Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally
A friend said Hi to me on the subway while I was reading Prison Profiteers, an anthology of shocking articles about the privatization of prisons edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright. I had to send him an e-mail explaining that if I had looked like I was about to throw up it was not because of him, but rather because I was totally and utterly disgusted by the account I was reading about medical conditions going untreated in prisons managed by private corporations.
The paragraph I was reading when my friend saw me was about the medical neglect of a 57 year old man who was imprisoned for rape:
David stood now to show me the belly and the hernias, the condition his body had arrived at through an utter lack of attention... His belly was enormous, taut and pasty, seemingly glued to his gaunt frame. At the front of it, a hot-pink hernia, about the size of a grapefruit, seemed barely attached where the belly buttons should have been, giving David's midsection the overall contour of a giant breast and nipple...
...To describe David's scrotum as swollen and red would be a failure of language. It was about the size of a rugby ball, so raw and irritated, shiny and crimson, that it almost seemed to be covered with blood. David hung his head. "They give me aspirin," he said.
Later, when I heard that David had died of indeterminate causes and that his body had been cremated, I realized that I had probably been the last person outside the prison staff to see David alive, to see what his body had become from all those years of mistreatment, and I wondered: can such a secret be kept?
A rapist, David might not be the most sympathetic of criminals - but no one deserves to be forced into an environment where their medical needs will not be met. Furthermore many of those receiving atrocious care are not rapists, but drug dealers or minor criminals, who have not been sentenced to death or illness by neglect. Medical neglect is not the only problem faced by prisoners-in the United States prisons are often run by corporations who put the bottom line ahead of prisoner safety, the security of the general population, and pretty much everything else.
We now live in a country where one out of a hundred adult Americans is currently in prison. Prison Profiteers describes a system where corporations have significant control and very little accountability to the public-where a prisoner's spider bite can go untreated until his foot requires amputation due to lack of antibiotics, where medical appointments are deliberately scheduled on court dates, and when sometimes the only way to a safety and job training is to join a Christian missionary group, and where prisons have particularly high phone rates that can financially destroy family members with whom they are trying to stay connected.
I have been able to talk about little else but prison reform since finishing this book - my desire to discuss it with one friend was so great that I shipped him a copy even though he lives in England. As progressives we talk a lot about the need for healthy food for children, welfare benefits, and a living wage-but we also need to be talking about issues that impact the 1% of American adults that are incarcerated, and why our government is farming vital work out to corporations who seem to be doing a terrible job of it.