I’m Paralyzed From the Collarbone Down, and My Time in Prison Revealed a System That Robs Prisoners of Their Rights and Dignity

I have a spinal cord injury in my neck, which rendered me paralyzed from the collarbone down. When I was sentenced to prison, my physical disability should have been taken into account by the corrections officers and staff. But it wasn’t. Instead I was deprived basic care and necessary services, which put my health at risk and caused me great harm.

While incarcerated with the Oregon Department of Corrections, I was needlessly isolated in an infirmary at three different institutions, despite having no medical condition that would warrant my being confined there. In the first institution, I was confined to my cell for 23 to 24 hours a day, which didn’t immediately make sense. I didn’t break any rules, and I was classified at the lowest security level.   

While I was confined to the infirmary, they were aware of the medications I needed due to my disability, but they withheld them from me.  They denied me a medication that keeps my bladder sphincter closed, so I don’t urinate on myself. I didn’t get that, so I uncontrollably urinated all over myself on a regular basis. They denied me the medication that keeps my body from locking up in terrible muscle spasms. Without it, my entire body would spasm like a fish out of water squeezing the air from my lungs as I lay helplessly on my bunk. When I asked why they weren’t giving me the medication I needed to maintain my basic health, the staff told me they wanted me to “have a holiday from my medications.”

In the second institution, I wasn’t allowed access to the yard. Instead I was only allowed to spend a little time on a 15-square-foot slab of cement with 20-foot-tall walls and a metal grate over the top. Despite repeated requests, I wasn’t allowed to participate in any programs that would reduce my sentence like inmates that did not have a disability were allowed to do. I wasn’t allowed to work to generate any money for commissary or to call my family. I was repeatedly harmed by inmate orderlies required to provide my assistance but had no training.  

At the third institution, I was confined to a dorm-like infirmary where I was assaulted by nondisabled inmates. I again was not allowed access to the yard. After a surgery on my spinal cord, I was denied physical therapy critical to my recovery and long-term health in violation of my neurosurgeon’s direct instructions. It became apparent to me that I was being punished and damaged not because of my crime but because of my physical disability.

When I asked why I was being confined to the infirmary and isolated, the response was, “We will put you where we want when we want.” My injury took away some of my abilities. But it was the prison staff that assaulted my humanity.

The Oregon Department of Corrections isn’t architecturally or programmatically capable of caring for any prisoner with a physical disability. Oregon State Penitentiary was built in the1800s, and its structures were literally crumbling around us. The inmate orderlies who assisted me were ignorant of how to properly assist someone with a severe physical disability, and they were never trained. The facility and its staff are both culpable.

We need to address the incalculable harm done physically and mentally to incarcerated people with disabilities. To start, we must track how people with physical disabilities are treated so that we have the information that will guide and power reform. Then both state and federal legislators must work with prisoners’ rights advocates, prisoners, prosecutors, and judges to reform the system so that its inherent biases are erased and prisoners with physical disabilities are not put in jeopardy simply because of their disability.

Reform is the only way to protect prisoners in our nation who are under constant threat. It’s their legal right to be protected. It’s our moral obligation to enact the reforms necessary to ensure those protections. 

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Anonymous

Well I hope whatever dumbass down here is saying that this person deserved to be mistreated ends up handicapped herself. You are what is wrong with our society as a whole. Regardless if this person committed a crime, they don't deserve to be caused to urinate all over themselves or to get hurt on a daily basis. I hope you lose your ability to hold your bowels and that you shit all over yourself on a daily basis.

Larry

Stories like these, and the comments that follow it, are stark reminders of how uninformed the general population is about basic human rights and equality under the constitution. I truly hope ACLU is able to reclaim this person's dignity. survival games

Harper

We need to address the incalculable harm done physically and mentally to incarcerated people with disabilities...
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Anonymous

I'm so sorry to hear this. I don't care if you got the injury from the crime you must have committed or not, I'm sick and tired of handicapped people being mistreated. I'm fully handicapped from a car accident involving a drunk driver at 12 years old, and I'm paralyzed from my neck down, so I get where you're coming from. At my college, I was only allowed to attend classes on the first floor because "getting a lift wasn't an option" and the school "wasn't able to install ramps at the time". I hate how people with paralysis are ofen treated as invalids, and people just assume we have mental disabilities. I had extreme seizures following the accident, and I was often denied the meds I needed, too. I wish people wouldn't think that disabled people don't deserve rights. It's bad enough not to be able to feel anything below my neck, but I also am often denied the medical care that I need and are entitled to. And also, I can't help but asking, how did you accquire this disability? I'm not trying to pry, but if you in fact didn't recieve it from the crime you must have committed to end up in jail, that would definitely help your case.

Brittany Thurman

I am paralyzed at T12. In August of 2009 I was shot by undercover cops who never revealed they were cops at point blank range with 2 9mm hollow points.
From this incident I was sent to the Colorado Department of Corrections at the Denver Women’s Prison for 6 years. From March 21st 2013 through September 2017. I was denied parole for 2 years and finally at my 3rd parole hearing I was granted parole. I was 4 months away from my MRD. While I was there I was constantly denied the meds that I needed to just be able to function. I also had an OCA ( Offender Care Aid ) who had no idea and was not trained on how to correctly help me. A few times I was put in the infirmary at DRDC it was like the nurses and providers couldn’t be bothered with even giving me the meds I was on. Most of the time I wasn’t even given my noon meds. And it seems like when someone asks me how it was in prison and how I was treated they couldn’t even come close to being able to understand what I was describing. And I totally agree with you on needing to raise awareness on how we are treated when in prison and our humanity gets stripped away.

AnonymousNVR

You and I have been friends for many years and I am totally with you on this,as you well know that if I weren't then surely let you know.
The whole system is in need of reform,code of ethics for law enforcement and medical professionals is a crime and must be stopped!

Anonymous

This is crazy.. I am paralized from the waistdown. And i cant imagine being in your shoes. How did you urine or take a crap.. I wouldnt b able to survive. I wouldnt be able to take it i would hang it up.. Animals get treated better then that..

Anonymous

How did u eat ?

Anonymous

I too am disabled and in a wheelchair and was sent to coffee creek correctional facility in oregon. Sentences 2 years for absconding on probation for looking in a window of a commercial property for rent. Charged with criminal trespassing.
Anyway, I also had pretty much the same experience that you did. They also took away my wheelchair and I had to pull myself around on the floor. Other inmates were not allowed to help or touch me. The guards also would not touch me. They would just stand there and watch. Then twice I was slammed in between the metal cell door and they caught me in the neck and severely damaged my spinal cord and vertebra. After that I could not move. The rest of my time there I was in the infirmary completely without any kind of real medical help. I was confined to my bed day and night. Sometimes they would feed me, I think maybe only 1 shower, and totally merciless. When I was released I tried to find a lawyer to help me claim a suit but I was told that before I left I needed to have filed a torte claim. No one had told me anything about that in prison. So the attorney pretty much said, sucks to be you. I also tried to file with the aclu but I couldn't get anyone to come to me as I was not ambulatory. It's been a couple of years now and I go thru spurts of trying to find help, but then I get so frustrated I can't do anything. My condition keeps deteriorating, and I am semi homeless. I kinda wish now that when they slammed in the door, it would have killed me. I wouldn't be in this position.

Frederick Klepeiss

I'm a quadriplegic from a swimming accident that took place when I was 14 years old. I'm now 42 years old and have been living my life in a wheelchair ever since that terrible day. - I have first-hand knowledge of what it's like to physically have the capabilities of this person.... and let me tell you - it's one fucking hellish nightmare everyday. It's practically a miracle that I haven't killed myself by now... but to be honest with you- I'm scared of what the afterlife would be like for a person who did themself in. - I know what it's like to not have my spasm medicine.... and without it. My legs shake is so intensively that I get winded and feel like I'm about to have a heart attack. You can't sleep and you can't even grab anything because all your fingers lock up. And that's only the tip of the iceberg..... when I have spasms like him--- Im not able to push in or pull out a catheter past my sphincter muscle in my penis. Or how about not getting the chair thats needed to empty your bowels. A nurse literally has to stick her finger inside my rectum over and over and over again and again to pull this shit out of you. So without proper care you'll go into dysreflexia and have a stroke or possibly brain damage...... it's inhumane, cruel and evil not 2 give this person proper Medical Care- the ones that denied him it should also be getting locked up

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