Alex Hundert writing from inside jail

6 Aug

Prison makes me sick
alex hundert

July 23, 2012

After spending six years behind bars, 29-year-old Frank gets out of jail this August 1st, less than two weeks before the annual Prison Justice Day on August 10. Since his initial arrest in mid-2006 he has been hospitalized several times and has needed two emergency surgeries. Frank has Crohn’s disease and when he gets out of jail this summer he will be much sicker than when he came in six years ago.

His first trip to the hospital was immediately after his arrest in June of 2006, when a beating from the arresting officers caused a flare up of his illness and left him vomiting blood in the holding cells at the police station. To an extent, that experience set the tone for Frank’s experiences with the so-called corrections system, which has seen him get sicker and sicker the longer he has been incarcerated.

In theory, Crohn’s disease should not be that hard to manage in jail, requiring little more than a special diet and a little bit of attention and care from the medical staff. “The wrong diet could kill me,” he tells me. Unfortunately, good care and a proper diet have not been as easy to obtain here as one would hope.

When Frank first arrived at Joyceville Penitentiary in 2007 after a year at the Metro-West Detention Centre, he was straight out of the hospital with orders for a “low reside” [residue?] diet- no corn, beans or peas, no red meat, gluten, no flour or fibre. Crohn’s disease causes his body to produce the enzymes that break down many foods, which means he cannot absorb nutrients from them. Frank was diagnosed at fourteen and since then he has been living off of a diet mostly comprised of chicken, fish, rice and supplements.

Well at Joyceville, Frank started to experience a great deal of pain due to complications that began to arise from an earlier sugery. There, when he complained about the pain, he was put on pain medication. In time he was transferred to Millhaven Penitentiary, near Kingston, where he stayed until 2009.

At Millhaven complications continue to flare up and the doctors there set up an appointment for him to see a specialist. However, while he waited, Frank was taken off his pain meds because guards falsely believed he had been selling his pills to other inmates.

One day at healthcare Frank was arguing with a nurse, insisting he needed to continue taking his medication when a guard, trying to end the argument, grabbed Frank from behind with a chokehold. Frank resisted and was subsequently thrown in the hole after a beating from the guards. During his stay in solitary confinement Frank wasn’t getting his meds and as a result was in too much pain to eat anything. When he finally got to make a phone call after several days in the hole, Frank called his lawyer, who, along with his family, started making calls to the jail as well as to local media, which eventually created enough pressure to prompt a visit from the jail’s doctor. The doctor’s visit led to a trip to the hospital where Frank received an emergency surgery.

Frank says that the whole ordeal could have been avoided had jail staff only taken the initial complaints seriously. He tells me that since leaving Joyceville, despite having been in three different institutions (Millhaven, the Don jail and now Penetang), in his opinion he has not seen a good caring doctor.

His emergency surgery took place at Kingston general hospital in March, 2009 and less than three months later he was forced to return for another.

In late 2009 Frank was paroled to a half-way house, but after only 30 days a police raid put him back in jail, this time in the Don. While he continued to experience lots of pain, he tells me that the Don respected his Diet and he got reasonable care there. Nonetheless, his destabilized condition necessitated two more trips to the hospital while he was there. One was for a scheduled appointment and one was to the emergency room. The scheduled appointment was with a specialist at Saint Joseph’s and occurred only two weeks before his transfer to Penetang after he was sentenced at the beginning of 2012.

When Frank arrived at Penetang (formally known as Central North Correctional Complex) in February 2012, despite his condition and history of complications, it took almost three weeks for him to see a doctor here. Up to that point he’d been getting the proper diet, but was forced to make some additional restrictions necessary because of difference in the menus between jails: whereas the Don has a real kitchen, at Penetang food is shipped up from Maplehurst where it is mass produced then steam heated when it gets here and to the other Super-Jails. The diet here has a lot of heavily processed foods that Frank cannot eat.

When Frank saw the Saint Joseph specialist at the beginning of this year, a return visit was ordered. However since getting to Penetang that visit still hasn’t happened

At Penetang Frank believes he has been picked on by the guards who he says are not interested in dealing with special diets that require trips to and from the kitchen when mistakes are made and the wrong food is delivered. One day the guard’s told his entire unit that they were all going to miss yard because of Frank. Frank’s response; “abuse your power while you can, this is your world, but when I get out in ninety days that’s my world,” he told the guards.

Accused of making threats Frank was sent to the hole. When he got out he found his diet had been changed. But, not wanting to argue with the same guards who had just sent him to the hole, he chose instead to subsist on minimal selections from his meals, protein bars from the canteen and appropriate food that other inmates are willing to share with him.

“Every range I’ve been on” he tells me, “people come together for me…because there is a unity here knowing the guards don’t care.” Despite that solidarity Frank quickly lost weight and was becoming weaker and weaker.

Frank tried to get the nurses (who come around daily to deliver medications) to change his diet back and he also wrote a slew of requests for a change and see the doctor but to no avail. The nurses told him that if he keeps complaining they’ll him thrown back in the hole.

Eventually Frank decides to eat the meals they are bringing him; “it was either eat or starve,” he tells me. “That fucked me right up” he says. Totally unable to eat he tells a nurse that he needs to go to the hospital. But when he is taken to health care one of the nurses insinuates that he is merely trying to get them to give him drugs and again he is threatened with another trip to the hole. This time though Frank calls his lawyer who starts to put pressure on the jail and the next morning they bring him from medications for his pain.

Unfortunately having not eaten solid food since getting violently ill the last time he tried to eat one of his meals he tells the nurse that he can’t take his meds without good food in his stomach. According to Frank her response was to alert the guards that he was on a hunger strike and trying to incite other inmates. For this- what he describes as “being sick and making too much noise (about it)” – Frank was thrown back into the hole for two weeks.

Again Frank’s lawyer and family made numerous calls to the jail as well as to local media. Finally a doctor came to see him and agreed to send him to the hospital.

One week later, back from the hospital, Frank finds that his diet has been switched again. This time he is on a vegan diet, which is not at all what he is supposed to be eating. Eventually one of the nurses switched him back to a diet that is close to what he is supposed to be getting.

In June, Frank was involved in a fight—a pretty normal occurrence in jail—and this earned him yet another trip back to the hole. Ironically in solitary confinement, Frank finally gets the proper diet but that only lasts for as long as he is there and as soon as he is back in general population his diet has changed again.

“That’s how I knew the guards were going out of the way to fuck with me,” Frank tells me. He said that it is the unit guards who don’t like him, which is why in solitary, which is worked by different guards, he was given the appropriate food. He claims the guards have been switching his diet, for punitive reasons.

Now out of the hole Frank is still sick. In fact he is getting sicker and sicker but when he goes to healthcare this time he is merely prescribed extra strength Tylenol and put on an all liquid diet. This wasn’t helping him feel any better and he continues to get worse.

The other night at around 10pm while we were all locked in our cells I see Frank taken out by a guard who brings him to see the nurse on duty. He tells her that he needs to go to the hospital but neither she nor the on duty captain want to send him.

“Just cover your ass” he tells them, “if I get out and need emergency surgery it will be your heads.” Frank and the two prison staff all knowing that two weeks from then he is scheduled to be released, they agree to send him.

At the hospital he is prescribed a thrice daily dose of morphine and a very high daily dose prednisone.

Back at the jail, he is only getting the morphine twice a day and he is told they are going to take him off it all together after five days.

“Why are you going to take me off my meds if I’m still in pain?” he asks. “I am going home in ten days, why are you going to make me suffer?”

You’re in here for selling drugs; the doctor tells him, “you have a history of doing drugs.” But he doesn’t. Frank admits to selling but has never been a drug user. However because he has sold drugs, it is assumed he must also be an addict and therefore seeking to abuse his medication. But Frank is not looking to get high, he is merely trying to manage a potentially life-threatening disease that he says this jail has never taken seriously.

“Someone with a real life-threatening condition, can’t get proper medial attention (in here)” says Frank. “Because I made too much noise complaining…I’m getting punished for making them work,” He tells me. “This place is a warehouse and they don’t want to have to think or care about you.”

So far I have had pretty decent treatment from the staff here; I have been getting my medication and have had my own life-threatening food allergies respected. But this is Frank’s story, I hope they don’t punish me for telling it.


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