I’m sure you all have an inkling of an idea of how the healthcare system works in prison. For many of you, I’d imagine, you envision unattentive health care providers who spend more time staring down at their clipboard than paying attention to the inmate who is informing them of what ails them. Perhaps some of you envision long lines of inmates in the waiting area for hours only to be told later by the receptionist that time has expired for the doctor’s (note, a lone doctor) appointments for the day, thus they must return when they’re rescheduled, sending them back to their cells in the same dismal state they entered the medical facility in. Indeed, I suspect these scenarios are ubiquitous across the nation’s many jails and prisons–but it hasn’t been my experience.
The Oregon Department of Corrections has its flaws and shortcomings like any system that is responsible for taking care of thousands of people in every conceivable way for their survival. But in my twelve and a half years of being incarcerated, I have had satisfactory access and treatment of everything that has ailed me–medically and dental related. Let me explain how it generally works.
When you feel an unusual pain or ailment of any kind that you know should not be there, you must go to the officer’s station, grab a “medical kyte” to fill out, put it in the medical box on your way to the dining hall, and wait for a response. Generally within two to three days the kyte will come back to you with medical’s response. Usually it will say you’ve been scheduled for Sick Call, which is where everyone who has a medical issue will be seen by a nurse to assess whether or not they need to be referred to the doctor for further evaluation. Sick Call usually happens in a day or two, and as I just mentioned, the nurse will listen to your issue and, in most of my cases, referred me to see the doctor.
We all have an assigned doctor based on the first letter of our last name. In my experience, there has generally been one doctor per 300 – 400 inmates. Granted, this doesn’t sound very reassuring, but you also have to remember that many people (especially men) don’t see the doctor unless they’re on their death bed, so that number is drastically reduced in practical terms.
In some cases, the doctor will refer you to a specialist (outside the prison) if what afflicts you is beyond their ability to resolve or something that requires surgery. But usually the proper medication is prescribed and you’ll be scheduled again several weeks later to be reevaluated. If the problem still persists, a new medication is prescribed and the process continues.
Inmates are able to be put on a regular (quarterly or semi-annually) schedule, if they request, to have their blood drawn for lab testing, just to make sure everything is normal and there’s no cause for concern. I believe this would equate to what is commonly referred to as a “regular check-up,” no? Medications are always prescribed for a year at a time, and if and when it needs to be renewed, you simply fill out a kyte (inmate communication form), put it in the medical box, and it is returned days later with a stamp that says “RENEWED.”
I don’t pretend, however, to paint my experience as the standard experience of all or even most of those incarcerated. We all have different needs and therefore will receive varying levels of attention (and require differing related costs). But what I can say is that compared to what I’ve seen on television and read in articles and newspapers about other prison systems’ healthcare for their incarcerated, Oregon is leaps and bounds above many others. Sure, I’ve witnessed inmates who clearly needed a major surgery for years only to be denied and stalled until their release; I’ve witnessed other inmates have a surgery performed but be given little to no follow-up physical therapy or instruction on how they can best aid their recovery themselves. I will concede that these instances can only be construed as neglectful, but when countless others in our very shoes can’t even get blood pressure or cholesterol medication, I’m not going to complain about not having access to physical therapy after a surgery.
It is nothing short of a blessing to have access to medical and dental care (at no cost to us) while incarcerated. Many people take these provisions for granted, but I know that there are still millions of American citizens who are without healthcare, even after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. As a prisoner who will have a hard road ahead as a “branded” member of society, I’m grateful for at least having my most basic health care needs met while here.
Martin Lockett is serving a 17 1/2 year sentence for a tragic car accident. Martin has substantially turned his life around by completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, published his first book and is currently working on his Masters in Psychology. Martin plans to counsel at risk youth when he is released. He hopes his insight, thoughts and experiences from prison will help those who have a loved one incarcerated or someone facing prison time.
To read more about Martin, CLICK HERE
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