March 23, 1969 – June 29, 2004
Born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Mark Jones was one of four children born to Brownie and Deborah Jones. The second child, his brother Matthew “Matt” Jones was the oldest followed by Mark and then his sisters, Kimberlee and Kristen who were not available for an interview. Eventually, the family moved to Uvalde, Texas where Mark went to high school.
Growing up, Mark and Matt were more than brothers—they were friends, too. Matt recalls Mark as the family troublemaker. He likened Mark to Dennis the Menace, saying that he was always getting into trouble. Mark followed in his brother Matt’s footsteps by enlisting in the Army and was stationed in Colorado. While he was in the Army, he worked on M60 tanks. He was about to be transferred overseas, but he broke his hand just before the move and had to undergo many surgeries. However, no broken hand could stop him from playing the guitar. Remarkably, Mark was the type of person who was so smart that he never had to study when he was in school. Mark did so well in school, in fact, that he attended and graduated from Wake Forest University.
Mark’s mother, Deborah, is still burdened so much by the loss of her son that she stated an interview would be too hard; however, she wanted us to know that Mark was the kindest and most loving soul, saying that he would truly give away the shirt off his back. Matt seconded their mother’s statement. Mark had a determination to help others and Matt reported that it extended to his active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous. Mark was very active in Alcoholics Anonymous and loved helping people in that community. He also did a lot of volunteer work with the Salvation Army.
Mark and Matt were still best friends into adulthood and went fishing and wakeboarding together often. It was while wakeboarding one day that Matt recalled a moment that truly exemplified Mark’s commitment to helping others. Mark had made a friend at Alcoholics Anonymous and wanted to invite him to wakeboard with the two of them. This friend was a fellow Army veteran and had lost his leg in combat overseas. Throughout the course of the day on the water, Mark was determined to provide a fun-filled trip for his new friend and get him up on the wakeboard. Being the talented wakeboarder that he is, Mark was able to get his friend up on the wakeboard. After they got back to land, Mark and his friend called all sorts of people to tell them about his friend’s accomplishment. Mark’s love for the water extended to fishing, too. Their favorite place to fish was in Panama City Beach; however, Matt recalled a certain fishing trip to Delaware that was particularly amazing. Mark knew a commercial fisherman in Delaware who took them out on his boat and allowed them to set the nets with chum and took them shark fishing off the Delaware coast.
The two were inseparable—both on land and water. They even started a business installing cabinets together. They lived and worked out of Birmingham, Alabama, but were contracted for jobs in other states such as Mississippi and Louisiana. It was while they were working on a job in New Orleans that Mark was arrested. Mark was 35 when he passed away.
To this day, Matt struggles with finding closure and justice. The civil suit was settled in 2011 and dismissed on March 25, 2014. Three years after Mark’s death, former deputy Matthew Strickland pleaded guilty to manslaughter for delivering the final, fatal blow that killed Mark. He was sentenced to two years in prison. For Matt, it is particularly difficult knowing that the cost of his brother’s life was merely a two-year sentence, especially given the systemic failure of Orleans Parish Prison to inform Matt of his brother’s condition after the deputy caused Mark’s brain death. Mark passed away without the company of his siblings or parents.
Mark’s death brought Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office under fire for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office’s failure to alert incarcerated people’s family members of serious injuries, hospitalization, and deaths. When Matt called to post bail, he was told to wait until the hearing and not informed that his brother was in the hospital on life support. When the hospital doctors told the jail to contact his family, the jail said they had no contact information for his family. The jail didn’t check Mark’s wallet – which the jail had seized when booking him – which contained his brother’s business card.
While Mark’s death was and remains an avoidable tragedy because Mark’s family spoke out and filed their lawsuit against Sheriff Gusman, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office now has a policy for informing family members when a loved one at Orleans Parish Prison is injured or dies. According to Mary Howell, the attorney who represented the Joneses in their civil suit, the jail failed to have in place adequate policies to “ensure family members of arrestees on minor charges who were in critical and/or terminal condition, were contacted in order to permit the families to provide love and comfort and to participate in medical treatment decisions and, if necessary, end-of-life decision making.” The new policy was put into place in 2009 and updated in 2011 following the string of civil suits.
Mark’s life was vibrant—full of love of family and the outdoors. He was smart, caring, and committed to serving others. In his death, he impacted the justice system in Orleans Parish for the better, which now allows family members of injured inmates the courtesy that he and his family were deprived of. Thank you, Mark, for your positive impact on friends and strangers in both life and death.
Author: Sarah Beth Hyde
- Interview with Mathew Jones, Brother of Decedent, Mark Jones, (Oct. 26, 2021).
- Interview with Deborah Jones, Mother of Decedent, Mark Jones, (Oct. 24, 2021).
- The ACLU, Orleans Parish Prison, The ACLU 12, 15 (2006) https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/prison/OPP1.pdf