Near Death In Terre Haute

Near Death in Terre Haute

The year I spent at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, was a wasteland. Had I become despondent after being denied the proposal to go to work at Mr. Haglin’s airport? Maybe. Church was not the same. No volunteers and no spirit. Correspondence had consistently been strengthening for me, but even now, it did little to lift my spirits. Mary was not allowed to write me as a government employee with the Bureau of Prisons. I had arrived in January of 1973, and by December, I had become quite sick.

Every 20 minutes, I would incur an awful pain in my abdomen, and they were unable or unwilling to determine the problem. The pain would rack my stomach for a full 2 minutes, and if I didn’t apply extreme pressure to the area of the pain, I would pass out. Desperate, I planned to bring my condition to the Medical Bureau’s attention.

I wrote a letter to the Medical Director describing my condition. I sent a copy of the letter to my Senator. I then sent a letter to everyone on my list of correspondents and asked them to send it to their Senator, as they covered several states. I then asked them to collect their Senator’s responses and send them to the Medical Director.

I let a week go by, and then I resorted to something that was going to be risky. I was going to go to the chow hall, and at that point, I was going to leave the hall; I would fall over the table and lay in pain on the floor. The pain part wasn’t going to be faked. That was real, but I had to get someone’s attention. I was taking a calculated risk. The disturbance I would make in falling over the table, with the metal trays clambering to the floor, would cause a ruckus. Such a sound could ignite a riot with trays flying everywhere. I informed the three men at my table what I would do. They said they would stay there and explain what was wrong with me to the guards.

I fell to the floor at that point, and the three men ran out of the chow hall. They realized that they, too, could be implicated as having started the riot should one occur since they were at the table too. The guards came running at the sound of trays hitting the floor. My rap partner, Kevin, had been sitting only a table away, and when he saw what had happened, he immediately started screaming that they were killing me. And unknowingly, they were. As I writhed in pain on the floor, I heard someone say to get him to the hospital. That night for the first time, I was given drugs to squelch the pain.

The following day, specialists were called in from the community hospital, and after a spinal tap and a cystoscopy, they discovered that my kidneys were 90% infected. They drained the infection from my kidneys and then ordered an operation to look inside and see what could be learned.

The prison Doctor asked me who I knew during the prison doctor’s earlier visit. I said, “I don’t understand the question.” He told me the Medical Director had called him and wanted to know my prognosis and diagnosis immediately. At that same time, the doctor got another call from a friend from my hometown of Hazel Crest. Bobby Greer, a young man who lived across the street and one of the correspondents I had written, called to inquire how I was doing. The attention, letters, and calls all had served their purpose in alerting the medical staff, incompetent as they were, to pay attention to me. I was scheduled for an exploratory operation. But hold up.

The night before the operation, the inmate nurse said, “I’ll be back later to shave you front and back for the operation tomorrow.” “You want to explain that to me?” I said. “Well, they’re going to do an exploratory operation, so what that means is they’re going to cut you in the front, and if they don’t find anything, they’ll roll you over and cut you in the back.” “So I have to shave you front and back.” “No, you don’t. They’ll have to send me to Springfield, Mo. I demanded. “I’m not getting an operation in this hospital.”

That was the only Medical Center in the prison system.
I knew the doctor would be displeased when he arrived the following morning. The thought of returning to Springfield, even for a short time (they would return me after the operation.), was exciting. The doctor asked me why I wanted to go to Springfield instead of having it here. I didn’t want to rouse his ire by slamming his hospital at the institution, but I also realized he didn’t have to answer to me, but he did have that Medical Director breathing down his neck. I told him that the prison was not equipped for such operations, and at least the prison in Springfield was called a Medical Center. I remained in the institution’s hospital until I was transferred to Springfield.

I did not go immediately to Springfield. However, I was laid over in Leavenworth Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. A prisoner walked by our cell of 8 other prisoners waiting to be transferred. He looked at me and asked how long I had been in prison. I told him 3 years. He asked if I had been out in the sun. No, I hadn’t; I’d been hospitalized for a while. He said, “Then you’ve got hepatitis because you’re yellow. Sure enough, when I got to Springfield and was housed in the hospital, they immediately diagnosed me with hepatitis. I don’t know what would have happened had I let them do the exploratory operation with hepatitis.

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