Vulnerable Behind Bars

I was talking to someone today about prison conditions. They said to me, “People have a choice. You aren’t in there. I’m not in there. They have a choice.” Yes. We all have choices to make. I choose to treat all people with decency. I choose to advocate for people that no longer have a voice. That is my choice.  I am a believer in Jesus.  I read something today that spoke so loudly to me.  If Jesus were on the earth today, we would surely see Him visiting prison.  There is no doubt in my mind.

People in prison are extremely vulnerable. They are vulnerable because they have been written off.   Friends of mine advocate for animals and children, and those causes are so easy to get behind and win support for. Prisoners – not so much. It’s easier to forget them all than to think that maybe it was a one time mistake, or a wrongful conviction, or a mental illness, or a case of addiction. The reasons no longer matter when you have the label ‘prisoner’, ‘inmate’, ‘felon’.

Christian Corde’s mother knows how vulnerable someone can be in prison. She says her son broke his foot in the rec yard at Lawton Correctional Facility in Oklahoma.   He was working out at the time of the injury. The incident occurred on August 4th, 2016. Christian’s mom says he now has a displaced 3rd metatarsal fracture. From what she describes, scar tissue has built up around the displaced bone, due to a delay in surgery, and the bone is now trying to make its way outward, causing fracture blisters.  I wrote to the prison to ask why Christian was not receiving medical care, but no one has yet responded to me.

There is a vulnerability behind prison walls that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Meals are sometimes rejected by the local stray cats. If you are lucky enough to have a stash of food in your cell, you might have to chase away a rat who comes to try and snatch it away. There is crime and violence that isn’t just committed by the people locked behind the bars. Jailers police themselves, and are rarely held accountable for their actions.

There isn’t a differentiation between the person who was wrongly accused, or the woman who killed the man who was raping her. There isn’t a ‘nicer’ set up for those people than the mass murderer. Prison is prison. The people who live there are at the mercy of staff. The people who work in corrections and the people who live in prison both know what that means. I never intended any of my articles to bash a profession, but to deal in reality, we have to acknowledge there is corruption within the corrections profession.

I recently heard a story from a man who was in a prison in Georgia. He’d broken his tooth on a chicken bone.   I can say, without a doubt, I wouldn’t want to break a tooth in a prison. As this man sat in the dental chair, his female dentist angrily banged on his teeth. She wrote in the man’s file, ‘He thinks he’s entitled’. Then she told him he was OK to leave. He then showed her his broken tooth, she gave him a temporary filling, and sent him on his way.

There is a prison in Virginia that has earned the title of having the highest death rate in the state among inmates. It is the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. A man died there last month. His name was Henry. He was sixty years old. He put in a written request for emergency medical attention. His request described blacking out and not being able to hold down food or water. Henry Steward was dead two days later. That just happened a couple weeks ago. I have already written a story on this blog about a young man who died of ‘wasting’ while he was in the same jail last year.

I understand my friend’s opinion that we all have choices and that a person who is in prison got themselves there. I understand that a lot of people feel that way. I expect more from myself. Excusing our own lack of compassion with blanket comments like, ‘they had a choice’, is a cop out. Just build the wall higher, don’t look in, and don’t worry about how people are treated. They had a choice. Yes, I expect more from myself.

One man put it this way about how he was treated in a GA prison. “We were like roaches to them.” He was probably right. People in prison are not bulletproof. They are more vulnerable than most people want to acknowledge.