"Where I’m housed, social distancing is an impossibility; the staff refuses to “mask up” but will write up any inmate without a mask. Just who do they think is bringing the virus in?"
Healthcare While Incarcerated… And the Lack Thereof
As I write this in mid-August 2022, I am a 57-year-old male who has been incarcerated for nearly five years. I am also a chronic-care patient and have been for several years, even before my incarceration. However, suffice it to say, lock-up has greatly exacerbated my many health issues.
I won’t discuss guilt and innocence nor will I discuss the untold corruption within what I’ve come to call the “criminal injustice system” – those details are a story for a different venue. I’ll simply say that I’ve received my education and leave it at that.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has me listed as “Mental Health Care – Level 1” and “Stable Chronic Care.” I suppose the BOP magically declares one’s chronic health issues to be “stable” based on the absence of treatment, much in the way they have declared inmates “recovered” from COVID-19 only for them to die soon thereafter (I wish I were joking about this).
As I said, I suffer from a great number of ailments, both physical health and mental health, all of which are considered to be chronic in nature. Prior to my incarceration, I was in the process of applying for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits; this process was, by law, voided after I had been incarcerated for over 30 days.
“On the street,” as it were, my primary care provider as well as my mental health services provider and various specialists saw me on a regular basis, prescribing the necessary medications and treatment to keep my chronic conditions in check. Not so “on the inside.” In fact, many medications and treatment options have been taken away from me and/or denied completely since being incarcerated.
The BOP is not supposed to charge an inmate a medical co-pay (currently $2) for chronic care. However, this only applies to routinely scheduled visits (which are far from routine) – if you submit a sick-call slip, even for a documented chronic condition, you will be charged a co-pay. Two dollars may not sound like much to you, but at a facility where the average monthly inmate pay is about $20, this is 10% of your monthly income for a single visit. I’m one of the lucky few, my job pays around $40 per month. We are paid for a maximum for 165 hours per month, though currently (thank you COVID) those of us “lucky” enough to be working are putting in some 252 hours per month (8 hours x 7 days x 4.5 weeks) – so I make about 16 cents an hour – “Go me!”
Among my chronic conditions are addictive behavior; depression; anxiety; PTSD; ADD; seizure disorder; rheumatoid arthritis; hypertension; high cholesterol; elevated triglycerides; low hemoglobin; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; hiatal hernia; GERD; SVT (a heart condition); COPD; sleep apnea; obesity; degenerative disc disease; carpal tunnel syndrome; and SIRVA (a vaccine-related shoulder injury). I also have two (untreated) pinched nerves, failed fusion surgery with broken hardware at the C4/C5 level, and I’ve developed secondary cataracts since being incarcerated. I was scheduled to see a heart specialist and was also scheduled for carpal tunnel surgery and neck surgery prior to being locked up. The BOP has declined to provide the required surgeries.
I currently use several medical devices, including knee braces on both legs, an ankle brace on my right foot, wrist braces on both arms, and a CPAP machine (on loan) at night. I also wear a hernia belt – I truly feel like Robo-Cop, or more appropriately, “Robo-Con.”
My medical frustrations began the day I was arrested. I was delivered by the FBI to a regional jail where I was placed in a small holding cell with 20 plus men and a single nasty toilet for three days before being issued a set of “jailhouse oranges” and moved to a 16-cell pod where every cell had between 4 and 8 men while designed for 2. I was one of about 6 men forced to sleep under the stairs in the Day Room.
During this time, I had no medication and none of my medical devices. On day number 5 (my 2nd day in the pod), I had an SVT episode. Another inmate “hit the box” and when an officer finally answered, he was told, “I think the old man is having a heart attack.” The officer did nothing more than take a look at me, but must have had super-advanced medical training because she declared that I was faking and threatened to throw me in the hole. Medical staff was not notified.
On the third day in the pod, my sister dropped off my CPAP machine. After it was checked and deemed secure, I was moved into a cell in the medical unit where I would be allowed to keep and use my CPAP. It is important to note the cells were designed for a single person but there were often four of us crammed into the dark, musky cell and never less than two. Additionally, there was no consideration for personal safety. Staff seemed to make a game of tossing a “sex offender” or “queer” in with “haters” and laughing at the resulting beatdown.
After nearly a year of hell in the regional jail, the Feds moved me to a (slightly) lesser hell – a county detention center. It had no medical unit so I was placed in “the hole” so I could use my CPAP. At least the food was better and I got out for a full hour each day, though medical services were even worse. At one point, several of us were exposed to Hep-A and were forced to be vaccinated – we weren’t given a choice and were told the vaccine was mandatory. Our only “choice” was by permission or by force. Wanted or not, everyone exposed was vaccinated.
After nearly another year, I was finally moved to my current location in January 2019 – a federal correctional institution. While the medical care within the BOP has been far superior to the care I received in the regional jail or county detention systems, it is still grossly inadequate when compared to real-world healthcare. My medical history was not investigated so they were clueless to my healthcare needs even though I had completed a medical questionnaire upon my arrival.
My first experience with the lack of healthcare within the BOP came about 5 or 6 months after my arrival. Keep in mind, I had been in punitive-like confinement conditions for two years with no physical activity (or even sunlight) before this time. I was working Sanitation in the Food Service Department. One of my main functions was to filter the hot oil in our massive deep-fryer. It was in the upper 90s outside (we have no A/C) and well over 100 degrees in the kitchen, especially with the PPE I had to wear while filtering the vats. I was covered in sweat – my clothes were soaked. Then I stopped sweating, my skin was clammy, I was confused and disoriented and dangerously uncoordinated. I dropped whatever it was I was holding and nearly passed out.
I was sent to medical suffering from heat exhaustion. It was the weekend, so only a single staff member was on duty in the medical department – a CO/RN [correctional officer/registered nurse] (with an emphasis on the CO). He had me lie on the exam table, took my vitals, and sent me to my housing unit with the rest of the day off. No fluids, IV or oral. No electrolytes. Not even a cool washcloth. Nothing. At this point, I realized that I was in serious trouble from a healthcare standpoint for the duration of my incarceration. I fully expect to be dead before I reach the age of 60.
At the end of this month, I will have been incarcerated for five years – nearly half of my ten years and one month sentence, or as the federal courts put it (for its “shock value,” I suppose), one hundred and twenty-one months. The medical care during that time has been basically if not factually non-existent. Still no surgery for my “bobble-head” neck; still no surgery for my hernia; still no surgery for my carpal tunnel syndrome; still no surgery for my secondary cateracts. Still no walker or cane to assist in mobility. Still no adequate pain management, no inhaler or breathing treatments for my COPD. Even the medication I take for my rheumatoid arthritis was discontinued with the onset of the coronavirus due to being in short supply. My RA gets a little bit worse with each passing day.
In November 2021, I began having severe pain accompanied with a greatly limited range of motion. I put in sick call after sick call but was never seen, allegedly because I was in quarantine for COVID exposure from late November until the New Year. Finally, in late April 2022 I saw the doctor via telemed (I call it “doc-in-a-box”). He said he had expected to see something on the x-ray given my history of both RA and osteoarthritis, but it was “clear.” He told me I had a “partially locked shoulder” and ordered some type of injection (I assume cortizone). I didn’t actually receive the injection until July and it did nothing; I’m still in extreme pain and have very limited range of motion. I’ve no doubt an MRI is out of the question.
Just before Thanksgiving 2021, four of us from the non-residential drug abuse program were moved into medical quarantine, a “non-punitive” lockdown, for exposure to COVID-19. Our counselor who was vaxxed and boosted contracted the virus from her unvaxed and infected children and, thinking she was Supergirl, proceeded to re-infect the compound. She is 100% responsible for outbreak number two at the facility.
COVID-19 has been a total mismanaged disaster for all 122 BOP facilities. Where I’m housed, social distancing is an impossibility; the staff refuses to “mask up” but will write up any inmate without a mask. Just who do they think is bringing the virus in? And, they pat search multiple inmates without changing gloves.
I’m certain I was among the first, if not the first, inmate to contract the coronavirus here, though I’ve never been diagnosed with the deadly disease. In July 2020 I became violently ill, it was like the flu on steroids! I felt like I was dying, and in fact, I wanted to die just so I could have some relief. I was ill to the point of being bedridden for two weeks and I’ve never fully recovered. I was given a single bag of standard IV fluid and sent back to my bunk to die. I wasn’t even tested for COVID. “If we don’t test, it isn’t here” seemed to be the belief. It wasn’t until November 2020 when we had any meaningful testing – as well as our first death – due to an outbreak. Even then, I don’t believe the testing was done correctly; the swab was barely placed inside the nostril and not at all inserted into the nasal cavity as would be done for similar testing.
While in medical quarantine, the medical staff lost my personally owned CPAP machine. Nine months later, it has yet to be found and returned. I don’t sleep well these days.
My only hope is that the judge will rule in favor of my motion for compassionate release. Even the prosecution conceded my medical conditions warrant a grant of compassionate release. Their only real argument was that I hadn’t served at least 50% of my sentence yet. I reach that milestone this month. Wish me luck.