Getting Out Alive

By Teresa Sullivan

When I went to jail in 2005, one of the biggest problems that I had was at the medication window. One day going to get my HIV medications at the window, I looked at the meds in the cup and they were the wrong meds. There was one too many of the same meds for my HIV medications, and one med I never saw before. This was a big problem because I know that taking the wrong dose of my meds would make me sick – and that med that I never saw before in the cup was not the medication that the doctor ordered for me.

Being told if I did not take the medication in the cup that I would have to go to the hole – that made me very scared, and so I took the medications. Let me say, if I knew what I know today I would have never done that stupid thing, because I got so sick that they had to take me to the ER and I could have died. It is important to know your rights about taking medication while in jail. Today I am an advocate for people that have HIV/AIDS and are in the county jails system. I will never let this happen to someone again while they are in the county jails system. I will always make sure that they know their rights about taking their medications while in jail, and when they are about to come home, I will continue to advocate for their needs.

I thank GOD for John Bell, because when my son came to visit me, I told him what was happening to me with my medication. He called Philadelphia FIGHT for me and talked to John Bell and told him what was happening to his mother in jail and asked could he please go see her and help his mother. John Bell’s job is to advocate for people in the county jails system living with the HIV/AIDS virus. John Bell came to see me, and I told him what was happening to me with my medications. By the next day, I got the right medication that I needed to stay alive.

Today, not only do I advocate for those in the county jails, I am also the Teaching Assistant for the program at Philadelphia FIGHT called TEACH Outside. This is a basic HIV/AIDS 101 educational and life skills program that teaches those living with the virus how to advocate for themselves and how to learn to live again on the outside.

Knowing your rights when it comes to advocating for your medications:

Before going to the medication window, you should have had a communication with the doctor about what meds you will be taking. Secondly, you should ask the doctor if they have a med chart for you to look at so you know what your meds are and what they look like. THIS IS YOUR RIGHT.

If, for some reason, when you go to the medication window the meds don’t look right to you, ask the nurse to please check the doctor’s order again. THIS IS YOUR RIGHT.

Because sometimes the nurses may be in a rush and they can make mistakes, these mistakes can make you sick or could kill you if you do not advocate about your meds. THIS IS YOR RIGHT.

Too often, inmates don’t know their meds when going to the med window, and too often they don’t ask questions about what they are taking, because they don’t know that they have the right to advocate for themselves. If the nurse does not answer your question, then ask to talk to the sergeant on duty. THIS IS YOUR RIGHT.

Once you’re in jail, medical staff supply you with your regular prescription medications. Usually the jail staff dispenses only medication from its infirmary, since it won’t trust that what you brought in is the real thing. Sometimes its practitioners try to substitute a similar medication for what you normally use. If this is a problem, have your doctor specify “no substitutions” in his or her letter. Often, there is a big lag of 24 hours or more between getting arrested and first receiving regular doses of medication.