Prisons Withhold Medical Care to Coerce Inmates Into Snitching


The FACTS Education Fund, also known as Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes, just sent me this newsletter about coercive withholding of medical care from prisoners in Segregated Housing Units (SHU). The SHU is a form of restricted or solitary confinement imposed on prisoners who are accused of gang connections, which often happens based on secret evidence or arbitrary prison politics. Once there, prisoners are put under enormous pressure to “debrief”, or inform on other suspected gang members to prison officials. This report from American RadioWorks, “Locked Down: Gangs in the Supermax“, gives more background on this process.

In the FACTS newsletter, Alfred Sandoval, a prisoner in California’s Pelican Bay SHU, describes why he joined last year’s hunger strike to improve prison conditions. Sandoval reports that guards withheld family visits and essential medical care from terminally ill prisoners to pressure them to debrief. An excerpt:

A few years ago, a close friend – his name was Jimmy – developed cancer. The medical staff, MTAs and RNs, explained that if he’d debrief, become an informant, he would receive better medical care. Now Jimmy and I had known each other since we were teenagers running the streets of East Los Angeles getting high and living the lifestyle that ended up with both of us in prison for life.

As Jimmy’s cancer grew worse, he began chemotherapy. Jimmy mentioned to me how the IGI would “show up” at the clinic and comment that he could have contact visits with his wife before he died if he’d debrief. He refused but that’s how he found out the cancer was terminal! Jimmy loved his wife more than anything and he wouldn’t tell her everything about the head games and bullshit like waking up from surgery still under anesthesia being questioned by IGI, but I had warned him of that because it happened to me and at least three other prisoners.

After one of the surgeries, Jimmy was returned to his cell after a brief stay at the Pelican Bay prison infirmary. Those cells are completely bare except for a bed and all you can do is lay there and wait. On the second night back in his cell, he awoke to a bad pain. He said it was a little after 2 a.m. and the staples had opened along his abdomen and he was bleeding. He was holding his intestines in, calling for the C/O. The C/O came and saw the blood and said he’d call the RN on duty.

The C/O came back approximately 30 minutes later with a roll of toilet paper. Jimmy was sitting on the blood-covered cement floor holding a towel soaked in blood against his stomach. The cop tossed Jimmy the toilet paper and said the medical staff would not come until the next shift and there was nothing he could do. Jimmy held his stomach closed in pain until almost 6 a.m. when the medical finally came and they rushed him to the hospital. He asked that I keep it to myself because that was his style.

I was pissed! He had requested two hardship transfers to Corcoran because of its medical facility and he’d be able to see his wife and family more before he died. Both were denied and he was told to debrief and then he’d be transferred but he steadfastly refused. The cancer spread and the gang unit increased the head games, telling the medical staff to confiscate his shaded prescription glasses. But luckily, a Dr. Williams stepped in and told the medical staff to leave Jimmy alone as he was at end stage cancer. Jimmy chose to stop the chemotherapy and die. We’d talk through a steel door and discuss everything and nothing and plan out his funeral. He died in December of 2010 and I am proud and honored to have been his friend.

Shortly after Jimmy’s death, I was told that approximately eight of the older prisoners had been approved for transfer to the SHU medical facility at New Folsom, but the gang unit had those transfers stopped citing that those prisoners, all in their 60s and 70s, had not successfully completed the debriefing, thereby issuing a death sentence to all of these prisoners and denying adequate medical care.

Make a donation to FACTS to help end these human rights abuses. You can write Mr. Sandoval a letter of support at: Alfred Sandoval, D-61000, Pelican Bay State Prison, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

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