Medical Neglect Stalks Georgia Prisons

Can't breathe? Crushing chest pains,... creeping up the side of your neck? See a doctor? In prison? Don't bet on it.

Medical Neglect Stalks Georgia Prisons

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Arnold Porter was serious, and seriously worried. He was dizzy and short of breath, he told Dr. William Sightler, with a crushing, tightening sensation in his chest with pain shooting up once side of his neck. “Maybe I have a clogged artery. This is not my normal health,” he told Dr. Sightler. “Please help. I need something fast done.”

Slow motion heart attacks, in which symptoms leading up to full cardiac arrest build and worsen gradually over weeks or months are quite common. Porter should have been a lucky man, being able to bring his heart attack symptoms into in a physician's office, except for one thing. Porter was a prisoner at Georgia's Wheeler Correctional facility, operated by the notorious Corrections Corporation of America. And William Slighter was their doctor, not his.

According to a complaint filed in US District Court in Dublin Ga, Porter repeatedly and insistently sought medical aid throughout the month of December 2006, informing Dr. Sightler and a prison nurse of his symptoms, and urgently requesting some kind, any kind of diagnostic treatment for his chest pain, shortness of breath, profuse sweating and the other classic markers of cardiac disease. By December 29, the complaint states, Porter's symptoms were well documented in his file, but the first appointment with Dr. Sightler was delayed a full 35 days. It was at this appointment that Porter stated he thought he might have a clogged artery, and asked for help.

Dr. Sightler, Nurse Newcurt, and the prison's Director of Nursing Carolyn White, the complaint alleges, did nothing. Wheeler is a privatized prison, run by a highly profitable corporation. Private prisons, as well as publicly-run prisons with privatized medical care have built-in reasons to skimp on diagnostic testing and all kinds of care. Medical care costs money, and they're in business to make it, not to spend it.

On October 16, 2007 Arnold Porter went into full cardiac arrest. He died. His pulse and breathing stopped, he had to be brought back with a combination of electric shock and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Porter is lucky to be alive today. He's a long way from being well, but has made it far enough back to draft and file his own complaint against CCA, the state of Georgia, and the doctors and nurses who refused to treat him till he reached the point of death.

Porter's sister Vondra told Black Agenda Report that “My brother says 'they've already tried to kill me, I don't know what more they can do.'” So Porter is doing what he can do, acting as a jailhouse lawyer, researching and assisting with the pleas and motions of other prisoners at Coffee Correctional facility, where he is now held.

Some other Georgia prisoners are not so fortunate. Terrance Dean, who was brutally beaten by officials at Macon State Prison in mid-December, around the same time as the visit of a Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners Rights fact-finding team, finally got a visit from his sister on Sunday, January 2.

He's got a long way to go,” said Wendy Johnson of Atlanta. “He's in a wheelchair, his speech is slurred, and he seems to have partial paralysis in his arm and leg on one side. He can't walk without help... he is very fearful...” According to Johnson, the last time he saw his mother in November, he was in normal physical condition with no complaints.

Dean was transferred in apparent secrecy to an Atlanta hospital more than 130 miles away from the prison. His family was not informed at all by state authorities of either his injury or his transfer. They had to find out by other means. And although Johnson spoke to Steve Franklin of CBS Atlanta on Friday, the story appears to have received little or no on-air coverage, and cannot be found on the station's web site.

We're going to do everything we can to find out what happened to Terrance Dean, and everything we can to make sure justice is served,” pledged Rev. Kenny Glasgow of The Ordinary Peoples Society.”

At Smith Prison, where another fact-finding visit occurred, there was at least one incident which may be another case of official retaliation for the prison strike. The wife of another prisoner at that institution spoke to corporate media reporters just before New Years about her husband, whose nose was broken and not reset, and who had other injuries. Again, the story has seen little light, The family has retained an attorney and is looking into its legal options.

The Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights expects to hold a press conference in Atlanta tomorrow at 10:30 in downtown Atlanta. We'll be there.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA. He's also a member of the GA Green Party's state committee.