The current status quo of Amerika, in regards to those shining light in dark places, has placed upon the best of us the responsibility to call attention toward mass incarceration & the evil edifice that is the prison industrial (slave) complex. In doing so, many of us have exposed the mental, psychological & immoral brutality of the institution itself & of those individuals staffed in its industry. However we have too often neglected to point toward one of the common, genocidal practices of correctional (corruption) administrations across Amerika. That is of its consistent neglect in providing credible, dependable & thorough-going medical care to inmates.
At the very foundation of the concept & practice of health care & medical treatment is the idea that all have a fair & impartial human right to access it. We imagine that no one would debate this. Still, while there remains a gulf between civil & human rights in the United States, we must be mature enough to concede that prisons will not independently solve this disparity upon their own accord. This is because prison in its concept & practice, from its origins w/the Philadelphia & Auburn systems -- as well as the failure to actualize its current penological philosophy, is an active, institutionalized, systematic application of the denial of human rights (& civil rights). An institution such as health care existing inside of Amerika’s prisons, created as they were for social oppression & potential profit creation, stands as a stark reminder that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The genesis of the prison industrial (slave) complex as a mass incarceration weapon in the war on drugs & against underserved communities (as well as political opponents), & its continued perpetuation toward this end, could quite possibly obscure the need for reliable health care in service to those incarcerated. And the continued designation of inmates as slaves per the Constitution, can further complicate the perception of the moral foundation which places inmate health care on par w/all human rights. However, local, state & federal prison authorities across the U.S. have maintained an ocean between the rights of their convicts & those of non-convicted citizens.
In case after case we can point to historical & contemporary truths of prison health care providers falling gravely below the mandate of their professions. From the deliberate withholding of emergency medical attention for Jeffrey Patrick Gaulden in ’78, to the deliberate failure to adequately treat Baba Mumia Abu Jamal for his Hep C (only doing so after legal action was taken, public protests initiated, & almost certain approached this political prisoner), to the recent death of our beloved Baba-Shahidi Richard ‘Mafundi’ Lake due to medical conditions which went unaddressed at the Donaldson Correctional Facility where he was politically enslaved. [It was reported by his wife, Mama-Dada Carolyn Weyni Njeri Lake, that Baba Mafundi had suffered a third stroke & was subsequently admitted to an infirmary where no doctor was present.]
The refusal to care for inmates, the deliberate misdiagnosis of inmates, & pill-mill practices have converged to reveal a dereliction of human rights standards w/in Amerika’s prisons. It compels one to wonder: for what reasons are medical services failing our nation’s constitutional slaves?
From coast to coast the practice of bidding on contracts to bring services into prisons provides not only for the development of profit motivated “care,” often charging inmates for next to no treatment (most times removing money from inmates’ accounts for merely answering questions about an ailment), but also for the convergence between penological prejudice & Hippocratic hypocrisy. How many prisoners do we know who hobble around w/physical deformities as a result of cost-cutting avoidance in addressing broken bones, ruptured ligaments & compound fractures? How many suffering from terminal illnesses, while not being properly diagnosed, are charged w/suspected drug use due to the effects of their illness? The unwillingness of prison “doctors” to provide actual care for prisoners spans the spectrum.
Falling w/in this spectrum is Maryland’s fading pride & joy, the Patuxent Institution, & its contracted medical provider, Wexford Health Services.
As most prisoners can attest, medical providers in prison fall dangerously below a standard one can believe in. Wexford Health Services surely does not break the mold in this respect. Over the years there have been many lapses in care given or provided to the population of Patuxent by Wexford Health Services. And their violations are legion:
The two most recent cases which highlight the human rights violations & complete disregard for any sense of responsibility to ensure the health & safety of inmates here are those of Mr. McKenzie Hopkins & Mr. Ted Bryant.
In the case of Mr. Hopkins, he has sought to gain an understanding of his current health status from the employees of Wexford Health Services. A heavy-set man who, only a year ago, aided in saving the life of a man nearly beaten to death, has himself been suffering from health issues which caused him to need a breathing apparatus in his cell in order to effectively take in air. Over the past months he’d noticed a decline in his personal health, resulting in his removal from the cell, & institution, for “treatment.” Both times he’d returned, complaining that the “treatment” rendered had not effected his declining condition.
Determined to act in his own interest he wrote an emergency ARP [Administrative Remedy] pleading for assistance in receiving a diagnosis & treatment to address his declining health. Various verbal complaints to the administration & medical staff, on top of the submitted ARP, were to no avail. He eventually suffered a stroke & was transferred out of Patuxent Institution to receive the help he could not gain access to in Patuxent. Wexford Health Services & Patuxent not only failed to provide Mr. Hopkins w/timely & proper health care & treatment, they in effect revealed the hypocrisy & lie of this system being a “Department of Public Safety” (assuming they perceive the right to “safety” being also afforded to those confined to “public” institutions such as prisons).
Another case displaying the failure of Patuxent & Wexford Health Services to provide a modicum of health care is that of Mr. Ted Bryant. An elderly, reserved & good natured man, his story is short, yet grave.
In much the same way Mr. Hopkins had, Mr. Bryant began noticing a sharp decline in his personal health. In search of answers from medical staff to questions regarding his rapid loss of weight, thinning & loss of hair, recurring dizziness, etc. However, the willingness of Wexford Health Services to place an order to have Mr. Bryant sent to a hospital to be thoroughly checked for any terminal illnesses was proved to be non-existent. The only plausible explanation being they either did not believe Mr. Bryant was suffering, or chose not to spend any money to see to it that he got an honest check & report on his bill of health.
In Wexford Health Services’ failure to timely provide Mr. Bryant w/this elementary service, he was forced to go months upon months w/o knowing what was wrong w/him or how to solve the issue of his declining health. As a result of this denial of his human right to know, as well as his human right to treatment, his belated arrival at a hospital resulted in his learning that cancer had been progressing throughout his body & has entered a stage where his death is imminent.
In the last ten years this is at least the second time this has happened. The last time Patuxent & its “health care provider” were sued after the death of that inmate, who died at home after a “compassionate” release. That inmate was placed on administrative segregation & accused of drug use as he suffered & pleaded for help as he contended w/the effects of a brain tumor which effected everything from his cognitive skills to his motor skills.
As appalling as these truths should be to all human beings, the regularity w/which they take place tells us of the corruptibility of public institutions in our society & the lack of personal accountability of their part. And the lack of accountability makes it the responsibility of all of us to call attention to the habitual & chronic failures of prisons, their administration & their “health care providers.” This is the purpose, vision & mandate of PPDC. One which it shall aggressively pursue in the interest of justice -- an interest that institutions like Patuxent & Wexford Health Services refuse to uphold.
Reporter for PPDC,
People’s Prison Defense Committee
P.O. Box 273
Colonial Beach, VA 22443