Dec. 28—A woman who died in a sidewalk tent on Christmas Eve outside a Manchester homeless shelter had recently been released from a New Hampshire jail with high hopes for her success.
Amanda Hartness, 34, was feted in November at the Carroll County jail in a ceremony that included jail officials, county commissioners and state Sen. Jeb Bradley.
She had earned her high school equivalency, which included four college-level courses. She completed a supportive re-entry program.
Hartness was freed on Dec. 15.
"She was a model inmate," said Maj. Patrick Bachelder, assistant superintendent at the Carroll County jail in Ossipee. "I have a hard time believing it was her."
Her death in a sidewalk tent outside the Families in Transition shelter remains under investigation, but is not suspicious, said Manchester police spokeswoman Heather Hamel. Medical examiners are awaiting toxicology tests before ruling on her cause of death, Hamel said.
Her death occurred toward the end of two days of tumultuous weather. On Friday, unseasonably warm temperatures brought heavy rain and winds. On Saturday, Christmas Eve, temperatures plummeted.
The 10-degree temperature in Manchester on the night of Dec. 24 was the lowest in the city for the entire month.
For a couple of months, people have been living in sidewalk tents outside the shelter, which is full most nights. Police have said they have a right to be on the sidewalk as long as they leave a path for pedestrians.
The state Department of Corrections had custody of Hartness and placed her in the Carroll County jail, according to Superintendent Sean Eldridge. The state does that at times for security reasons, for example to diffuse tension between two inmates at a facility.
Hartness was there from Aug. 3 to Dec. 15. According to an article in the Conway Daily Sun, Hartness planned to move to the Goffstown area when released. She hoped to study political science and theology. She wanted to help others.
"I want to make the point and be living proof that it doesn't matter your circumstances, environment or situation," Hartness told the Sun, "you can always do whatever you want to do."
Hartness likely faced the challenges most people do when released from jail or prison: a stigma and difficulty finding an apartment, job, loans and schooling, said Ophelia Burnett, healing and justice organizer with the American Friends Service Committee.
While parole boards focus on living arrangements, less attention is paid to treatment programs, Medicaid enrollment and health care, Burnett said.
She recently worked with a woman paroled to a sober living house and given a week's worth of psychiatric medication. But it can take 30 to 90 days to get an appointment at the local mental health center, she said.
"When someone's getting out, they have so much going on in their head they don't know how to get resources," Burnett said. "The time is very short that we have to get them into programs or facilities."
Online court records show that Hartness often got in trouble for theft, enough that even small thefts were prosecuted as felonies because they were repeat crimes.
She was serving a two- to five-year sentence for stealing a pickup truck and barreling through a Route 101 highway construction zone in 2020.
Hartness also had completed the Carroll County jail's four-month Transitional Re-entry Under Supportive Treatment, or TRUST, program. The intensive program focuses on staying sober, dealing with anger management issues and developing coping skills after released.
Superintendent Eldridge said he was disappointed to hear of her death.
"I really thought when I spoke to her prior to leaving, I thought she had a great plan," he said.