by Michael Rigby
From PHN Issue 26, Fall 2015
True indeed—knowledge is power—but only to those who use it. The most powerful tool a prisoner has in the fight to maintain health is the pen. Unless it’s a life and death situation or an all-out emergency, the very first thing you should do when you begin to notice changes within your temple (body) is take note.
How to keep your own health records:
Headline a fresh sheet of paper with “Time,” “Date,” and “Notes.”
In order to always be prepared, you should always have a 10 x 13 envelope with at least 10 blank sheets of writing paper, a pen, three stamped envelopes with one sheet of writing paper in each, two sick call forms, two request forms and three grievance forms. Never dig into the stash or use the pen. Those supplies are for health-related issues only. Don’t dig in and say, “I’ll replace it,” because days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into it never happening. So always have an arsenal of supplies on standby.
The day you notice something strange, write in full detail exactly how you feel, the sensations, rate any pain on a scale of 1-10, describe any strange discharges, and provide yourself with as much detail as possible.
Remember, this is about your health, and poor health can lead to your death. Document all changes, increases, decreases, disappearances and developments. Document the days you put in sick-call requests and requests to Medical.
Make sure you have someone on the outside who has a copy of your medical records, and make sure they stay up to date. They should update their file at least once every 45 days. Pursuant to HIPAA law, you must sign a medical records release form. It’s usually as simple as writing to Medical for a request form and filling it out. If you can’t write, find someone to write it for you. If you don’t have anyone on the outside, find someone! Write churches, write civic groups. There may be someone willing to help—you just have to find them and show them you’re sincere.
How to advocate for your health:
Put your sick call in and go to medical. Remember everyone’s names. Repeat them in your head. Make a song out of all the names, and throw verses in about the things they tell you. Write everything in your records, and always leave yourself lots of details. Send requests to Medical and ask questions. Don’t ever think your question is too stupid to ask, because the only stupid questions are the ones that get wasted when you fail to ask them.
If you feel you’re not receiving fair results, write a grievance. If you feel neglected or abused, call the abuse hotline [if your facility has one]. If you’re in confinement and you do not have phone privileges, write a request to the captain for an abuse hotline call. If he never comes, write a grievance.
If your grievances do not bring relief, appeal to the warden. If he fails you, appeal to the secretary of prisons. If the secretary fails you, you’ve officially exhausted your grievance procedure and can proceed to file a civil suit alleging a violation of your constitutional rights under the 1983 civil rights provisions that can be used by prisoners.
For the most part, people don’t work in prisons because they love to be around prisoners. They’re there to earn a check in the easiest way possible, and often times, assisting you with the maintenance of your health is hard work. Unless you’re about to die right then and there, you’re the furthest thing from a priority.
The solution is to exhibit infinite patience. Humble yourself, and stay focused on the goal. Use the power—be smart and use your pen. If they jeopardize your health, jeopardize their policies by exercising your right to be healthy. If you lack knowledge of that right, you need to find some good books to devour. My fellow people in chains, you better recognize, knowledge is power!