Since the tragic death of David Mitchell in April, we have been gathering accounts from incarceration-impacted people around Vermont. The resulting stories, from currently and formerly incarcerated people and their friends and family, tells the real story of how people’s physical and mental health is being mistreated if not ignored in our prisons. Below are a dozen examples.
There have been several instances where my loved one needed medical help urgently, and without my support would not have gotten it. He was housed in close custody in Saint Albans. This type of housing does not offer open access to speak with a correctional officer during the day, unless there is recreation time. There are no call buttons or ways to get help in an emergency, except for banging on the door. Fortunately, my loved one called me on his tablet and described his symptoms which sounded like an infection becoming septic quickly. He had asked the correctional officer for help and was told to submit a sick slip. He explained that he was running a fever and had symptoms that needed immediate attention. The correctional officer did not respond. I was able to call and get someone from the medical office at the facility to answer. I explained his symptoms, and that it sounded like sepsis, and that he would need antibiotics immediately. Another hour or two passed and his symptoms worsened. No one had come to check on him. I then called the superintendent, who at the time was a friend of my father’s. He was quite sympathetic and ultimately got my loved one the immediate medical attention needed. Reflecting on this incident it seems fortuitous that I had a personal relationship with the superintendent but also ridiculous that one would have to make so many calls for an urgent medical request. What if one did not have money on their tablet? Or one did not have anyone to call from their tablet? And what if they did not have a connection with the superintendent? Urgent medical requests should not be a choice for a correctional officer to ign
I was in for 10 years… .released last year and I still have 2 broken teeth that was never fixed while I was in they were broken for 4 years prior to my release……the medical care was a joke….you have the flu here’s an asprin….they really didn’t care…I watched 2 people die while I was in Newport from neglect .I also was in with a fellow who was granted compassionate release but literally died 3 months after release because he was undiagnosed with an aggressive cancer and only after taken them to court did he get the test that showed that
My friend was at CRCF (Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility) for 2.5 years and for most of that time she complained of pain in her rectum. She was told the pain and bleeding was just hemorrhoids but knew it was more than that. The CRCF nurse never did an exam of her. Towards the end of her sentence she finally was taken to a doctor to be diagnosed with rectal cancer. Upon release she received radiation and chemo, but it was too late and she has been given 6 months to live. I can’t help but think that an earlier exam would have provided earlier treatment with a more positive outcome.
My son was sent weed in the mail by someone who just wanted to get him in trouble. They put him in the hole without any due process, not allowed to take any of his belongings, a toothbrush, and no shower for five days. He had done nothing wrong. He spent the whole time in mental anguish worrying about his programming being delayed, his belongings being taken. He could not visit his kids, the main thing that keeps him mentally stable. I consider this to be cruel and unusual punishment. There’s no reason why he couldn’t have stayed in his cell until his hearing. There is absolutely nothing “corrective” about this. He frequently speaks about correction officers antagonizing inmates. This is mentally abusive. These are people not animals. He is living under extremely stressful conditions, knowing that if someone sends him something that is considered contraband he can go through this all over again. The assumption is he is guilty until proven innocent and it is causing physical and mental anguish.
My son was extremely ill one night. He asked for the nurse and the guard disrespected him . He again asked for the nurse. She came up, gave him some stomach acid meds and said he would need to put in request for doctor. Still extremely sick, they brought down to the nurse, more antacids given. Again he was told a sick slip needed to be put in. No result with the meds. He fell in his cell. His roommate had to tell the guards, don’t let him die also. They called a ambulance, got to the hospital and was given IV hydration, started feeling better. He told me he felt like he had food poisoning and with all the constant vomiting and diarrhea all night long whatever it was finally got out of his system. He called me and told me this. He is in SSCF. and he is not an old aging person.
My son is in Newport. When I go visit him, my heart breaks 💔. He has lost weight, got health issues, bunch on palm of hand, and more. His mental state is so depressing. He doesn’t laugh, smile.
In 2016 my son was incarcerated for about a year at the St. Johnsbury Work Camp. He had committed several non violent offenses, no felonies. One of his charges was possession of LSD. Our son was taken off his psychiatric medication during his time in jail. Despite a known history of bipolar disorder, he never saw a Psychiatrist. He never received any mental health care. He was not even given the chance to attend an AA meeting for his substance use disorder. My husband and I tried to get him to commit to a treatment facility when he was released. Unfortunately, he was in a manic state on release and couldn’t get treatment. As he had “completed his time” there was no probation or aftercare connection. He did well initially, starting work as a chef at Long Horn Steakhouse. He was so proud of the certificates he had completed at the Work Camp. Sadly, he went to a party and used a substance that was 100% fentanyl. He died after four days in the ICU, he donated four organs. He was only 27 years old. In his own words, he was locked up with no attempts to see him as a person who had made a mistake, he was just a “bad egg.
This is a slightly protracted way of illustrating that even for those who DO get seen by Medical in VT Prisons… it doesn’t mean they will do anything for you, except mark down in your file that you have been seen.That is not the same as a real Dr.’s visit, where there is first a diagnosis, and then a prognosis, and then you have an opportunity to weigh your treatment options, and make an informed decision on a course of action.
I can’t even describe how this reprehensible inaction takes its toll on one psychologically and emotionally.
DOC will hand off responsibility to the Medical Provider, and they in turn will hand it off to DOC, perpetuating the lack of accountability and bolstering their impunity.
I was incarcerated in Vermont. My pre-trial detention lasted for 6.5 years. In my mid-fifties at the time of incarceration, statistically, I should encounter at least one health- related issue for which I might necessarily have to see a doctor. I had more than one, as it turns out, but concerning nonetheless.
Were any of these treated in ANY way whatsoever, while incarcerated? Thanks for asking. The answer is – of course not.
First, I’ll tell you about the Cancers.
I had two: On my head, I had one basal-cell carcinoma which was removed using a device called “The Dessicator”, which is essentially a welder–that’s right–and required 23 visits for radiation. I had that thing growing, and bleeding every day for over two and a half years. Not once was even a swab or biopsy or even a band-aid applied, despite several visits and dozens of requests for attention to this extremely worrisome growth. My fear was compounded by a history of cancer on both sides of my Family, including skin cancers. A much larger squamous-cell carcinoma needed to be surgically removed, and I have a four-inch Frankenstien scar on my chest as a reminder.
Despite the one on my chest beginning as substantially smaller than a dime, and growing to larger than a silver dollar, and also bleeding every day… nothing. Both could have been arrested early on, enough so that neither would have posed a threat.
I began to have problems in the bathroom, as well. At the time, I didn’t make the connection with the gradual difficulty I was having controlling my legs. They were connected. For the burning, and what I describe as “icepick jabbing” in my feet, constant cramping and muscle spasms, I was prescribed ibuprofen. Yeah.
The treatment I received, including but not limited to: Fall Prevention Therapy (I was falling constantly) Occupational therapy and various visual targeting exercises I received at Grace Cottage, when I returned to the community. I was sent immediately to the Dermatologist, Audiologist, Optometrist, Neurologist, Endocrinologist, Gastroenterologist and Ear, Nose and Throat GP, an Osteopath, MRI, CT Scan and an EMG test–which is where they stab you with electrodes and crank up the juice.
I was eventually diagnosed with Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy… and I know I’m leaving out a few others. My friend Meg, merely through the kindness of her heart, logged over 4,000 miles driving me to all of these appointments.
The cancers should have been biopsied, removed and treated immediately, before they became an issue. First visit.
It is unlikely that any type of total prevention could have occurred, but I could have tackled the issue earlier, and for sure mitigated some of the effects. Certainly there are therapies which could, and should have been employed which would have retarded the progression of the neuropathy, and my condition would not be anywhere near as advanced.
Is there a more vulnerable population than the utterly powerless?
Non-incarcerated people may wait a month or even two to see a GP or specialist for an acute or ongoing problem. The standard of care for people incarcerated in Vermont prisons is supposed to match that in all respects. Decisions on care rendered by specialists in their field should not be ignored by prison staff, or substantially reduced to the point of ineffectiveness. Yet the routine abuse of common-sense healthcare occurs throughout the Vermont prison system.
An incarcerated 63-year-old Vermont man was sent to Beattyville, Kentucky to serve time. He was diagnosed in 2014 with throat cancer. Six months passed before he was returned to Vermont for treatment. During the half-year wait, a tumor half the size of a ping-pong ball grew out of his neck. Dartmouth Hitchcocks treatmeant was 35 radiations and 7 chemos over a seven-week period. It was brutal, debilitating, and paradoxically, life threatening. Contracting pneumonia in January 2015, near the end of the treatment, nearly killed him. I know, because I am that man. Thanks to the staff of Dartmouth Hitchcock and Springfield hospitals, I am lucky to be alive. I wish I could tell you that my SSCF infirmary care was seamless, professional and timely, but that simply isn’t so.
Equipment routinely broke down or was ineffective due to inadequate staff training. Being forced to take meals daily with other infirmary patients needlessly exposing me to infections. I never wore a mask, or ever saw a staffperson wearing one. This during a time when my immune system was at its weakest. Eight years have passed with no indication of a recurrence. The possibility still exists. I only hope detection and treatment are timely and effective.
The orders by hospital doctors to treat residents with on-time blood draws, insulin shots, dispensing essential heart medications, performing scans on already-known brain tumors, necessary physical therapy, and intelligent prescribing of pain medication are often modified or ignored to the point of uselessness. People who “ask too many questions” of nurses or doctors at SSCF may be ignored or threatened with Discipinary Reports or being sent to another prison with even less effective medical facilities.
A resident with a burst appendix was accused of exaggerating the pain or outright lying over a ten-day period. Spending 3 1/2 weeks in the hospital was the result. The resident still experiences pain, vomiting, nausea, and various gastrointestinal issues. Another resident with severe diabetes has been accused of “refusing meds” when questioning staff about infrequency of treatments.
The death of David Mitchell, a 42-year-old deceased former resident at SSCF who reported to staff on multiple occasions “I can’t breathe” was threatened with reprisals if he did not “shut up.” Over a dozen deaths have occurred on SSCF’s watch in the last 18 months. How many of them were avoidable? The commissioner tells us this is the consequence of an aging, sickly population. Where is compassionate release? Where is the concentrated effor to prolong residents’ lives? We don’t all come in the door with a life-threatening illness. Is it expected that we will return to society rendered “healthy” by an adequate diet, and “corrected” by humane and intelligent treatment? Does the recidivism rate reflect that? Ask the staff. Do they believe the system has the right attitude and methods to help create good citizens? Are Vermont prisons doomed to release people with zero chances for a new life? Is the business community working hand-in-hand with DOC to assure released individuals are allowed reasonable opportunities to prove their working worth? The huge number of lawsuits against DOC are the results of system broken at every level. Is anyone brave enough to declare that people in prison are humans, not monsters? That we want to resume useful lives with our families? That our health depends on people sworn to defend it.
The biggest problem is MENTAL health. No such thing in prison, where it is needed the most!
I went in when I was 19 and I am starting my third year. I was on ADHD medication since a young age and found it to be some thing I needed to keep myself focused. Once incarcerated the providers refused to continue my ADHD medication even though my primary care doctor contacted them and Recommended that I continue. Now in my fourth month of programming I find it very difficult to complete the tasks of reading and writing that are required to pass. My ADHD medication was the thing that helped me do my schoolwork and stay focused sitting for long periods in a classroom. It seems like a set up for failure; take the dyslexic teenager off his medication, assign him lengthy reading, and writing assignments that his learning disabilities have a hard time with and penalize him if he cannot sit still or complete the homework, ultimately have him do more jail time because he has a documented Disability. my family tried to advocate through Prisoners Rights for this, and we got nowhere. My only hope is that somehow I make it through the rest of my programming to my release date, knowing I will need to overcome my own brain.
My boyfriend was incarcerated on August 3rd 2022. He has gone through a big trauma being there. He was supposed to see a kidney specialist the 5th of August and was told by Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport that they were going to cancel the appointment and reschedule,. which never happened. He was transferred to Southern State Correctional In March of 2023. He has Had a couple eye surgeries prior to going to Jail. He had eye surgery to help preserve his eyesight. He went back to the infirmary at the facility. While there they were unable to care for his needs. As a result he got burnt with hot water on left hand because no one would help him when he asked the staff. They neglected to give him his eye drops for 6 days. I called UVM in Burlington Vermont. Then they went and filled his medicine. Even after that he at times was unable to get his eye drops because certain nursing staff kept telling him that it was either not time or he was not on the list for Medicine at that time. At times he had to skip the drops.. At that point I called UVM and told them his eye was really red and he said it was very sore. I got a call a few days later and he had fallen in his cell. He had cut his leg on something because there was water that leaked and he is blind so he didn’t see it. He has had other inmates threaten to harm him. I was scared for his safety. A guy called him outside wanting to fight. It was dark out and he can not see. He called me around the 16th of June complaining that his Left eye hurt and his face was swollen along with parts of his head. He had really bad headaches. His headaches got so bad that he couldn’t sleep. They would make him cry. He put med slips in and all they said was he had a sinus infection. He kept telling them that it wasn’t and that it felt like his eye was going to explode. It took them two weeks to bring him to the emergency room, where they told him he should have been there a week ago. Last Thursday the 29th of June they took him to UVM. To see his eye doctor who told him that his left eye could have been prolonged if Southern state correctional would have brought him to the hospital sooner. Now they are making a date to remove his eye due to the neglect he has gotten at this facility. The eye pressure in his left eye is 75. He was given a prescription for eye drops on Thursday, but they still have not filled them and told him the are not filling them till after the holiday. Then about 5 weeks ago he gets told that he has stage 4 kidney failure. He saw a doctor at the jail who told him that the nursing staff at the facility was giving him 2 medicines that can’t be taken together, that’s why his kidneys are shutting down. I don’t feel that they can properly care for him or meet his needs. I don’t feel that he is safe there. I feel that with his medical not being met he could end up like the rest of the people that died at that facility.
My son has suffered with respiratory issues, intermittent shortness of breath, and other symptoms related to endocarditis which was treated when he arrived at SSCF in January of 2022. Each time these symptoms became severe, he requested help from “medical” via sick slips. While he did receive medical care, there were many, many times when his sick requests were ignored. I had to intervene on numerous occasions to get him medical assistance. A number of months ago, he was told he would see a pulmonologist, and still has not. It seemed diagnostic tests were done only after much advocating on my part, and long delays. I intervened when he seemed to have exhausted his only resources for response, and then I had to go to the Director of Health Services.Since he has been moved to first NWSCF, and now NSCF, he has reported that responsiveness has been better, although still no follow up with a pulmonologist. He experienced the same kind of delays and avoidance when requesting treatment for Hep C. He and I advocated for treatment for years, being told he did not qualify, until he finally received treatment a few months ago.I don’t know if the lack of responsiveness applies only to SSCF or not, but the experience there was extremely hard for him – frustrating and at times frightening when he felt powerless to get help.