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Why should quacks get to practise on prisoners?

United States
Doctor holding stethoscope

Alex Proimos under a Creative Commons Licence

‘I know they are prisoners, but even they deserve better…’
Amanda Lawson

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (hereinafter A J-C) December 2014 ‘Prison docs have troubled past’ and ‘Board OKs doctor despite negligence’ by Danny Robbins

Before I begin I want to thank Ms Lawson, whose words head this instalment: thank you for not being afraid or politically ashamed to admit that even prisoners deserve to be treated by doctors who are properly certified. Your public recognition of prisoners’ humanity is both refreshing and unusual in the State of Georgia. Again, thank you.

Unfortunately, in Georgia, if you have a deficient service, and/or product for sale, the Georgia Department Of Corrections (DOC) will pay you for it – even and especially if other states will not accept or allow your service or product to be sold within their state’s borders.

That includes uncertified doctors who are, in essence, doctors no more, legally. According to the organization known as Georgia Correctional Health Care (GCHC), uncertified doctors can legally earn from $150,000 to $190,000 a year; and while that is a good deal less than licensed certified physicians make, in most cases those kind of figures save the state a lot of money in its 40 prisons… 40 prisons-for-profit.

Of course, the point I want to make here is that some of those doctors are not only uncertified but also morally bankrupt in their continued pursuit of work as general practitioners.

Space does not permit me to list them all, but let me give you a telling example of the behaviour of one so-called ‘doctor’, as reported by columnist Danny Robbins:

‘One current Georgia prison physician was hired a year after being sanctioned by the medical board for failing to properly diagnose a spinal cord injury that led to the prisoner’s death. The physician, working in a hospital emergency room, failed to diagnose the injury even though the patient, who had been in a bicycle accident, complained that he couldn’t move his legs, the board found.’

A prisoner’s life, and/or a knowledge of his/her own body, is utterly meaningless to just about everyone who works in a Georgia prison. The employees are encouraged not to listen to you, even when they ask you a question.

More than 50 years ago, I was a Private First Class in my brief experiences with the United States Army. I was a Medical Corpsman and Medical Specialist. I am not without some knowledge of basic medical behaviour of medics, but even before I learned what the Army taught me, if a patient in the emergency room of a hospital had told me that they could not move their legs, I would have called in for an expert in injuries directly related to the spine.

Let me give you a personal experience that I had here with a dentist. This happened many years ago when there were only about 2,300 prisoners here. The dentist was a drunk. For the sake of this writing I will call him Vodka Guy. The stench of his favourite drink permeated the area around the chair. Reluctantly I sat down. I had no choice. I had an extremely painful tooth that needed extraction immediately. Instead of using a standard probing-tool Vodka Guy picked up his extraction pliers and began his probe to see if he could ‘properly remove’ (his words, not mine) the bad tooth.

Without injecting or orally administering any kind of pain medication his probing became torture. He was subjecting me to excruciating pain repeatedly and needlessly; when I whinged in pain, Vodka Guy actually laughed out loud! I got up and pushed him back and the escort officer positioned himself between us. When I reported Vodka Guy to the supervisor the escort officer became a witness against Vodka Guy, as well. Surprisingly.

To make a long story short, the next week I was taken to see a dentist in Augusta, Georgia. Near the week’s end Vodka Guy managed to make his way to G-Unit, and asked to see me in the office of an absent counsellor. Shortly thereafter, I was instructed by the Cell Block officer to ‘go see the counsellor’. I did and Vodka Guy was waiting on me… in his usual barely-able-to-stand-state.

After speaking in gibberish for about five seconds, Vodka Guy tried to hit me. Slightly amused by his effort I simply moved out of the way; in order to get caught by one of Vodka Guy’s punches I would have needed to be fast asleep.

Fortunately, Sergeant C had been standing on the other side of the office’s huge plexiglass window where he had observed everything. He quickly entered the office behind Vodka Guy, put him in a bear hug and carried him back out into the hallway. Equally worthy of note: had I hit or in any way defended myself against Vodka Guy’s feeble-swing, a swarm of correction officers would have kicked and beat me to a bloody pulp!

I could go on and on about the endless streams of medical incompetence of the doctors here – past and present – but that would not be fair to the two doctors who are competent (Dr Kow, a general practitioner who was here more than 20 years ago; and Dr Barron, a dentist, one of the two dentists who are here now.) I cannot, with the authority of personal experience, honestly comment on the competence of Dr Barron’s present dental colleague, whose name I do not know. I only know that Dr Barron is competent.

In Georgia, prison is all about saving and making money. We should never forget that misery is a commodity no different than beef or poultry. In fact, Georgia’s livestock’s value is much higher to a Georgia prison administrator than any man, woman or child in a Georgia prison.

Please write to me:
Mr Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3-81)
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA 

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