December 1, 2009
By Joe Santana • posted 7:45 PM EST
Hartford County Correctional Center on a recent Sunday night...
Editor's Note: Thanks to everyone who responded positively to Joe Santana's report from inside the Hartford County Correctional Facility back on October 29, 2009.
Joe is deeply appreciative of the letters he received, and of the feedback that I heard from loyal readers and passed on to him. For some people with relatives in the Connecticut prison system, Joe's last column broke down walls and brought tears of understanding.
Because of this success, and because I have been pressing Joe to write about what it is like trying to go to the doctor in prison, he has written this piece.
With this massive healthcare debate taking place nationally, and as the country discusses the 47 million Americans without regular access to medical care, I have found the discussion lacking on many fronts.
The one percent of Americans in jail - some three million people - is one segment of the population that has not been represented in this dialogue on health care.
Here is Joe Santana's take on trying to get medical attention at the Hartford County Correctional Facility. I hope to have more reports about medical care in Connecticut's Department of Corrections in future editions of this column.
And again, if you are interested in writing to our prison correspondent, he loves getting mail: Joe Santana, inmate number 306658 E2C4 at Hartford County Correctional Facility, 177 Weston Street, Hartford, Connecticut 06120.
Medical here is almost like the nurses office at a school, although you can't be sent home afterwards. LOL.
Medical here should be more like a Planned Parenthood, a clinic, or like an emergency room. But I guess that would cost too much, that would give DOC a reason to ask for more funding from the state.
When I was asked to give more details on how our medical ward is run, I thought to myself, "Where do I start?" I see a lawsuit waiting to be uncovered. People here, including myself, just allow our rights to be trampled over, as if prisoners have no rights at all.
But to give a better description of what our medical unit is like, I would have to refer to the reasons one would need medical attention. I truly believe that the general public forgets that when an individual is imprisoned, he/she brings with them whatever medical condition he/she is suffering from.
I want you all to imagine that before I came here, my health wasn't in the best condition at all. People come to prison with STDs, mental health issues and plenty of diseases. I have had some medical issues in the past.
When I settled in the holding cell at the West Hartford Police Department after I was first in custody, I thought: "This time away will give me a chance to get myself together."
I really wanted to get myself checked out while here in HCC, but it seems nearly impossible. I have been waiting for medical to get back to me since the beginning of October.
I can’t lie to the COs on duty, claiming I'm sick, in order to get to the medical unit. I will try to wait until my next court date, when I could be set free.
I would rather be seen by a doctor than to risk what these tax dollars have provided us inmates. I'm concerned with leaving this facility in the same health I came in with, because it is obvious that I can't leave here in a better health condition.
Mind you, I spoke to a nurse about twenty-six days ago (ED. This letter was dated November 14) about a non-specific urethios that I thought I was suffering from, and was told I would be seen by a doctor, but I'm still waiting.
If it gets really bad, (God forbid) there's always the emergency room, and even for us, we inmates are escorted by DOC officers to the UConn medical center.
I remember one night, an older guy, probably in his mid-forties, but because of drug use, he looked well in his fifties, slipped and fell.
He slipped on a puddle of water in front of a single shower that is located in the beginning of our tier. The, OG, the Original Gangster, slang for the elders, just laid there on the hard cement floor, and waited patiently in pain for medical attention.
DOC just can't afford a decent curtain that can maintain the water within the shower.
Finally, after ten minutes of the younger inmates laughing and ridiculing, by asking, "Who pushed that old man like that?" About seven higher-ranking correctional officers came to the scene.
A couple of lieutenants and some high-class regular COs lingered around the old guy, asking him what happened, although there's cameras everywhere, and the COs on duty saw what happened.
And the inmates can share their side of the story, too, but the lieutenant thought it was necessary to question the OG for five more minutes to get a further investigation, as opposed to quickly getting him to medical.
Another couple minutes passed, and two more COs came with a stretcher because DOC was not going to be held responsible for any more physical damage to this man's body. So as they pushed the man away, in the stretcher wearing a neck brace, a CO was recording this on what looked like a small, hand-held camcorder.
After the OG who had the accident was treated, his chance for a law suit was given up when he was told that he would have to be transferred to a different facility and miss out on a variety of things like his visits, commissary, and even a legal phone call. At least that’s what he told me.
The medical situation is worsened by the lack of cleanliness in prison. What's going to happen to that man who fell in a puddle of water? Remember, he laid there absorbing that puddle. There is nothing clean about jail.
Even I, who stays away from touching anything but the shower, have begun to spot small bumps around my jaw and ear lobe. I'm going to have to wipe the phone down before using it.
I tried interviewing some inmates. Keep in mind I am very limited to the amount of exposure with this story. I don't want to get into a fight with something carrying a disease who might not have taken to my views of HCC.
I asked how the medical situation in prison could be improved.
Anonymous inmate: "It's jail kid. It ain't gettin' no better than this, and no matter what, these @#$%^&*( ^%$#$%%^ ain't go improve *&^%."
Joseph: When was the last time you went to medical?
Anonymous: “About a year ago when I came up in this *&%$#. I don't ask DOC for nothing. I'm just trying to do my bid.”
Another inmate only wanted to be known and addressed by his nickname, Ali.
Joseph: What do you think about medical?
Ali: It sucks.
Joseph: What do you think needs to be improved?
Ali: Everything. They have all the necessary medical equipment, but it's all collecting dust.
Though the interviews were short, the last one was overheard by a few other inmates who laughed at my curiosity. "You can tell he's new," one inmate said. "You never been in jail my boy?" another inmate asked.
I had to prove my jail credibility by admitting to the 18-month bid I did at Carl Robinson Correctional Facility.
Another young kid was discussing how difficult it is to get anything from the nurse. He said he told her he gets headaches at night, and she said, "There's pain medicine you can order on the commissary sheet." Then he told the nurse about his cold.
She specifically said, "You don't sound convincing." He finally pulled his last card, and asked, "What about this rash I have on my back."
And she denied him and said, "Still not convincing enough." He stormed out of medical, saying "Nothing's convincing to you."
If the nurse denied this young man everything, what was the use of putting a medical request form in the medical box?