The Prison at UW Madison

Posted: February 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

It was the weekend of January 8-10, 2010.  I had begun to learn the routine at Dodge Correctional Institution, the reception facility for the Wisconsin Prison System.  Despite my status as a cancer patient medical had determined I could be housed as “GP” in Unit 19 instead of the infirmary.  Despite limited interaction between officers, other inmates and myself, it was prevalent I was making people uncomfortable, mostly because of the mask I was wearing whenever I came out of my cell due to my low white cell count.  Its human nature to fear the unknown and most of these people had no idea why I was wearing a mask.  As usual, fear based on incomplete information allows people to create inaccurate assumptions that fit their limited understanding.  A guard, while trying to figure out what medications to give me, expressed I had no business being in this unit.  I replied that I agreed completely and as soon as you let me go, I’d be happy to be out of their hair.  The guard wasn’t amused.

Other people and their opinions weren’t my primary focus those days.  I’m trying to adjust to a new environment and new routine which for various reasons is never easy for me.   In addition, I can’t stay warm to save my life.  When the nurse came to take my temperature, they saw this and authorized an extra blanket and thermal underwear which helped somewhat.  They theorized the low white count was causing me to be cold.  I think my cell is just freezing.  I was never that cold at the Waukesha County Jail.  I also wondered how they would handle my chemotherapy.  I was due for a treatment next week and it’s important they be done on time.

I had my answer on the following Tuesday.  At about 5:30 am, I was awakened by a guard and taken to where I’d been processed in days before.  After undergoing the same strip search procedure from then was finished, I had shackles put on my feet and waist and my hands were cuffed then they were cuffed to my waist.  They put a green jacket around my shoulders.  Also joining me was a sickly looking man in a wheelchair with what appeared to be a circular metal plate in his chest.  As we were being taken to a van outside, the guard told me we were being taken to the hospital at UW Madison.  Though I don’t like chemotherapy I was thrilled to be out of my cell, to see the outside world, and hear ESPN radio being played in the van.  Not to mention, another human being to interact with.

The inmate riding with me was serving twenty some years in prison when at some point, his liver began to fail.  While en-route to Madison he told me the story.  Initially, the transplant committee had denied his request for a new liver.  However; the medical professionals at UW Madison had taken up his cause and appealed the decision, finally convincing the committee that the damage to his liver was not self-inflicted, and he finally got his liver.  The transplant had been done in December of 2009.  He also made the comment that all of this had cost the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) well over a million dollars.  I observed that prison had probably saved his life, that had he been on the outside, he would not have had the medical teams and 24-hour a day care that the DOC provided.  His response “Fuck’em!  They put me here, they got to pay.  I didn’t chose to come here” made me think.  I thought to myself yeah you did, just like me, via our actions.  I kept my mouth shut, after all, I don’t know his story of how he got to prison so I can’t judge.  It just struck me wrong.

After a 2 hour drive we arrived at the hospital.  Now, previously while I was at the Waukesha County Jail, I was taken to Waukesha Memorial Hospital where the oncology staff were zealous advocates on my behalf, gave me snacks and basically did everything they could to make me comfortable.  I sat next to regular patients and could watch what I chose on TV or heard on the radio, and ordered food off a menu for free.  This situation in Madison was…… just a tad different.  There is a “special” wing of UW Madison built for just us from the Wisconsin Prison System.  A guard walked me up the wheelchair sidewalk to a door that looked just like a door of a jail.  They buzzed us in and he took me behind a set of bars to our left.  He unshackled my hands in front and instead cuffed them to my side, which allowed me to stretch them a bit.  I was then taken into another room where the first thing I noticed was the tank stench of body odor combined with urine.  There was a TV bolted high on the ceiling, showing the movie “Back to the Future”.  There were 10 to 15 inmates in the room all seated on gray chairs just like the uncomfortable plastic chair in my cell.  The inmates were all different ages, but mostly elderly.  I sat down in a chair hoping for some conversation but there wasn’t a lot of interest in that.

About 9 am, I was told to come out.  I was seated in a wheelchair and taken to what looked like a freight elevator.  We got off and as I was pushed, not one person we passed, not one made eye contact with me.  When the guard stopped at the receptionist desk, the guard and receptionist talked about where I should be taken as if I wasn’t really there.  Finally, I met the new oncologist, who was very professional.  No snacks or free meals at UW Madison.  I did get a prisoner bag lunch, and to be honest, I was fine with that.

The rest of the day was not fun.  Chemotherapy itself is 3 1/2 hours, which greatly displeased the guards, but there was another, more pressing (no pun intended!) problem.  The anti-nausea drugs for chemotherapy can cause severe constipation.  If it isn’t managed, this annoying inconvenience can become a major medical problem.  X-Rays confirmed I was at that point.  I will spare you the details of how we were ultimately victorious in this battle!  Suffice to say however, by the time we got underway at 5 pm that night, over 12 hours since this began, between chemotherapy and constipation, I was physically wiped out.  The majority of the ride back to Dodge Correctional Institution, I had my head in my hands praying I wouldn’t throw up on the way, and my insides felt as if they were on fire.  I was actually happy to get back to my cell on Unit 19 and I laid down, not getting up the rest of the night except for the 9 pm standing count.

  1. Jen says:

    Can you explain how they handled your constipation problem? My son has it and I’m worried the doctors aren’t doing enough. He’s also on chemo.

  2. lifewps says:

    I am sorry your son is dealing with this. Believe me it is horrible. Basically my oncologist had to get involved. He has GOT to tell the oncologist what is going on. They will clear him out. Then he must ask the oncologist to ask HSU (Health Services Unit) to prescribe items that he will need to use daily to keep himself cleaned out. They won’t give it to him unless the oncologist tells them to. But he has got to be straight with them. That was my mistake. I just suffered cause it was embarressing. But to this day I still have problems with it…..

  3. Mary says:

    As I read this I see so much of what can be done in prison with food..affecting mood…and also with handling constipation and also its opposite condition. I am also starting to see, as I read, how the rprisons could save so much money…at the same being more humane. I am also curious as I read, what you have actually done..a white collar crime??..I read on…..

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