“… I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)
Begging for medical care is one of the more dehumanizing aspects of being incarcerated. This is especially true when you’re asking for something as simple as Aveeno Baby Eczema lotion, an over-the-counter medical solution to a discomfort that deprived me of sleep for nights on end, while I was not seen by a doctor for seven months.
I submitted multiple sick-call-request slips, was seen by a wonderful and sympathetic nurse who recommended the doctor see me and renew my prescription. Denied repeatedly. Then, come to find out, my prescription was entered into the system as though I had received it for a period of six months. Never saw a tube of it.
I share this story because while I was waiting for the doctor to start caring about my misery, I was burdened by a new understanding of the suffering of many men before me. Men who had serious ailments that went untreated. Some who died as a result of misdiagnoses. Some who suffered horrific levels of pain because they were refused the necessary testing that would have caught their illness before it became so advanced. I see their faces as I write these words. I hear the plaintive cries laced with a physical and emotional pain I hope to never know.
It is my fervent prayer that these days are behind us. For I cringed when I heard MDOC Commissioner Randall Liberty say he stands by the services of Wellpath even in light of Susan Sharon’s March 8th Maine Public story about allegations of improper care by the private healthcare provider. I echoed the sentiment expressed by MSP NAACP President Foster Bates in his interview with Sharon, saying, “Wellpath doesn’t care” about our wellbeing. Like Mr. Bates, I took for granted that everybody would know I was speaking about the perceived attitude of the primary care provider who no longer works for Wellpath. I didn’t take into account that Wellpath is made up of many individuals, some I care deeply about and have the highest respect for.
By and large, the nursing staff, CNAs and nurse practitioners are incredibly compassionate and attentive — I would willingly entrust my care to them as a free man. And I am not alone in feeling this way. At his urging, I extend Mr. Bates’ sincere apologies to any Wellpath employee who felt hurt by his assertion.
After meeting with MDOC and Wellpath administrators in my role as MSP NAACP Executive Secretary, I am cautiously hopeful that the days of unnecessary suffering are over. Deputy Commissioner Ryan Thornell helped clarify for me that Wellpath-Maine is a separate entity from Wellpath “national.” The former is directly connected to MDOC and operates under the policy, guidelines and expectations of Commissioner Liberty and Deputy Commissioner Thornell. These are men I have come to know fairly well, and I am trusting them to continue their participatory and collaborative approach to problem-solving.
We seem to be entering a new phase of how business is conducted in Maine State Prison. I’m seeing more inclusion of residents’ voices in matters that directly affect us.
No, this is not a “soft” approach to dealing with “criminals.” This way of conducting business can help people leave prison as better people than when we arrived.
The structure of prison is designed to make people completely dependent upon it — its physical restrictions on movement, rules that dictate the minutia of a person’s life, schedules that tell him when to wake up, go to sleep, eat, exercise, and even imply when to use the bathroom. These all gradually strip people of their ability to function without that external structure. They become institutionalized. Then everyone is stuck scratching their heads when people crumble upon their return to society.
Taking a participatory approach to managing a prison can help build the internal structure residents will need upon release. Men stepping out of prison will know they have a voice worth listening to, and will speak up when they need help, rather than shutting down and winding up back in prison. Leaving in their wake more harm in their community. In your community.
Basic healthcare is a fundamental human right, constitutionally protected. To their great credit, MDOC and Wellpath-Maine are taking meaningful steps to correct the wrongs of their predecessors. MSP NAACP is dedicated to working collaboratively with MDOC and Wellpath as we enter this new phase together.
Leo Hylton’s sister, Rosie, is organizing a fundraising campaign to cover tuition expenses for Leo’s pursuit of a Master’s degree via George Mason University. You can donate here.