By Ronald Leutwyler
From PHN Issue 36, Spring 2018
As a rule, prisons try to give you the cheapest medications they can. And if they do give you medications, you have a constant battle to keep them. Rather than cut some time off of your sentence, they cut your medications and healthcare, food menu, yard time, etc. As an indigent inmate for 17 years, constantly in debt and with no one in free society to help, I know exactly how exhausting it can be to battle for the right medications. One of the two things the state (any state) is afraid of is the existence of a paper trail that you can build and use against them in a court of law.
As a person who does not know the law, I had to learn on my own what I am telling you now. Start writing letters (making at least one copy of every one) to the highest of the upper echelon within the prison system. In my state, that is the secretary of state, prisons division, the medical director, mental health director (this is optional), and the director of nursing. Explain the situation and what you are seeking.
On few occasions, they will respond. Other times, they will order that something be done, though you will not know it. And sometimes they ignore your request.
If you have a loved one or lawyer on the outside, make sure you send the copies to them to file away as soon as possible. The state might run into your cell on a “random search” and steal evidence. Always make sure you send the copy away one day before you send the actual letter off.
If you get no response, write to them again and state what you did before, only this time state that the law says that if a supervisor has direct knowledge of your medical needs and ignores them, you can bring litigation against them personally. The majority of those in power do not want to risk that. They try hard to get you to sue the lower echelon so it does not reflect on them.
But if those in charge of prisons and the health care within them are aware of the risks to your health and don’t take reasonable measures to prevent those risks from becoming reality, this is deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, which violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
I am a very good example of this technique. They took Wellbutrin (an antidepressant and aid for those quitting smoking) off the formulary and tried to take everybody off of it. I got wind of it six months in advance and immediately started the process of creating this paper trail. I was the only one in the entire state who did not get cut off this medication, and I still remain on it. They even had to put some people back on it.
They tried to constantly check my blood pressure so they could say the medication was causing me to have high blood pressure, in order to have a legitimate reason to cut me off. They even tried to cut down my dose. I overcame all of it by — each and every time — writing and building on my paper trail and letting them know I had that paper trail. Even my psychiatrist was amazed that I overcame the whole upper hierarchy of the Department of Public Safety prison division.
They are taking people off of it again, so I just wrote the third Mental Health director and kindly reminded him of my paper trail in a mental health lawyer’s office going back four years. I was assured I would not be taken off the medication.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much advice as for how to contact a lawyer. I guess persistence played a role in it. The lawyer saw how, with no knowledge of the law, I was determined to defeat the injustice of the Department of Public Safety.
One last thing. For those with a strong will, a hunger strike can also be used with the paper trail. The paper trail is your main power though. Make sure to copy all grievances too.
My lawyer (who helps me without cost) even said I needed to become a lawyer!