I awaken with my stomach feeling like I am being stabbed with hot pokers and I stumble to the toilet as I spew a hot greenish liquid that burns my throat and nose. It splashes a trail to the toilet as it rushes out my body and I don’t even have the strength to flush before I collapse onto the floor, shaking and cold. The pain is unbearable and I feel like I am dying so I crawl to the cell door and try to bang on it and shout for help, but all I can manage is reaching my arm out and laying against it. After what seems like eternity, the TDCJ guard assigned to my wing walks by and looks down as I look at my clock to see that is 4am, right before I black out. My celly wakes up ready to start his day at 7am, bright eyed and bushy tailed, but instead finds a cell covered in filth with my laying in it, shaking and unresponsive. Being a good celly, he decides to dry to help me instead of steal my stuff.
“Man down! Man down! He shouts while kicking the cell door. Man down is a shout all too frequently heard on the runs of this prison. It means that someone is down and needs immediate medical attention. It’s what we yell out when someone has a seizure, heart attack, or is severely hurt. When
yelled out by someone, all other inmates immediately take up the shout and, in that way, we can get the attention of guards who cannot then get away with ignoring it. The shouts ring out from the wings and onto the main hall demanding something be done. If done during a shift change, it still does not guarantee any attention though. Help can be anywhere from ten minutes to an hour away.
In my case this day, help arrives an hour later in the form of an African guard who repeatedly asks me if I am okay. They finally get the door open but won’t help me, so my celly, whom we call “Tree”, puts me on his back and carries me down the stairs to the waiting gurney. Rushed to the Infirmary on our unit, I am soon looked at by nurses and a PA who doesn’t know what’s going on, and finally decide to call 911. One of the nurses attempts to start an IV while the guards try to handcuff and shackle me. I must obviously be a threat, even though I am dying. My blood pressure is through the roof and the nurse finally decides to knock me out.
In cuffs and shackles, I am soon rushed to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas where most inmates receive any medical care that cannot be provided onside at a regular unit. It is a teaching hospital and so most work done on inmate patients is supervised by a resident, but performed by interns. In my case, they order bloodwork and other tests which show that my gall bladder has ruptured and poison has been leaking into my abdominal cavity. I am immediately rushed into surgery where the interns perform the procedure.
This marks the beginning of a cycle of meds, antibiotics, and pain. I am not allowed to eat or drink anything, but the pain and bile build-up keep reoccurring and I am back into surgery. I awaken to more pain and bile, my blood pressure crashes, and my heart stops, leading them to shock me multiple times to get it to restart again. I had six surgeries in twelve days, only the last of which is performed by an actual attending physician. Thirty days later, I am shipped back to my unit in
Beaumont; bruised, battered, and only able to shuffle about like an old man.
Due my not being able to walk from place to place normally, the officers constantly yell at me to hurry up, cussing, and threatening disciplinary cases because I am falling behind the line headed to the chow hall. My recovery is a long, slow process, and it is a long time before I even begin to feel better.
Eleven months later, I have been in and out of the medical department for various complications relating to my first illness. My eyes are bright yellow and my skin looks like I have been dipped in highlighter, but our unit’s medical provider decides I am having an allergic reaction and prescribes a shot of Benadryl, sending me back to my cell. Two weeks later, I am 911’ed out once again and it turns out I am jaundiced and in kidney/liver failure. Back in John Sealy, the same resident doctor tries to fix me again. I am prescribed meds by the nephrologist, but never given the meds because my unit’s provider decides it’s not needed. Somehow, a PA can override a specialist if the patient is a TDCJ inmate.
Thus is my life in this place. A never- ending cycle of misdiagnosis, unneeded treatment, untreated needs, and near-death trips to visit Galveston, not to hit the beach, but to try to live. Nothing ever changes and it often seems no one cares anyway. We are simply test subjects to be learned from. Lab Rats to be poked, prodded, and tested on. Like them, we are kept in cages, fed just enough to be kept alive, and assigned a number to match the file someone keeps on us. To us, parole doesn’t just mean freedom, it means being human once again.