The Hep C Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual

By Mumia Abu-Jamal, with the assistance of the Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsburgh, PA

From PHN Issue 37, Summer 2018

This manual is designed to walk any person infected with hepatitis C through the obstacle courses erected by medical staff and prison officials who seek to deny or delay hepatitis C treatment which leads to a cure from the infection.

This manual will be simple, clear, and to the point. If you can read, it will provide a step by step process that puts you in the best position to litigate your case successfully. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Step One: Finding Out if You Have Hepatitis C

First you should write to your institution’s medical department to request testing to determine if you have hepatitis C. This response from your institution’s health care provider(s) should answer your request in a relatively short period of time.

If you do not receive an answer, you may wish to formally submit a Sick Call Slip, even if it costs several dollars to do so. Upon meeting your health care provider, please be clear on what you want, a hepatitis C blood test.

Initially, this blood test will determine if you are, or are not, hepatitis C positive. Some medical staff provide viral loads, but don’t be fooled, for such a measure has little impact on hep C cases. The viral load only means that the infection is present in one’s system.

You may wish to find out what your “F Scale” level is. F Scales are: F0-F1-F2 -F3-F4. F0 represents the lowest level, while F4 represents the highest level, ranging from no fibrosis to cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious condition where normal tissue is replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis). This makes it more difficult for the liver to function the way it needs to. Cirrhosis of the liver can lead to liver cancer and death.

If the medical staff consents to treat you and treats you with direct acting antiviral medications (like Harvoni, Sovaldi, or Epclusa) your hepatitis problems should be over (although it should be noted that some people have side effects, although these drugs are a vast improvement over the former hep C treatments.) In any event, if you do get treated, your hep C problems should be over after some 12 weeks of treatment with the DAAV meds. So good for you!

Step Two: Responding to the Denial of Treatment

If they return any response which denies (or unreasonably delays) treatment, or states that you are not sick enough to be treated, it is a violation of the principles set forth in Estelle v. Gamble {429 U.S. 97 (1976)} and Abu-Jamal v. Wetzel {2017 WL 34700 (M.D., Pa. Jan. 3, 2017)}, where the Court, applying Estelle, found that the state defendants, by denying curative treatment for hep C, were “deliberately indifferent” to the prisoners’ “serious medical needs.”

Hepatitis C if left untreated can lead to suffering from what are called “extra hepatic” (liver related) symptoms and maladies. Therefore, an active hepatitis C infection is a serious medical need that requires curative treatment by DAAV meds (direct-acting antivirals) to avoid further destabilization and liver dysfunction.

Question: “What do I do when I get a denial back?” Don’t panic. Don’t shrug. Don’t stop.
Appeal. (“Well, who do I appeal to?”)
Answer: All the way up!

According to the Prison Litigation Reform Act {(PLRA) Tit. 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a)}, a prisoner seeking to sue in federal court must exhaust all administrative remedies available. If you fail to go through this process, your civil rights complaint, and possibly your Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, will be dismissed.

So, what do you do?

Step Three: Filing Grievances and Appeals

Once you receive your request slip or statement by the healthcare professional (Dr., RN, NP, etc.) denying treatment, write your grievance stating when you learned you were hepatitis C positive, the date you were refused treatment, and the reasons given to you for such denial (such as not sick enough.)

Next, appeal, appeal, appeal—to the final level of the DOC or prison sys- tem in your state. Once you get that final denial, you can then go to court. (If you have any questions about your institution’s grievance process/procedure, read your handbook).

Remember, when you file your suit, be sure to name every person who denied treatment, DOC staff and medical staff alike. If you notice any symptoms that may be the result of your hep C infection (for example, increased urination, head- aches, or fevers), list or recite them in your grievance.

To be absolutely clear, and to ensure that all necessary steps are taken, we are preparing checklists for you. Make a Xerox copy or simply rewrite in this hand- book. Make doubly sure that you have checked the necessary boxes to ensure your best chance of preparing, writing, and filing your suit for the state’s violation of your 8th Amendment (cruel and unusual punishments) and medical claims.

NOTE: At this point you may file your grievance with the institution. You have 15 days to file a grievance (under Pennsylvania’s rules), but knowing how time (and attention) flies, we suggest you check your notes and checklist—and file as quickly as possible.

2ND NOTE: Request immediate treatment for your Hep C infection, and state that med staff (names!) informed you why they denied treatment. Under griev- ance rules, you may request any relief that a court may grant, such as prelimi- nary judgement, immediate treatment, and unspecified money damages for pain, suffering, and denial of treatment.

Keep your checklist handy so that you can put in your own facts, names, dates, and events that happened in your own case. The checklist will prove invaluable to you in writing your actual Complaint and also preparing your Motion for Preliminary Injunction (or Temporary restraining order), for example.

If you are in a cell sick, suffering from the symptoms of hepatitis C, don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Get your ink pen and get to work, ok?

Remember, denial of treatment for your Hep C infection, for any reason, is a violation of your Eighth Amendment, constitutional rights, under Estelle v. Gamble, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot show “deliberate indifference” to a prisoner’s “serious medical needs.”

Anything that can kill you is “serious.” But you must prepare the ground. You must take the first steps to forcing the DOC to treat your “serious medical need.”

Step Four: Waiting

Some of you who will read this Manual are Jailhouse Lawyers, and therefore, this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve filed a suit or two, and you know the ropes.

But because hepatitis C is such a commonly occurring viral infection, many of you have never filed a civil suit before, and the prospect of going back to court—even for a civil case (instead of a criminal case)—is downright intimidating.

To you, we offer these last words before you leap into the legal abyss.

Have no fear, for thousands of people have filed suits before you. In fact, I’d bet that, percentage-wise, given the extraordinary number of prisoners in America (‘mass incarceration’ right?) the average prisoner is more litigious than the average ‘free’ person.

Fear not. Read these words, scan the exhibits and sample pleadings [in the Litigation Manual from Abolitionist Law Center], and imagine putting your name on the captions (or headings naming the lawsuit). Remember that old saying about the lottery: “You gotta play to win!”

The laws that made these suits possible were written into law by a Congress sitting after the U.S. Civil War. Why did they do this? Because state courts were notorious and blatant in denying the so-called ‘freedmen’ to prevail in their courts. Think about it.

When you think from an historical perspective, that means these laws were literally written for many of your ancestors! But no matter who you are, you are able to use these laws to make the State begin to do the right thing: to treat your hepatitis C infection—with cures!

If you have trusted friends or family in the free world, especially those with access to a computer, please have them go to NLG.org. This is the website for the National Lawyers Guild, which publishes something called the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook. Your friends or loved ones can download that Handbook from the website for free and send you a copy. It’ll show you a step by step of how to litigate in America’s federal courts.

But these papers will get you into court and in the perfect position to whip the state and the state’s contractors (medical health corporations) in your battle to get treated. With this brief Manual and the attached exhibits [in the Litigation Manual from Abolitionist Law Center], you can get in court—and win!

Additional Advice

Don’t be shy about asking questions about your health to infirmary/healthcare staff. When you are told anything, it’s a good idea to keep clear notes—and date them. Given the havoc of prison life, keep your notes together, as in a notebook or brown envelope so you can retrieve them for when you are preparing your civil suit, or grievance appeals.

It’s important for you to know that the private company (known as the medical contractor), that operates in your prison is engaged more in a business than in medicine. To make money—to save money—they will deny you treatment that you need, and watch you die in a prison cell.

Thanks to Bret Grote, Esq., Robert Boyle, Esq., and Dr. Joseph Harris, MD (our expert witness), who prevailed in Abu-Jamal v. Wetzel et al., there is hope.

Good luck to you all! Remember: You Can Do This.

M. Abu-Jamal @ Mahanoy Joint.

Editors’ Note: This is an excerpt from the 52-page Hepatitis C Pro Se Litigation Manual created by the Abolitionist Law Center in Pennsylvania. If you are in PA, you can write to Abolitionist Law Center, P.O. Box 8654, Pittsburgh, PA 15221 asking for a copy. If you are in another state or the federal system, the only way to get a copy is for someone on the outside to email info@abolitionistlawcenter.org with the subject “Hep C Litigation Manual” to ask for a copy, then print it and mail it to you.

MY HEP-C CHECKLIST

  1. Date Filing of Sick Call Request: __________________
  2. Date of Sick Call up to Medical: __________________
  3. Date of Request for Hep C Blood Test: __________________
  4. Date blood taken: __________________
  5. Date blood test returned: ___________________________
  6. Date blood test refused: ________________________ Dr./Nurse name: ___________________________________
  7. Date blood test noted positive for Hep C: __________________ Dr./Nurse name: _____________________________
  8. File another Sick Call Slip requesting DAAV meds for Hep C Date: ________________________
  9. Note by date and name of denial of DAAV meds: ______________________ Dr./Nurse name: ____________________________
  10. Note Hep C viral load #:_______________________ Date: __________________ Dr./Nurse name: _________________________
  11. Note reason given for denial of DAAV treatment: _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Date: __________________
  12. Name of person giving reasons for denial: _____________________________

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