One assault on our staff is too many. Still, we must keep in context the environment that we work in and what our correctional officers are exposed to. While we prefer there not be any assaults on staff or inmates, the reality of what we deal with every day is that there are risks that come with the job. We must do all we can to give our employees the best training and equip them with the tools they need to reduce those risks.”
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