My Dentist Experience At Herlong Prison Camp


Part of the prison care system allows inmates to receive healthcare. In order to be able to see a doctor, dentist, or any healthcare provider, a form called a cop-out was needed. Once it was filled out and approved, inmates could visit the appropriate office.

I needed to have my teeth cleaned so I filled out my form and received a cop-out. It was an experience I would never want to go through again. I worked only a half day at my job, the Power House and then went to the dentist. As she poked around my mouth, she was extremely rough with my gums. She was supposed to be cleaning out plaque, but it felt as if she was scraping the insides of my teeth! I felt helpless. My mouth was in pain the entire hour, it was killing me. I also had a difficult time keeping me mouth open.

Although it was painful, it was also free. They found one cavity and a decay in one of my teeth. I guess they did a great job, but I would never go back. I decided to wait until I got home to take care of the cavity. I didn’t want to go through that again. It was a helpless feeling knowing that all I could do was squirm, shake, and stare at the light. I was forced to “open wider”, “lower my chin”, and “turn left or right”. I hated every moment of it.

I later heard a rumor that the dentist didn’t know any English because she was from Brazil. I’m unsure if that was true, but I don’t remember her telling me any other English words. Come to think of it, the assistant was the only person who did any real talking to me.

Her assistant was a White inmate I’ll call Vetti.  Vetti was a stockbroker who got five years for insider trading. I don’t know the process of how they hire inmates, but the medical staff figured he was smart enough to work as a dentist assistant.  It was his job to tell me to stay calm and inform me of the procedures the doctor was doing. The doctor never said a word except for the words I mentioned above.

At the time, I was thinking this wasn’t worth losing work over. I became teary eyed hours later just rethinking and journaliing the entire event. After the procedure, my teeth would bleed when my tongue pushed against my teeth. It wasn’t a lot of blood, but my spit was red and you could see blood around the side of my teeth. Also, my bottom gums were sore. When I asked Vetti a few hours later, he just told me not to worry about it. He tried to avoid talking to me too much. At first, I didn’t understand why, but later I found out that Vetti didn’t get along with Blacks because of some racist things he previously said.

I missed the rest of the day of work. It wasn’t because of the pain, but because I thought I didn’t have to go back. I thought I had a half day at work.  I was told by another inmate at the Power House that once you have obtained a cop out, you don’t have to go back that day. More on that inmate in another blog post, but he was dead wrong. Good thing nothing came from it.

My trip to the prison dentist was extremely uncomfortable and painful. It’s something that I would never do again. Especially because my teeth bled for about two weeks.