Continuing education in the Daily Life series would be incomplete without a lesson on the so-called health care that’s not provided in the Florida prison system. I know from reading extensively about the health care management companies that this issue is not unique to Florida, but this is where I am and this is what I can personally attest to.
I think it’s important to intermingle this issue with the fact that The New Jim Crow is alive and well in Florida. It’s very Kafkaesque, or maybe they are just expecting the prisoners will develop some form of Stockholm syndrome. Either way prisoners are forced into labor with absolutely zero recognition for their labors. Prisoners receive no pay for work in Florida.
I don’t mind sharing with you, my family, the bodily malfunctions my nearly sixty year-old self is experiencing. It completes the picture. I have, until coming to Columbia correctional, been equipped with dual knee braces and a walking cane. X-rays for the past six years or so have shown the arthritic deterioration of my knees, shoulders, neck, etcetera, etcetera. But lo and behold, a new health care management company and transfer to a different region, hallelujah I’m all cured!
A.R.N.P. Robinson decided that since the new company, Centurion Health Care, has changed their standards, all the previously prescribed apparatuses – canes, braces, wheel chairs and just about anything the Americans With Disabilities Act did absolutely not allow them to take, was recalled.
With the knowledge that the prison system is aging, the trick is to simply disavow that there is even the existence of a problem and you can claim plausible deniability. For instance, my medical file has been thinned three or four times and the previously filed work has been stored somewhere other than where it’s accessible. Sooo, the new A.R.N.P. says she cannot find where I have a hiatal hernia. Hence, she can deny giving me the medication that is needed to keep me from choking on my food and aspirating on my own upchuck. Let’s not even consider the suffering that comes with not being able to consume a meal in the three allotted minutes the officers are giving you to eat in the first place. But even worse is that the officers are trained to view every inmate as being a malingerer. A fake. Now even when someone is vomiting their meal into the grass, they must be faking it to some nefarious ends. This happened to me a couple of days ago when I had to step outside the chow hall to save myself from choking after literally the first bite. Sgt. Morris would not allow me to eat my meal and threatened me with confinement unless I left the chow hall.
This type of treatment is endemic in the prisons in this country. Why, because of Florida Statute 921.002(1)(b) which states The primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender. Rehabilitation is a desired goal of the criminal justice system but is subordinate to the goal of punishment. Florida, you are exposed. The question is will you look at yourselves in all your ignominy and start caring about and for your people?
I must again make clear, this culture of not caring for our people is not limited to Florida. It’s a condition that is destroying our people, our culture, and our chances of survival. So the next time you think incarcerated persons are taken taken care of by ”the system,’ ask any inmate if they are a better person because they spent time in the most deplorable conditions imaginable – in a country that is considered a world leader. You shouldn’t be surprised by the answers.
We watched him dying. Everyone on our wing had their own diagnosis.
“It’s jaundice. Look at how yellow he is.”
“How can you tell? He’s hispanic.”
“Next time you get close to him, look at his eyes. They are yellow.”
“I bet he has liver cancer. Look at how skinny he’s gotten. If he weighs a hundred pounds I’d be surprised.”
Several of us wrote requests to medical. “You really must help this man.” Somebody took a guard quietly to the side of the dayroom after our requests went unanswered.
“You see that guy standing on the wall next to 101 cell?”
“He’s dying. When you do an in and out, take a close look at him. He never goes to chow, his celly says he has chronic diarrhea. Somebody has got to do something for him. Medical is ignoring us.”
At first, our attentions were discreet. But later we openly made pests of ourselves, asking him daily if he needed help, if he was feeling okay. His stoic refusals led us to believe he was committing an agonizingly slow suicide. Finally, medical responded, though we were certain it was too late. He refused treatment time and time again. To the Warden’s credit (how word reached him nobody is sure), when he saw the man in the infirmary, he was having none of their official resignation.
“What are you doing for this man?”
“Nothing. He’s refusing treatment.”
“Oh, hell no! He’s going to the hospital. Now!”
That was the last we saw of him. We’ve heard nothing since about whether he lived or died but we kept him in our prayers.
It’s probably like this in other states but certainly in Texas, the prison system is loathe to even hint that they employ people who care about inmates. Thus, every nurse station is labeled an ‘infirmary,’ every form requesting medical care is a ‘sick call,’ and you pick up your medication at the ‘pill window.’ Outside. Rain, snow, sleet, or shine.
To say that prisons do a poor job of delivering health care is a gross understatement. Prison Legal News has been at the forefront of reporting and litigation on behalf of inmates who’ve suffered medical malpractice. You can find, in their archives, article upon article describing lawsuits against prisons which have neglected inmates to the point of serious injury and death. In many cases, suffering could have easily been prevented.
A libertarian-minded person might argue that government hires the least qualified since they pay below-market labor rates; look at the VA for instance. There may be some truth in that. Yet, incompetence alone can’t account for such widespread malpractice. Diseases that are routinely vanquished outside prisons are rampant and life-threatening inside them. When is the last time you heard of someone dying of a staph infection or sepsis in a hospital? It happens rarely because staph and sepsis rarely go unrecognized or untreated. In prison?
“Here’s an Ibuprofen. Go back to your cell.”
And that is after one has waited up to 72 hours for the infirmary to respond to your sick call request.
This indifference isn’t because medical staff are incompetent but because they’re trained to be belligerent. That sounds like hyperbole, doesn’t it? it’s not.
Not all belligerence leads to injury or death. Most refusals to provide care merely result in dramatic cost savings. Let’s face it, garden variety colds and flus resolve themselves. Nobody dies. They’re uncomfortable is all. Inmates will be forced to work anyway, threatened with disciplinary hearings which can jeopardize parole chances, a win-win for prison wardens.
Not all malpractice results in legal action. Very few inmates have the resources to litigate a malpractice suit.
An inmate on my unit, we’ll call him Bob, was diagnosed with brain cancer his last time down. He was given an emergency parole but was convicted of another DUI and sent back to prison. After arriving, he was transferred to the Mumford Unit to have his tumor removed. The surgery required that doctors cut away a piece of Bob’s skull. Once his tumor was removed, the piece of bone that had been cut away was fastened back to his skull using four screws and two metal plates.
About five months ago, Bob showed me a two-inch piece of bone that had pushed itself through a wound in his scalp. Also pushed out of his scalp was a titanium screw. Alarming to say the least. Bob put in a sick call request and the nurse was concerned enough to schedule a trip to the neurologist.
Going to see a medical specialist in a Texas prison is an ordeal. TDCJ does not have the resources to employ specialists at every unit. Depending on the type of specialist, an inmate might have to be transported hundreds of miles by bus, cuffed to another prisoner. In the worst case, you’re chained, shackled and hog-tied. Prior to travel, you’re required to pack all of your property and inventory it. Then at 6 AM, you’re taken to a holding cell where you can wait up to four hours for the bus to arrive.
Bob was shackled and hog-tied on his trip to the neurologist. Not once, not twice, but three times was he sent, each trip excruciating and humiliating. On the third trip he was able to converse with the specialist.
“Bob, I have good news and bad news.”
“Okay, what’s the good news?”
“The good news is you’re cancer-free. Your MRIs are negative. No sign of cancer at all.”
“That is good news! What’s the bad news?”
“We can’t see any sign of missing bone, nor can we find any of the screws we used to re-attach the piece we cut out during your surgery.”
“They aren’t showing up. I can’t explain it really.”
Bob literally has three screws loose in his head somewhere. Unless he lodges a serious complaint, the medical professionals obligated to care for him have officially washed their hands of him.
Perhaps you’re still not convinced that belligerence is cultivated. TDCJ contracts its medical care to a corporation called UTMB*Correctional Managed Care, at several of its units. Outsourcing indemnifies it from medical malpractice lawsuits. It also jeopardizes its reputation for being tough on inmates by using a company that has the word ‘care’ in its name.
Dr. Erin Jones, who interned as a psychiatrist and has not even one hour of experience in osteopathy, was called as an expert witness by UTMB’s lawyers. In spite of her lack of experience, she was allowed to give testimony on Adams’ shoulder condition. More interesting was the beginning of her testimony on behalf of the defense.
Q: Then when you went to work for UTMB in the correctional managed health care system did you receive any kind of training?
A: Yeah, we had training that’s called NEO.
Q: What is that?
A: New Employee Orientation. And it’s — working in corrections is very different from working in free-world medicine. And so we had to learn —
Q: Explain to us why. What is different about it?
A: Well, there is a lot more patients that want something for secondary gain. There is — basically eighty to ninety percent of our patients are either lying or exaggerating on their symptoms to try to get something. [Treatment, perhaps?]
And then, my job every day — and it’s a challenge — is that I have to find that ten to twenty percent that are really sick and take care of them because they need my help, you know. But then, you know, I don’t want to waste my time on something that’s not real, you know.
There you have it. A UTMB employee admits, under oath, that UTMB trained her to treat up to 90% of her patients as if they are lying. It’s truly absurd for Dr. Jones to complain that her job is so difficult. Imagine coming home from work and reporting that you had a terrible time disregarding 90% of your duties. Whew!
“That ten percent I did was hard but I enjoyed doing it.”
Jones offered no empirical evidence to support the claim that such a high percentage of inmates are lying and I suspect that its because UTMB doesn’t offer any either. Plain, common sense suggests the claim is a fabrication. Texas inmates are charged a $100 annual co-pay for any non-chronic care (even though they are not paid for their work). Chronic care is care for issues such as diabetes, cancer, or pre-existing conditions discovered during prisoner intake. Why would an inmate lie ‘to get something’ when it costs them $100 to do so?
It’s preposterous to conclude this unless you are interested in getting paid for work you refuse to perform. Planned, systemic belligerence. It’s not health care, it’s not medical practice, it’s hate medicine. No amount of honey can make it palatable.
From a prisoner in the Sing Sing facility in New York.
Q: Please indicate issues you would like to see addressed in your facility.
A: Actually, everything, because management could not run a hot dog cart for a week without going out of business. Clearly they want recidivism. Keep the cells full – just like a hotel needs its rooms full. Sing Sing may be best prison in NYS, but very badly run.
Main problems are health care with ZERO education, prevention, healthy diet, age appropriate care or exercise for older men. We have frequent unexplained deaths of fairly young men. Our pharmacy is very prone to errors. After our Nurse Administrator was “fired” and arrested, they gave her another job in mental health which is technically a different agency. She kept her parking spot! Does it sound like a certain church? Educational opportunities are here only for those who fit profile of 20-25 years, above average IQ, interested in college, and no mental illness. That is about 150 out of 1600. My GED classroom has 20 seats. About 1000+ men need a GED. Obviously, this “does not compute.”
Roughly half the population has substantial mental health problems (on psych meds, zero impulse control, talking to themselves, self-medication / drug abuse, very low intelligence, illiterate in any language). Treatment of mentally ill is overmedication, zero exercise, poor diet and isolation.
For those of us who came to prison with skills and education, the problem is no opportunity to use or maintain skills. Our library is okay for fiction, otherwise zilch. Very old, e.g., vacuum tube electronics and a book on Fortran IV (might be valuable to a collector?). Car books have carburetors and crank windows.
Drug problems are major. Head in the sand about problem because “they” don’t want to explain how drugs can get through a forty-foot-high concrete wall. (Staff, of course.) Only control point is poverty of most prisoners.