Ashley Marie Gonsalves was arrested on Saturday, Oct. 1, for sending text messages to an ex-boyfriend that violated a restraining order he had against her. Gonsalves, who had several other criminal cases open for larceny and fraud, was brought that night to the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford, where she said she asked to see a nurse.

Without the prescription medication she takes for severe anxiety, Gonsalves said she sometimes becomes suicidal. In an interview conducted over Facebook messenger, Gonsalves claimed that she warned at least four different guards about her declining psychiatric condition over the course of Saturday night and Sunday morning.

“I told them when I first arrived that I wasn’t suicidal at that moment but I would be without my meds,” Gonsalves said. “I tried to advocate for myself and they didn’t listen until it was too late.”

Gonsalves, who was never placed on suicide watch, tried to hang herself on Sunday afternoon using a makeshift noose she fashioned from a piece of her bedsheet.

A spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office verified Gonsalves’ suicide attempt but denied the rest of her allegations.

"When they cut me down and attempted to wake me up, they were screaming get the fuck up and banged me off the wall," Gonsalves said. “The guard told me herself she was about to pepper spray me.”

The jail’s staff, Gonsalves said in another Facebook message, “kept saying that I thought I could get out of trouble this way as if it was some twisted joke at an attempt to get out of trouble.”

Gonsalves was transported to St. Luke’s Hospital, where she received psychiatric medication early Monday morning, according to discharge records from the hospital. Gonsalves was arraigned in court later that day and released on bail.

The Public’s Radio learned of this previously unreported suicide attempt through a leaked picture of a daily log kept by the jail’s staff on Sunday, Oct. 2, which was verified by a spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office.

The log reports Gonsalves’ suicide attempt as a “code 99” for a “regional hanging” in cell 11 at 2:58 p.m. Six minutes later, another code 99 appears in the log for a “regional unresponsive” in cell 3, with Adam Howe’s name listed.

The revelation of Gonsalves’ suicide attempt within minutes of Howe’s casts doubt on whether the jail’s staff has as tight of a handle on mental health treatment as the county's sheriff claimed in the immediate aftermath of Howe’s suicide.

A string of three suicides in three successive months last year had already reignited old criticisms of the Bristol County jails, which a 2017 report by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting revealed to have the highest number of suicides of any county jail system in Massachusetts during the preceding decade. Bristol County’s inmate population, by comparison, is the fourth largest of the state’s 13 county jail systems.

Howe’s suicide on Oct. 2, now the fourth suicide in the past 13 months, drew an additional deluge of media attention to Bristol County’s jails because of the extreme nature of his alleged crimes. Howe, a 42-year-old from Cape Cod struggling with addiction, was charged with murdering his mother after police found her body on fire in the front yard of the home they shared in Truro.

Due to a complicated chain of bureaucratic decisions, state police could not secure a place for Howe in the state’s mental hospital. Instead, they transported him to the Ash Street Jail, a 134-year-old Bristol County jail that doubles as a regional lockup for some police departments outside the county. Within a few hours of Howe’s arrival – during which the jail’s staff said Howe was checked on every 15 minutes – Howe reportedly killed himself by stuffing his nose and throat with wet toilet paper.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson declined an interview request for this story. Still, the sheriff – who has managed the county’s jails since 1997 and is facing his first contested election in 12 years next month – appeared on other local radio and television stations to defend the conditions in his jails and the professionalism of his staff in the immediate aftermath of Howe’s death.

“People should have been applauding us, not coming after us and blaming us for this problem,” Hodgson said earlier this month on WBSM’s South Coast Tonight, a weeknight talk radio program.

The sheriff said his staff was not given proper warning that Howe was suicidal, though he said a lieutenant in his office still placed Howe on suicide watch.

Hodgson said later in the radio program that his suicide watch and mental health treatment programs are inspected on a regular basis and have received recent accredidations from the American Corrections Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Hodgson claimed an inspector from the latter of these groups singled out the Bristol County jails for exceeding standards.

“The compliments were unbelievable,” Hodgson said. “And he said at the end, ‘Sheriff, I want to tell you something. If I ever want to get back into corrections, I’d be applying right here in Bristol County.’”

The sheriff never mentioned in any of these media appearances that his staff discovered Howe was unconscious just six minutes after they responded to another attempted suicide in the same wing of the jail.

Gonsalves is not the only Bristol County inmate whose statements to the press about inadequate mental health treatment have been met with denials from the sheriff’s office. But in an environment that is difficult to peer into from the outside, these disputing claims are often impossible to independently verify.

Alexander W. Oliveira, 31, of Fall River, is another former inmate whose harsh descriptions of mental health treatment in the jails have been disputed by the sheriff’s office. Oliveira said he spent time on suicide watch in the Dartmouth House of Corrections, another jail in Bristol County, while awaiting trial in 2019 for charges related to a false bomb threat. He said inmates had a running joke about the unit.

“Suicide watch,” Oliveira began, “where they watch you commit suicide.”

Oliveira said inmates there get a brief visit from a nurse once a day, but that conditions are essentially the same as solitary confinement.

“The guards don't care if you commit suicide, they only care about avoiding liability,” Oliveira said.

In an emailed response, Darling, the sheriff’s spokesman, called Oliveira’s statements “a complete lie.”

“People attempting to harm themselves is among the most challenging aspects of corrections, and these challenges are not unique to Bristol County,” Darling said. “People have dark moments in prison and suicide attempts happen in every correctional facility in the nation.”

In recent media appearances, Hodgson has answered questions about the persistent suicides in his jails by attributing them to drug addiction and mental problems in the surrounding county that are beyond his control.

“If you want to go by numbers, you can also do a comparative study of what the differences are in the populations in those counties, and what the higher risks are for the kinds of populations you have,” Hodgson said recently on WBSM’s SouthCoast Tonight.

In contrast, available public health statistics show the suicide rate in Bristol County at large is not an outlier.

And though no state agencies collect clear statistics about suicides in Massachusetts’ 13 county jails, a 2017 analysis of data obtained from each county sheriff by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found more inmates committed suicide in the Bristol County jails than any county jail system in Massachusetts during the preceding decade.

Since that report was published, nine more inmates in the Bristol County jails have committed suicide, according to the sheriff’s office. With no readily available data for the past five years, it is not clear at this time how that compares to other county jails statewide.

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenBerke6.