Lonnie "Ham" Hamilton is the father of four, but it was his namesake, Lonnie Hamilton III, who was his "best friend" and "shadow." Which makes what happened to the younger Hamilton in New York state's prison system, documented in Jennifer Gonnerman's piece for the New Yorker, especially devastating for the elder. Ham tells Gonnerman how Lonnie, who originally lived in Georgia with his mom, came to live with him in the Bronx and soon fell into trouble, getting arrested and convicted at the age of 19 for robbing food deliverymen. He was sent first to a city jail, then shipped off to Marcy Correctional Facility, an upstate state prison, when he was 21. The regular phone calls back home started to taper off, until months went by since Ham had heard from him.
It's here where the story turns tragic. Ham, doing a search online for his son's prison info, saw a shocking word next to his son's name: "DECEASED," with a death date of March 18, 2016—six weeks earlier. As Ham tried to find out more about what had happened, he said he was stymied at every turn by the prison, with a "hot-potatoing" of his questions. Officials claim calls to Lonnie's family were attempted and letters sent, which Ham says he never received. After a monthslong fight, Ham exhumed his son's body from the prison cemetery for a proper burial and uncovered more info, including that his son had struggled with mental health issues and committed suicide. "They say what don't kill you will make you stronger," he says. "I don't know if this is making me stronger, but I surely feel like I'm dead." More on Lonnie's last day here. (How a teen with mental illness fared in the Massachusetts prison system.)