Medical Concerns and Advocacy in Prison: My Perspective

By Joshua O’Connor AKA “Apache”

From PHN Issue 43, Summer 2020

One concern I would like to address is the deliberate indifference and lack of remedy regarding addressing medical concerns in prison. For months, I have been trying to get a new mattress, because my current one is flat and falling apart. In fact, the mattress is only about half an inch thick.

A few years ago (prior to my incarceration), I was in a terrible car accident. My friends and I were lucky to be alive after the accident occurred. I did come away from the accident with multiple injuries, though. I sustained a skull fracture, major concussion, broken leg, broken ankle, and a dislocated kneecap. I still suffer pain all over my body to this day.

The current mattress I have has made my pain so much worse, so I contacted multiple staff members, including medical staff and the sergeant, to ask for a new, better mattress. Nothing happened at first. It wasn’t until I sent a grievance that the sergeant had me come to his office to discuss my concern.

When I walked into his office, the first thing he told me was, “So, you think you’re better than everyone else? Is that it?” From his response, the best tip I can give my fellow inmates when you deal with a smart remark such as this is to hold your tongue. I can’t stress this enough. Trust me, if a corrections officer (CO) can use something against you, he will. Sometimes, the best response is no response. That’s exactly what I did. I held my tongue, ignored his smart remark, and simply stated why I need a new mattress. I also talked about my medical history.

The sergeant told me he needed to see proof of the accident. That’s another thing you may often deal with when you’re incarcerated; people tend to not believe you, because you are an inmate, after all.

I was raised to be an honest man and learned early on that a real man with solid principles doesn’t lie. I grew up believing, “All men are created equal.” It wasn’t until I was incarcerated that I learned, “All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”

I may be just a 20-year-old kid with a 22-year sentence, but that doesn’t mean that I should be presumed a liar or denied adequate medical care because I’m incarcerated.

I’m still waiting on the mattress, but some advice I can give from this experience to others is to not stop pursuing your grievance. Don’t give up. You will get brushed off the first few times you send it, but don’t lose hope. Keep on appealing and eventually, someone will have to listen to you.

Don’t let people’s assumptions and remarks get to you, too. Respond respectfully and continue your business. I’m Native American, and I know my ancestors were oppressed. This isn’t something new. You will come to realize it’s not so much about what’s being done to you, but how you respond to your oppression. I hope this helps anyone who’s going through something similar.

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