Despite being the best motivation ever to work out besides your spouse giving the mail carrier flirty looks, prison isn’t actually that good for your health. And not just because of the violence, isolation, depression, and meals that legally have to be sold as animal feed but, like, for animals that have embezzled from a children’s cancer charity or something. The real problem starts after all those things have kicked your butt and you find yourself in need of medical attention. That’s when people like Rebecca, who served over 2 years at a large women’s prison, learn that…
The Guards Decide When Or If You Get Medical Attention
It’s not easy being a prison guard. But that’s mainly because of the shit pay, long hours, and the unflattering portrayal you get on Orange is the New Black. Please notice that I haven’t mentioned “having to pass all those medical exams” because that is one problem that guards don’t have to deal with. And yet, some of them apparently think of themselves as amateur doctors, only held back from their dream jobs by silly little things like test scores, lack of empathy, or, I assume, shed-fulls of dead medical pigs. Rebecca explains:
“I worked on a horse farm that the prison ran as an educational program. Not too long after I started, my horse (who was shoed) stepped on my foot and broke all 5 of my toes as well as some bones a little farther up in my foot.”
”My entire foot was dark purple and so swollen I could barely fit it into my boots, and one particular officer told me when I asked for ibuprofen ‘You don’t need it, you’re just a pill head. Go drink some water and lay down, that will make you feel better.’”
Now, was Rebecca serving time for opiate use? Maybe. Is ibuprofen the absolutely minimum thing you can do for a broken bone outside of praying at it really hard? Quite possibly. Is the capital of Oregon Portland? Who’s to say? What we can say for sure is that guards shouldn’t be making these kinds of medical decisions on their own. But they did. Constantly.
“We would go to medical at, say, med line time (mainly psych meds were handed out at med line, things like blood pressure/cholesterol medications were given to inmates to keep in their lockers) and ask about [medication], and medical would tell us ‘Uh, we’ve got a whole cabinet full of meds, the officer just needs to come up here and get it.’” Yet when Rebecca insisted on getting ibuprofen for her, and I cannot stress this enough, broken foot, she “was right on the verge of getting maced when another officer stepped in and calmed [the guard] down.”
In their defense, maybe the guard considered mace a form of herbal therapy?
You Will Have To MacGyver Your Own First Aid
Accidents happen all the time in prison. Usually involving a prisoner who likes to talk too much slipping and falling onto a shank. Then getting up and doing it 20 more times. But legitimate accidents are equally tragic because you might actually be forced to fix yourself up all on your own while the guards yell at you for bleeding too much on their floor.
“When I first got to prison,” Rebecca recalls, “my job assignment was the kitchen, and I was a cook … I burned my hand pretty badly one day when I slipped on a wet spot while carrying a pot full of boiling water, like, it looked like my skin had just melted off. I told the officer in the kitchen that I needed to go to medical, and at first she wasn’t going to let me, because it was ‘my fault’ that I’d slipped, she claimed I’d done it on purpose.” I mean… even if Rebecca did Terminator her hand on purpose, that kind of dedication had to have earned her ONE medical break, right?
The civilian staff in the kitchen finally let Rebecca go, and the nurse in medical took a passing glance at her hand, counted all five fingers, and decided that nothing was stopping her from getting back to work. All she needed to do was to believe in herself or something.
“Grudgingly the nurse treated the burn, but gave me nothing to take care of it. No extra bandage, no ointment, no ibuprofen, no nothing.”
“So for two weeks I had to improvise bandages out of sanitary napkins and scotch tape I swiped from the supply room of the kitchen, all the while still working around food with this cracked, weeping wound on my hand, preparing food for people.”
People Have Died Due To The Prisons’ Apathy
In 2013, a “mysterious illness” with “flu-like” symptoms took the life of an inmate at the Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida. Although the family of the deceased was told that she died due to pneumonia, the actual cause of her death is still unknown. But from what Rebecca saw, chances are that this death could have been prevented, if only a few people cared.
“I watched two people die. During the last two flu seasons there were individuals in my dorm who were perfectly healthy and fine, came down with the bug, and were dead 4 days later … We were entitled to declare medical emergencies, which bypassed the normal procedure of ‘Turn in a Sick Call and wait 3 days-2 weeks to be put on the schedule for medical,’ however the officers themselves often denied inmates this right … the officers just didn’t want to be bothered with paperwork.”
Both of the women who passed away were apparently experiencing some pretty major respiratory distress, coughing, vomiting, loss of appetite, extremely swollen and sore throats, high fevers etc. But when both of them did actually make it to medical, they were turned away.
“’We don’t treat colds. Go back to the dorm,’ they were told. The [first] woman who passed away was 32 days away from going home to her 4-year-old daughter. She was in her mid-thirties. In her instance, she was just there one day and gone the next. They took her to the infirmary on a Friday, and on Saturday morning she passed away. No one told us, really, we found out from an officer who was a regular in our dorm who was actually pretty cool and knew that we were all concerned.”
People are in prison for good reason. Usually. It’s probably like 60-40 in prison’s favor, unless you’re black, but that’s a story for a different time. Still, prisons are definitely not populated solely by innocent people. However, it’s how we treat our weakest and our “wicked” that truly defines us. Except in the most severe of cases, we should always treat them as people, show them basic compassion, and give them their dignity. Or at the very least, some mo-fudging ibuprofen for their goddamn broken foot. God I’m still pissed off about that one. Seriously, what the hell?