A Medical Assistant Stands up for Human Rights

by Pam Fadem
In Fall 2006, CCWP was contacted by a person who had worked on contract at Valley State Prison for Women (not as an employee of the CDRC) as a medical assistant for a few weeks in the Spring of 2006. This person?whom we will call Barbara?contacted CCWP because she was concerned with the inhumane treatment of women who were housed in the infirmary under suicide watch, and with the bad treatment she herself had received from correctional officers (CO?s) until she was dismissed.
Barbara was employed as a medical assistant by KT Staffing (a company contracted to provide services to the CDRC). She was assigned to chart activities every 15 minutes of women being held under a suicide watch at the infirmary at VSPW.
Barbara immediately experienced hostility from CO?s in the unit. She learned that CO?s and other CDRC staff had previously done this work, earning substantial overtime pay. Staff was hostile because they were no longer able to earn this overtime pay. As well, Barbara soon saw a disturbing level of cruel and inhumane treatment towards women prisoners by CO?s. Barbara told CCWP members, ?I encountered a lot of hostility directed to inmates by staff, and then to myself. I can?t speak for what other medical assistants experienced.?
Some CO?s deliberately provoked women who were ill. Barbara told CCWP about how an older woman?who appeared to be suffering from a severe case of dementia?was continually taunted and harassed by staff members who then laughed at the inmate as she became more and more agitated. In another case, Barbara was observing one woman who requested to be escorted to the restroom (there were no toilet facilities in the suicide watch cells). Barbara relayed this request to a CO (the MTA in charge). The CO said she ?would be right back.? Thirty minutes passed, with the woman prisoner pacing her cell, ?her skin becoming clammy,? as she clearly suffered trying to hold her bowels. The prisoner finally could wait no longer and was forced to relieve her bowels in her cell, with no materials to clean herself up. When the CO finally returned, she was angry about the odor and the mess, and then taunted and laughed at the prisoner who became very angry. The CO then told the woman she ?would have to live with the mess until you calm down.?
Barbara said, ?I found this very degrading and very unnecessary. I was also told by more than one inmate that you could get privileges (such as extra towels) for trading sexual favors.?
Less than a month later Barbara was dismissed from her job. While she was told it was because she had not done her job well, Barbara firmly believes that she was let go because she talked kindly to women prisoners, and refused to treat women in a degrading manner. As one CO said to Barbara in a very threatening and aggressive way, ?You have nothing to say to the inmates, do you understand??
Barbara lost her job, but she maintained her dignity and respected the dignity of the prisoners she was hired to serve. CCWP has heard stories about taunting and other inhumane treatment like this from women before, and we know that unfortunately this isn’t an aberration. What is so important in this story is that someone working inside the prison had the courage and humanity to speak out about what was going on and took the time to contact us. We hope this encourages others to do the same.