My name’s Kenneth Lee Zamarron and I’m currently incarcerated at the gallows in the Indiana State Prison. My piece’s name is entitled, “Prison Scars Due to Cruel and Inadequate Medical Treatment at an Indiana Prison.”
In 2017, I entered the United States prison warehousing system at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, located in Carlisle, Indiana. I was 16 years old when my judge imposed upon me what is commonly called a “Methuselah sentence,” of 97 and 1/2 years, named after the biblical figure who reportedly lived to be 969 years old. When I entered the prison system, I was like most mixed, colored, urban kids I had met in prison. I was unable to read and write. In a word, I was illiterate.
In 2013, however, that would all change, when I noticed what appeared to be little pimples developing on my neck and scalp. I inarticulately wrote a healthcare request form, which inmates use to notify the medical department of health issues they are experiencing. At that time, the medical provider for inmates in Indiana was Corizon, Inc. Unbeknownst to me, Corizon had developed a well-earned reputation for providing cruel and woefully inadequate medical care to prisoners in each state it had contracts. Corizon, it seemed, had prioritized profits over medical care. At that time, I could neither imagine nor anticipate the struggles I would have to endure just to receive basic, standard, and human medical treatment. As the years passed, my conditions worsened. I wrote numerous healthcare request forms and grievances to medical staff, correctional officers, and the warden, expressing three serious issues:
One, to see a dermatologist for a proper evaluation and new treatment options. Two, to stop prescribing medication already proven to be ineffective. And three, to be given an adequate amount of bandages and wraps due to the pimples turning into large cysts that would drain constantly. It should be noted that prisoners are not allowed to possess these types of medical supplies without the approval of the medical department, as they are not sold to inmates.
As both my physical and psychological health worsened, it became apparent that Corizon was ignoring my requests. I fully understand that I am a prisoner and, as a result, I would not receive five star treatment. But even basic medical precautions and protocols seemed not to matter once I was placed in handcuffs.
Then, in 2017, Wexford of Indiana, LLC, who was owned by the Bantry Group Corporation, won the bid with the Indiana Department of Correction. I was hopeful they would provide me with adequate care for my condition, but Wexford was just like Corizon in that they had a reputation for providing cruel, inhumane, and woefully inadequate medical care to prisoners in each state it had a contract. Wexford had also prioritized profits over medical care. I fell into deep despair, and seriously contemplated suicide as a means to end both my physical and mental pain. I feared the fight against the colossal powers of multiple Goliaths: the medical provider and the Indiana Department of Correction. How could I ever succeed against these high mighty power entities when I did not even possess a stone – the ability to read well – or a sling – the ability to write well? I was powerless, unarmed, and helpless. I almost caved into my suicidal ideation. However, I thought of the pain I would bring to my family, whom I had already let down with my incarceration. I thought of my ancestors, who were stigmatized and ostracized based on their nationality and the pigment of their skin. They too received cruel and inhuman treatment. Like them, I thought, I would fight for justice – the fight for standard medical care and fight to be treated like a human being. I would stoically face my Goliaths.
I began to formulate a plan: learn to read, learn to write, and learn civil laws to the best of my ability. I did this to protect mine and other prisoners’ constitutional rights. I’ve sought to become more patient, persistent, and compassionate. What was once burdensome and difficult became demystified. I had a newfound respect for Frederick Douglass’ quote, “Once you learn to read, you are forever free.” I also learned that once you learn to write, you can fight for your rights. I started to become free, and had the tools to fight for my rights to reasonable medical care with meaning, substance, and significance. I continued to write healthcare request forms and grievances for my chronic bacterial infection, and painful pustular lesions that ruptured and drained daily. An overwhelming majority of the time, Wexford and Corizon ignored my requests for bandages and wraps, forcing me to use old, unsanitary cut-up t-shirts and rags. I even had to resort to using toilet paper as bandages. The dehumanizing treatment I experienced further burned the red flame of justice I was seeking.
Then, after nearly seven years of unremitting suffering, at least 100 health care request forms and continuous grievances, and even the submission of a anatomical drawing of my face and head, detailing the wounds and scarrings I had sustained as a result of deliberate indifference to my medical needs, I finally received a consultation with a dermatologist. And literally within 10 minutes of my first having met the dermatologist, he diagnosed my condition as dissecting cellulitis of the scalp, a rare condition, the cause of which is unknown. Due to the repeated, painful swelling, rupturing, and draining for my long-untreated dissecting cellulitis, I had serious, gruesome scars known as keloids, which had developed on my scalp and body. I am lucky just to be alive, given the fact that dissecting cellulitis, if left untreated, can lead to sepsis, necrotizing fasciitis, and, ultimately, death.
Thanks to my diligent efforts, I may be scarred for life but I am still alive, despite the horrific and unconscionable treatment I received from the medical prison providers, and their collect-the-profits over inmate health care philosophy. I can thoroughly appreciate that most people are of the opinion that individuals who are incarcerated are there to be punished. But as Margaret Atwood has stated, “Oppression involves a failure of the imagination: the failure to imagine the full humanity of all human beings.” I respectfully submit that even those of us who are incarcerated are still human beings and are deserving to be treated as such.
These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.