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all you can do is lay around
etching, aquatint, & monoprint

Being in a cell all day, all you can do is lay around. I can’t do that because it hurts my back. I can’t walk around the cell all day either because that makes my back hurt, too. Everything hurts. Sometimes the pain gets so excruciating that I get headaches from it. I just pace back and forth, miserable and irritable. That’s where my bad days come from. I’m worried that one day my back will hurt and someone will say something the wrong way, and it could set me off. I’d rather work out and play handball because moving around stretches me out and keeps me from getting stiff, but I only get an hour out for rec and have to spend 15 of those minutes cleaning my cell. If I know I’m not coming out for rec until 7 or 8 at night, I have to force myself to work out in the morning or I’ll be in so much pain all day. But I can only do so much in my cell. 

Two years ago, I wrecked an ATV into a guardrail and broke my neck in three places, my back, my MCL, my ACL, and my right knee. I tore my Achilles tendon and got a third degree burn on the back of my leg. My sternum still cracks and pops from the impact. I was on muscle relaxers for six months for the back pain after I came to this jail but they haven’t given them to me for two weeks. They said the prescription expired, so they have to have a provider rewrite it. Sometimes that takes a few days, sometimes it takes weeks. They can flag it for a refill, but you still gotta wait; it makes no sense that I have to suffer for a week because the provider is slow. They haven't given me Advil or Tylenol; I’d have to order those on commissary and I’m not paying for that. I’m at my wits’ end. I’m tired of my back fucking hurting and me being miserable because they don't want to do their job. I’m not asking for crazy narcotics, just muscle relaxers so I can get through my day and just be normal. That’s too much to ask for in this place. Here, physical therapy doesn’t do anything for you. They just give you a paper with some exercises and stretches to do on your own. I used to go to a physical therapist and chiropractor, which helped a lot, but I can’t get that here.


it's pointless
etching, aquatint, & monoprint

My left shoulder still hurts from the ATV accident, and my hip pops from the impact on my leg when I blew my knee out. I have a knee brace that I wear. I played sports my whole life and tore both ACLs, so a lot of things hurt. It’s not the jail’s fault that I have these injuries, but it’s their job to help correct the problems when I’m asking for help. Also, the combination of the steel beds and garbage mats we sleep on sucks for my back. I have asked the officers if I can get two mats and they say it has to be cleared by medical. Then I write medical and never hear back. It’s something you learn to live with because you have no other choice. And I hate filing grievances. I shouldn’t even have to go through all that. It doesn’t matter what it is, they always say it’s invalid. It’s my medical condition﹣how is that invalid? You should be seen by a medical provider before they make a judgment on that. They’re not doctors and they haven’t seen my medical records or anything! How can they say whether it’s invalid? It’s pointless. 


I got off my Hep-C meds three months ago and then medical was supposed to do bloodwork to check my liver levels and see if I’m still positive for it. For months, I kept asking and they blew me off. They finally did the bloodwork last month when I had an appointment for something else because I asked about it. But I haven’t heard anything since because they don’t tell you the results of that kind of shit. I only even got the Hep-C medication because I was diagnosed in a treatment program that was part of the jail. The jail won’t order it for you once you’re here because each box costs $5,500, and that only lasts one week. I also have asthma and it’s harder to breathe on cold, crisp days and hot, humid days. I was first diagnosed when I was 5; I’m actually allergic to Christmas trees, and one gave me an asthma attack and I had to spend a month in the hospital. Pine needles make me break out in hives! There’s no air circulation on my pod, so I get dried out and wake up with a sore throat. It’s freezing in here and the cold triggers my asthma. It seems like it’s colder in our cells than it is outside. I can’t breathe out of my nose half the time. There are no words to describe not being able to breathe. I panic so much. I don’t want to die from not being able to breathe. 


i keep asking

etching, aquatint, & monoprint

My life gets even more fucked up being here. I’m taking meds for PTSD because I was having nightmares, flashbacks, and night sweats. Back in February, someone on my pod hung himself. He had been talking outside my door 45 minutes earlier. It blew my mind. One minute he was fine, talking and laughing; the next minute, he was dead. I kept having nightmares about that. I’ve always told myself I didn’t want to die in jail. Medical worked on him for 45 minutes but couldn’t bring him back. Then they closed the cell door and left. Later, someone came to take pictures, and then they closed the door again. He was in his cell dead from 1 to 8pm before the coroner came. They passed out dinner trays while this dude was laying in his cell dead. I watched them carry him down the steps in a body bag. Not being able to get one-on-one counseling to try to work through that, it’s hard to do. If I hadn’t been in jail, I never would have witnessed shit like that or been on these meds. 


i panic so much

etching, aquatint, & monoprint

Being here, I’ve just been forced into some shit that I don’t want to do. It’s like they’re bottle-feeding you pills. Once I asked for a medication to help with my drug use, but it just made me feel bad and made it impossible for me to sleep. But they refused to take me off! The psych doctor just asks what I’m on and if I want to go up or down. We’re locked in our cells 23-and-1 and they don’t check on anyone. Why don’t they check in with you more often? They might schedule you with a psych provider for two months down the road, but meanwhile I’m waking up in the middle of the night sweating. But this isn’t their first time around; they’ve been doing this for years and know how it affects people. They just don’t give a shit. I get more agitated; for the most part, I’ve been keeping my anger under control, but there are times we’re on lockdown for three, four days in a row. I just don’t feel it’s right. We should get our hour out no matter what. There are times you go a week without seeing people, even though you’re housed on the same pod. That little bit of human interaction would go a long way.

benjamin merritt


Benjamin Merritt is a chronically ill printmaker and writer based in Minneapolis, MN. Since graduating with a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2019, he has been a Jerome Emerging Printmaker Resident at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis and a Resident Artist at Spudnik Press in Chicago, IL. He is a FY2021 recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support For Individuals Grant and has presented academic papers about the history of the representation of disability at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the University of St. Thomas.

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