This week’s blog posts are all about prison healthcare. Specifically, it concerns the prescriptions available to prisoners.We get a lot of questions on this topic here Prison Insightsbut I didn’t have much mental health care experience while incarcerated.
So instead of trying to recall random anecdotes from my incarceration nearly a decade ago, I decided to reach out to a current prison inmate and ask her to answer this question.
For this post, our guest blogger is Mistie Vance. She is currently serving a 20-year sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Missouri, for manslaughter and armed crimes. She has been in prison for more than a decade and is not expected to be released on parole until 2025.
Misty and I became good friends when we served together at the Eastern Women’s Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.
She was my personal trainer and aerobics instructor, and we often spent time together during smoke time or in the prison yard. She is an amazing lady and I am sure our readers will be delighted to hear from her. Especially since she has more up-to-date inside information.
To that end, here’s Mistie’s answer to today’s question: Can you get prescription Xanax in prison? In this blog post, Mistie will cover the following topics:
- Jail inmates rarely get prescribed controlled substances
- Non-narcotic mental health drugs are most commonly prescribed drugs in prisons
- How Do Prison Inmates Get Prescription Drugs?
- How do prisons deal with inmate self-harm and suicide attempts?
- Dealing with Mental Health Without Benzos
Jail inmates rarely get prescribed controlled substances
In my twelve plus years in prison, I have never seen an inmate who was prescribed Xanax. The list of permitted drugs that a correctional institution can prescribe is impossibly limited.
Many of the drugs prescribed in prison are over-the-counter drugs on the street – ibuprofen, Tylenol, Claritan, Tums…the list goes on. What you don’t take away in prison are benzos or opiates.
Because of the disproportionately high number of addicts in prisons, opioids are only available to those who are terminally ill, and most need to be assigned to transitional care to get them.
You wouldn’t believe how many crimes are committed while under the influence of drugs or in an attempt to obtain them. This is truly an epidemic that has reached every gender, class and ethnicity.
For this reason, effective painkillers are not available even to prisoners who need them.
Non-narcotic mental health drugs are the most prescribed drugs in prisons
The most widely prescribed drugs in prisons are mental health drugs. Obviously, you don’t want a bunch of dangerous criminals running around without psychotropic drugs. Of course, many inmates choose to fake their symptoms in order to get prescription drugs to get them high or fall asleep.
Drugs like Remeron, BuSpar, and Seroquel are often cheeked (hidden in the mouth) on Medline (jail time when prisoners are called to medical treatment) and then sneeze in order to hear a buzz or pass out.
If you want a high class prison (one that doesn’t include paying a fortune for real drugs smuggled into the prison), mental health medicine can make that happen.
How Do Prison Inmates Get Prescription Drugs?
In order to prescribe any medication in prison, there is a lengthy process. First, you have to get up early in the morning and fill out a form called an HSR, which explains your problem to the medical staff during the daily sick move.
After you submit the form, you will need to wait – sometimes days, sometimes weeks – to be called to see a doctor and then to be seen by a nurse to assess your problem. If you need to see a doctor, you’ll likely have to make multiple visits to try and schedule it, and you’ll likely have to wait weeks before you’ll be seen. This is far from a simple, easy process.
When it comes to getting mental health medications, the process is similar to getting regular medications. The exception is when you see a psychiatrist several times before an appointment with a psychiatrist to prescribe medication.
There is also a committee that decides if they think you really need the drug before they can prescribe it. If you hurt yourself in some way, the process will speed up. Cutting yourself, burning yourself, attempting suicide, or admitting to wanting to hurt yourself or others is a surefire way to get something done sooner. Unfortunately, it also came with a fully paid trip for an unknown time.
How do prisons deal with inmate self-harm and suicide attempts?
Just in case you’re curious about how they deal with self-harm and suicide attempts, let me tell you. You’re stripped naked and put on what we call a turtle suit. It’s heavy, like a bulletproof vest with velcro that almost never sticks, and makes you try to hold it by yourself so you don’t run around your cell.
No mattresses or pillows, no blankets or sheets, just lying on the cold hard concrete floor. You get soft food on a soft tray with a cardboard like spoon on top. You are given toilet paper just enough for one trip to the toilet and then ask for more.
You are not given a toothbrush, pen, paper, book…just your thoughts to occupy your time. You are checked every fifteen minutes and must see a therapist for an evaluation before being released. The average stay on suicide watch is three to six days.
Dealing with Mental Health Without Benzos
As for benzos like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, you won’t see any of that in prison. Medications for anxiety in prisons include drugs such as BuSpar and other mental health medications.
You just learn to deal with your anxiety by facing it head on, because crowded living quarters and large numbers of people make it the perfect storm for those suffering from anxiety or agoraphobia.
You’d be amazed at how adaptable we are as a species, how good we are at being pushed to the limits of our imaginations.
Either you choose to let this be an opportunity to get better and stronger than you were before, or you will use the system to feel high by switching to psychotropic drugs. I prefer the former and sincerely hope everyone does.
As you can see, medical care in prison is slightly different than medical care in the free world. More pain, fewer options, and nowhere near as effective as drugs prescribed outside of prison.
This is definitely something to consider if you have serious medical or mental health issues and commit a crime. What you might benefit from and what you’ll get out of it, are two different things, proving my theory correct. It is not the strongest or the brightest that survive, but the most adaptable.
Would you like to write to Mistie Vance or donate to her commissary? If you want to deposit funds into her commissary account, you can do so at JPAY.com. Select Missouri—Chillicothe Correctional Center—Inmate #1231904 Mistie Vance.
You can write to her:
Mistie Vance #1231904
3151 Lytton Road
Chillicothe, Missouri 64601
Sources: Personal Experience Essay by inmate Mistie Vance at CCC in Chillicothe, MO.