You never want to hear the word “cancer” when you’re talking to a doctor, and you really don’t want to hear that word when you’re talking to a doctor as a prison inmate. It’s bad enough dealing with this disease when you’re a free person with access to good hospitals, doctors, and nurses. But when you’re behind bars, you’re at the mercy of the federal Bureau of Prisons or the State Department’s Department of Corrections. Neither has a good track record when it comes to prisoner healthcare.
Something as simple as a cold is absolutely brutal when you’re locked up. You can’t get over-the-counter medicines, so you can’t just pop some Tylenol cold and cough medicine when you start feeling sick. To make matters worse, the amount of toilet paper you can get is limited, so you’ll have to budget for items to wipe your nose with, since boxed puffs aren’t an option.
When you are sick in prison, you have to fill out a form to see a doctor. Whether you’re coughing or bleeding, you have to fill out a form and go to the “sick call.” In my experience during incarceration, once you fill out the form, you have to wait for your housing unit to be called to the medical center for a sick call, and then you have to wait in line (first come, first served) sometimes for an hour or two watch.
Regardless of your complaints, the first thing they “prescribe” for you is ibuprofen. Then, if you don’t get better after taking these medicines for a few days, you’ll see the doctor again.
In some states, doctor visits cost money. So, if you don’t have three or four dollars, you’re screwed. Keep in mind that most inmates are paid about $5-$10 per month for full-time employment. If you’re willing to pay a significant portion of your monthly income just for doctor visits, you have to be both healthy and sick.
A simple virus is enough for a few days, what if you get cancer in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Can You Get Chemo in Prison?
- Are prisoners better for prisoners with cancer?
Can You Get Chemo in Prison?
When doctors think a prisoner may be facing a cancer diagnosis after basic lab tests in prison, the prisoner is often sent to a local hospital for a biopsy and many other tests. I should point out that prison doctors often take a long time to consider diagnosing cancer because of inadequate assessments.
Once the prison doctor does get to the point where he or she thinks the prisoner needs to go to the hospital for further testing, the prisoner may have to wait weeks or months for an appointment because prisons are never in a rush and doctors don’t seem very good at communicating with anyone.
When you end up in the hospital, you’re always in handcuffs. You can only take ibuprofen if you are in any pain, as prisoners are (usually) not allowed to take narcotics of any kind.
I should stop here and make it clear that it is not uncommon for prisoners to be diagnosed with cancer. There are many opportunities for the BOP and individual state DOCs to develop protocols for inmates with cancer.
First published in 2009 on American Journal of Public Health The health standards of inmates in all prisons and jails across the country were examined and found high rates of serious illness and poor access to medical care.
Lead author Andrew P. Wilper, MD, MPH, chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Boise, Idaho, said the researchers identified more than 800,000 inmates — about half of the nation’s population at the time. 40% of prison and prison populations – report chronic illnesses such as cancer – at a much higher rate than other Americans of the same age.
“More than 20 percent of sick state prison inmates, 68.4 percent of prison inmates, and 13.9 percent of federal prison inmates have not seen a doctor or nurse since their incarceration,” Dr. Wilper said.
Once an inmate has passed the long and tedious process of a cancer diagnosis, the treatment they receive will vary depending on the facility they are in and whether it is a state or federal prison.
Yes, some prisoners with cancer underwent surgery and chemotherapy, but it took a long time and there were many hurdles to jump through. It’s also difficult for prisoners because if they’re placed in a prison ward, they have to leave the prison to undergo chemotherapy, which means being handcuffed for transport, a horrific process.
Are prisoners better for prisoners with cancer?
Prisoners battling cancer are often housed in prison wards. If they need extra care, they are kept in a hospital or hospice. This means that prisoners are not in the general population and they have limited contact with other prisoners.
Other inmates they did come into contact with were also sick, or they worked on wards or asylums, so they were generally treated well and respected. If the inmates are older, and they’re OG, then they’ll definitely have the respect of the other inmates.
Just like in the real world, most cancer patients behind bars get sympathy from othersㅡprisoners and officials. After all, people behind bars are ordinary people.
Do you think terminally ill prisoners should be released on compassionate terms? Let us know in the comments below.