Now more than ever, we all acutely aware that trust is a crucial part of delivering public health – how can we follow advice and accept health care if we have no trust in the institutions that offer it? Nowhere is this crisis of confidence rawer than inside prisons.
Prisons are literally ground zero for preventive health care for the entire society. There just are no prison walls when it comes to public health: Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis, Flu, and now Covid-19 make the fiction of separation all more apparent.
And yet, the distrust of prison health care is borne of historical experience. Instances of medical malfeasances are well documented in books such as Acres of Skin, where author Allen Hornblum researched clinical non-therapeutic medical experiments on prison inmates at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia from 1951 to 1974.
And in Examining Tuskegee Susan Reverby discusses the forty year Tuskegee experiment (1932-1972) where health officials told African American men with syphilis that they were being treated, but in actuality were being studied for its late stage effects. The Tuskegee experiment was not inside a prison, but the Black community remembers it well and its legacy is poignant.
So it is understandable that our correspondents raise their eyebrows when the same prisons that deny them critical medical care and make them pay for every bar of soap offers $5 to each inmate who will get a shot. Two of our correspondents from two different facilities—Christopher Trotter and Bilal Abdul-Salam Bey— reported that they are being offered flu shots in exchange for money.
Money in prison is precious. $5 per shot is unheard of. Why the bribe?
Trotter and Bey are on the front lines tackling these questions. This is exactly what Prison Radio was built for: tackling the difficult questions, and never shying away from the realities that define prison health care. On the one hand, flu vaccines are given to millions of Americans, and are a crucial part of a robust health care program. A vaccine to prevent Covid-19 will save hundreds of thousands of lives, including the lives of those most at risk, people in prison.
On the other hand, the stories of malpractice in every prison reverberate and the men and women inside know they are vulnerable with few options or second opinions or even access to critical information. Our correspondent Bilal Abdul-Salam Bey, who is in Lansing Correctional Facility, Kansas wonders if, “the flu shots [is part of the] vaccination trial process and test it on prisoners to see how we would-how it would affect us.”
Meanwhile in Walbash Valley Correctional Facility, Indiana, Christopher Trotter tells us “they paid prisoners to take flu shots, and immediately afterward over 50 prisoners tested positive for COVID-19.”
As people inside navigate the ravages of a mismanaged pandemic, Christopher Trotter encourages everyone to “stay vigilant. People stay informed and try to find out what’s going on.”
Conventional media will not tell us what is going on inside: the issues and fears and concerns of people inside would be hidden from most of us without this access. We need to rely on our people on the inside to do their own reporting to provide us with first-hand accounts.
Sergio Hyland, who suffers from diabetes, writing from the infirmary at SCI Chester:
I’m still in the infirmary, doing my best to recover. I’m being treated pretty well by the nurses and other staff. But this situation here is out of control. The prison administration failed to do all in its power to protect us. I always wore my mask, and I always washed my hands, wiped down the phone before and after I used it. AND, I’m housed in a SINGLE CELL!!! Yet I still caught this virus. The staff aren’t tested, and some of them literally never wear a mask. But they aren’t held accountable. Only prisoners are held accountable at Chester. Its a shame. Now I will have to suffer unknown long-term effects of this preventable disease. Several prisoners have died in the past weeks, right here @chester. Right now I’m looking at possible legal measures that I can take. This virus is rough. I’ve had nights where I literally thought I would die. Sometimes I wished it would just happen so the pain would end. I do hope that ur okay and being extra safe out there. I just wanted to reach out to let u know how I was doing. How is everybody? What are u working on? I haven’t even mentioned the metal health impact of it all.
Now more than ever, the global economic crisis and pandemic cannot be allowed to silence prisoners. We realize the importance of Prison Radio that provides direct and uncensored information.
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The spotlight we bring inside is a crucial part of the entire country’s public health.
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Prison Radio Staff