Federal Prison Camp Herlong Entry 02: The Truth about the Prison Healthcare System

I remember I was in the Sports room watching the Heat during the Eastern Conference finals. All of the inmates had assigned seats. The seats that were closer to the TV belonged to the brothers that were in prison the longest. The seats that were against the wall and directly across from the television were the most desirable. They were also close to the television, but people hardly moved around over there which means you wouldn’t be bothered too much. On the left side of the television was a wall with the only window facing outside the room. To the right side of the TV were three rows of chairs (sometimes there were four rows) that reached all the way to the second window on the other side of the room.

The room was mainly filled with Blacks and those who usually kicked it with Blacks.  Some Whites didn’t want to be a part of this room because they felt Blacks were too loud. That could have been true, but there was also a power struggle. I’ll talk more about television in later blogs. I sat on the second row behind a brother called nicknamed “Good Word.” He got that name because he spread the Word to other inmates. Although he wasn’t a pastor, he did it because he was passionate about Christianity.

As we watched the game, I sneezed. I sneezed into my elbow; it was a “vampire sneeze.” No big deal right? Well, it turned out that it was. Everyone in the room swore I sneezed without covering my nose. Even Good Word jumped since he thought I sneezed on him. Needless to say, the room went silent. This made me paranoid and I started to wonder what was going on.

“What?” I said.

After more silence, a brother nicknamed “T” (he slept in front of me) said, “We got a lot of germaphobes here bro. We just don’t like getting sick.”

I could see what he was talking about because one brother to the right of me nicknamed “Short Khop” covered his face with his t-shirt to avoid contact with my germs. Good Word actually jumped up and changed his shirt just in case I sneezed on him. The brothers in the room began to share their disgusting stories about inmates and their unhygienic sneezing habits. There wasn’t any drama, just jokes and some long stories. At the end of it, they asked or rather instructed me to cover my nose with my shirt or to sneeze in my elbow (which I did). Also, if I used my hands, I had to wash them immediately.

I thought about that all night. It bugged me that these brothers would be so paranoid about health with such a good health plan in prison.  I mean that was what I was told in schools as well as conversation with friends; inmates in prison get the best education and health care. I was told it was as good as the senators and politicians. Maybe it was because people are just that nasty here? Honestly, and this proves my ignorance to the whole prison life, I assumed prison would be the cleanest place ever. All of the money that went into prisons made me feel that it should be the cleanest place in any state. However, because these brothers were so concerned about health it made me question if the health care system inside the prison was really as good as I’ve been told.

The next morning I asked T and he told me, “There isn’t any great health care in prison. People don’t care about themselves or anyone else. The nurses and doctors didn’t care about doing their jobs either. They do as much work as they can at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) then if they have time or if they feel like it, they come over to the camp.  You gotta remember, you’re in prison. No one gives a fuck here.”

So I asked, “Why don’t they isolate the sick to avoid germs spreading? The government could save money that way and take care of the minimum number of people.”

T said, “It ain’t about money. Look at how much they spend on lights, shelter, food, bedding, laundry, water, hot water. It’s cheaper and profitable to put low risk, low danger criminal on an ankle bracelet then to pay for all this. If the government really wanted to save money, they would save it.”

He went on to tell me that one time at a higher security prison, one person got sick with the flu. Within hours, the whole area got sick.  Some people took months to get over the flu. Before long, everyone within the 1,000 inmate prison had the flu. Since everyone doesn’t practice good hygiene, some people got the flu twice.  He told me some people missed visits and work assignments just because of it. Now he didn’t tell me this part, but I’m guessing the hospital couldn’t give out medicine because the medicine was on the commissary. If it is in the camp commissary, then the hospital or clinic will not give out the medicine.   Not all inmates have the money for commissary due to lack of family support or too many financial responsibilities. This means that inmates barter and trade to get the things they need if they can’t afford it (I’ll explain in other entries).

He told me that it took three months or more for inmates to receive needed surgeries, even life threatening ones like hernia surgeries. I saw two brothers that worked out too hard and got hernias. It took them four months to get someone to look at it and one year to get the surgery. It took 22 weeks to get his arm fixed because the nurses were on vacation. When inmates play football and break their legs or ankles, it could be two or three days before a nurse would see about them at the camp. This could also be due to fear of disciplinary action for those inmates who play tackle football or work out too hard. As far as I know disciplinary action could have been going to the SHU (the hole) or some kind of chore.  I’ve heard stories that some inmates would wait as long as they could in order to come up with a better story. If they had a better story for the administrators they would most likely prevent themselves or others from getting into trouble.

His explanation explained a lot. I was always wondering why people use their shirts or jacket sleeves to touch doorknobs and light switches. I noticed no one liked handshakes because they didn’t know what was on the other person’s hands. This explained why inmates took three or four showers a day and washed their hands so much. Some inmates washed their sheets and clothes daily. Personally, I washed my clothes daily, but my sheets were washed every two weeks. I also took two showers a day and used Magic shave once a week. Poor medical health was also why inmates gave me hygiene products when I first arrived in prison. They also gave me pens, paper and other things I needed in order to get situated.

Again, because of poor medical health standards, no one walked around with bare feet even if they were in the shower. No matter how many times the floors were cleaned, they got dirty just as fast. Also, inmates from higher security prisons were trained and conditioned to believe that a fight or a riot could occur at any time, so they needed to be ready.  I’ll save that for another post. That’s also why they worked out so much. They wanted to keep in shape, but they also wanted to keep their immune systems running smoothly. They took several vitamins and ate as healthy as they could in prison. Of course it was a challenge because of the limitations in our food choices, but more on that in another post. Herlong had a lot of random weather patterns, so it was definitely important to keep their immune systems healthy.

Prison isn’t always what the tv tells you or what your friends and family mentions to you in conversation. I had to find out the hard way about the prison system’s healthcare department. It’s a shame that inmates have to be treated unfairly. They’re already serving their time, why punish them even more?