It’s Your Health: Disabled in Prison

by Delores Garcia, VSPW
My journey through “doing the time” began in a misinformed courtroom in L.A. My judge called the CDC before sentencing to verify there was a medical facility at CIW (California Institution for Women) close to my family to provide the medical care I need. I am totally disabled with 14 different medical conditions. CDC medical cannot provide this care.

Delores Garcia
Delores Garcia

I was taken to the CCWF/SNF (Central California Women’s Facility/Skilled Nursing Facility), the designated medical care facility for women in California’s prisons. While in the SNF, I was subjected to a lack of medical care by the doctor and nurses and a massive cover-up of neglect by the medical staff. I repeatedly requested to be examined and tested. I was given more and more pain pills. I never received basic exams such as a pap smear/pelvic exam when I arrived. I submitted request forms, spoke to nurses daily, and tried many times to speak with the one and only doctor assigned to the SNF. I received no tests – no answers – only more pills. Away I went in another ambulance to emergency.
The medical care became worse. The nurse wouldn’t answer call lights at night. I filed 602s (appeals) on medical or lack of medical. I never received answers when I first began filing them. Then a porter (janitor) who cleaned the SNF, discovered 602s in the head nurse’s trashcan. After that I “sent” my 602s out from the SNF with porters so they could put them in their unit mail. I began to get replies on my 602s – and a lot of attention from the head nurse. One day she came into my room and told me to stop causing trouble for her staff.
I needed someone to listen – someone I could trust, who would assist me and help me live through this “time.” I became involved with lawyers and advocates who fight so courageously for prison/medical reform. Someone had to speak the truth about the lack of proper medical treatment and care. I looked around and saw – me. I never gave up trying to get proper medical treatment and necessary tests – only this time with legal assistance. Without these voices outside these walls, our voice within would be but a whisper.
Eventually, as the truth began to expose the medical conditions, I was threatened with a transfer from CCWF/SNF to VSPW/OHU (Valley State Prison for Women/Outpatient Housing Unit) if I didn’t stop filing 602s, helping others with 602s and quit meeting with the attorneys and advocates. I could not – would not give up my rights as a human being to survive with my disabilities inside prison walls. So now, here I am, at VSPW/OHU lying in solitude – similar to administrative segregated housing. I spend 20-22 hours a day in my single room. This facility has no license to house any disabled prisoner long term. There are no operational procedures or policies, so staff is able to do what they want with you. After a year of fighting for tests in a licensed medical facility, I received the tests here. The nursing supervisor here at VSPW/OHU has admitted this place is not staffed or set up for long term care. Once again, I have had to file 602s just so they will comply with the Americans for Disability Act. The staff says I am paving the way – they never had a permanent resident in the OHU. After all the years the CDC has been in “business”, you would think they could put good medical doctors and nurses at the same facility where the proper housing for disabled is located.
a drawing titled 'Thunderbird'Custody and medical departments never seem to be able to agree on the care and housing of the disabled inmate. Medical care sometimes goes against custody procedures. Custody procedures don’t agree with medical needs. We the disabled are stuck in the middle – between them – fallen in the crack. We the disabled serve a double sentence. Is this right, is it justice? The weakest endure the most.
Come see through my eyes, live through my body. Come sit in my wheelchair or live in my bed. Try calling for a nurse who never comes, lie in a bed not changed for two weeks. Smell your trash built up for over a week because no one cleans your room. Try to get something from a locker you can’t reach, unable to hold onto anything because your hands won’t move right – no help from anyone – you are all alone. Only the silence of your room to answer you.
Reach into your heart – then look me in the eye and tell me this time fits my crime. Is this justice or big business? When you find the truth – let me know. I will be here – praying to live until I parole.