They have only one diagnosis

by Linda Field, CCWF
I am fat. I’ve been fat since I was 13; I am now 48. Over the past ten years, the medical department of California Department of Corrections (CDC) has elaborately referred to me as obese, grossly obese and morbidly obese. Fat. That is all they see. The diagnosis ends there.
I have arthritis. It’s because I’m fat. Lose weight and I will lose arthritis.
I am borderline diabetic and have been for 22 years. Rather, I was until entering the CDC system ten years ago when I was cured. The cure: I was told the disease didn’t exist; either you were diabetic or you weren’t – there was no such thing as borderline. In December of 1996, after a glucose tolerance test, I was once again borderline diabetic. The cause – fat. Dr. Touya said that I didn’t have a “nanny” to take care of me, do it myself. He stated that I needed to lose 5 pounds a week to cure the problem. There were no diet foods like raw vegetables, simply don’t eat.
I have high blood pressure. Of course this is because I’m fat. Once again I would be cured if I lost weight.
Ten years of medical charting and everyone assumes my “illnesses” were due to obesity. Dr. Touya decided to give me a psychiatric referral. After all, I must be psychotic to be fat, per Dr. Juan Touya.
Discrimination is what I’m fighting. How can anyone who calls himself a physician be so single minded – so blind? Must CDC always take the easy way out? Is CDC medicine to remain in the dark ages?
The medical society has recognized that some people are meant to be fat. The yo-yo dieting, losing and always gaining back more, is unhealthy. Many believe this is more stressful to the body than the fat.
I have had two EKGs, one in 1992, the other in December of 1996. While the EKG lists bundle branch blockage and possible arterial enlargement, Dr. Touya claimed it was perfectly normal. He claimed I was just fat. He claims I was argumentative and belligerent because I requested a different doctor, one who would listen to my complaints.
Repeatedly, I have complained of not being able to take a breath or that my breath catches, dizziness, and disorientation. The answer is that I’m just fat. Why has no one run any tests to rule out a heart condition when I have told them of my extensive family history of heart disease? Why is it assumed that the cause is fat? I can spell. Break down the word assume and you have ASS-U-ME. Maybe CDC is an ASS but this layman inmate isn’t.
I can accept that all my symptoms for the past ten years are due to fat, but I would do so after ruling out other possibilities.
Are CDC doctors so archaic that they practice medicine 30 years behind the times, or do they just not care? Sometimes I wonder if we are really in California in 1997, or is it that we’re part of a mental conditioning experiment performed in a Nazi concentration camp in the early 1940s. Many CDC physicians maintain a neo-Nazi mentality. [To them] inmates are sub-human, dime-a-dozen, and just trying to get out of working.
If you report to medical [sick call], terrified because you lost control – disoriented, right arm temporarily immobile, clammy, panting, unable to catch your breath – you might sit for two and a half hours until an RN takes your temperature and blood pressure, pronounces you normal and charges you $5.00. If you’re lucky, you might be excused from work for several days. If you return again, scared because you don’t understand what happened, you might be told, “If you don’t want to do your work, get a job change.” You might receive another lay-in [excuse from work] for 5 days. You still haven’t seen a doctor, you’re still scared to death, you’re still just fat. (This occurred Monday, 2/24/97 at approximately 6:45 a.m. MTA Alipo brought me inside. Also MTA Dobson. RN Nichols saw me at approximately 7:15 a.m. I saw RN Nichols again on 2/26/97.)
Where does it end? When will someone look into my eyes and see me – not just the fat? Hopefully it will be before I need a fat coffin because I had heart failure or a stroke due to fat. Hopefully, before I die at the hands of CDC medical, with their state of the art equipment that isn’t used – because I’m just fat.

Patty Contreras Free at Last!

by Karen Shain
It was dark, 10:00 at night, by the time we got to the prison. We had heard earlier that evening that Patty was going to get out on compassionate release, that we could pick her up at any time. Cindy, her lawyer and friend, and I decided to go down and get her that night. We felt that we would not be able to live with ourselves if Patty died that night and missed the chance to spend even one last night outside the prison gates. It never rains in the central valley in mid-April, but it rained that night. It was a very strange night.
Patty Contreras is a woman with AIDS who has spent the last ten years in prison in California. She was the focus of a campaign for compassionate release. This campaign was led by Cindy Chandler of Women’s Positive Legal Action Network in Oakland and by the HIV/AIDS in Prison Project of Catholic Charties of the East Bay. Hundreds of people wrote letters to the parole board, and, finally, the board granted her release.
The prison authorities made us wait on one side of the sally port while they drove Patty to the other side. Memories of old war movies, prisoner exchanges came to us while we waited. What if this were really a trade, if one of us had to spend the rest of her life inside in order for Patty to be let free? And what is a sally port anyway? Isn’t that where the guy got stuck in 2001? As I say, it was a very strange night. A sport van drove up and we could see Patty inside. She was just as tiny as ever, slumped over toward the right, away from the driver, but she was alive! Then they made her get out of the car in the rain and walk over to a kiosk so they could fingerprint her one last time. We had never seen Patty walk. Where was the wheelchair? She was using a flimsy metal walker, still slumped over to one side, slowly going step by step to the kiosk. The guard held her up and moved her fingers away from her body, spread each finger apart, so they could make sure they were releasing the right dying prisoner.
We were standing outside of our car by then, not able to believe that they were doing this to Patty, they couldn’t even bring the piece of paper to her in the van so that she wouldn’t have to stand in the rain. Then, as Patty turned to be led back to the van she saw us. She stood straighter than I have ever seen her and she moved her walker back to the car with amazing dignity. She knew she was going to make it! When she got into the van, she raised her arm in a fist. We knew she was going to make it!
Patty was driven through the sally port, to our side of the wall. We had pillows, blankets, throw-up bags, snacks, everything we could think of to make her ride comforable. But Patty brought her spirit into our car and turned that long ride back into magic. We were disappointed that it was raining so Patty wouldn’t be able to see the comet. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll see it tomorrow night.” It started to hail as we crossed the central valley. “The earth is welcoming me! … Let’s go to a restaurant.” I told her we would not be able to get her into a restaurant without a wheelchair if it was hailing. She opened her window and told the sky to stop hailing. It stopped, so we went to a restaurant! It was that kind of night.
Don’t make any mistake about it. Patty still has AIDS. She is desperately ill, and her compassionate release came very late in the game. But what we saw that night was a deep fighting spirit, a woman who refused to die in prison, who refused to give them that satisfaction.