Medical neglect is prevalent in Massachusetts Department of Corrections and killing prisoners – our loved ones and family members. This week, we heard Roger Herbert’s story through his niece, Sophia Bishop-Rice. We demand justice for our fallen.
Roger has been held prisoner by the DOC for 28 years, and died two weeks ago at age 48. He is remembered by Sophia, his twin brother Ronald and found family inside prison as a role model, loyal, deeply compassionate and self-sacrificing.
Roger’s health began deteriorating noticeably in April of 2018, suffering from jaundice, a persistent cough and rapid weight loss. At $4 per visit, he consistently chose repeated medical visits over purchasing necessities like food and hygiene products at canteen or purchasing phone minutes to communicate with family members.
The DOC refused to provide any further testing until Sophia demanded it directly from the DOC Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. Even then, Roger and his family received no diagnoses or further information for weeks after an MRI was conducted. It was only after he collapsed in the showers at MCI Norfolk in September that he was finally told he had angiosarcoma. Although she was his health care proxy and emergency contact, Sophia was only informed of Roger’s hospitalization after she tried to add money to his phone account and found he was at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.
In his final weeks, Roger and Sophia were granted just one visit per week at the hospital. The superintendent granted one additional visit per week, but denied Sophia’s attempt at a third visit the week of Roger’s death because it was not “imminent” by the DOC’s definition.
During his “compassionate care treatment” at the hospital, he suffered inhumanely: medication affecting his bowels caused him to have diarrhea all over himself and his attempt for five minutes to use his nurse call button, which was found to be broken – even though he was supposedly on fifteen minute eye checks and two hour in-room service. During Sophia’s Wednesday visit, his required oxygen supply was not in place and he fell once the week before and once the week of his death due to inattention and consistent neglect.
His found family inside prison, his brother, and his niece all describe how he spent his 28 years in prison working tirelessly to support the other people inside. Those of you who follow our work know that those 28 years were also marked by deteriorating and toxifying water conditions at MCI Norfolk and other Massachusetts prisons. Directly or indirectly, environmental contamination and medical neglect and abuse led to Roger’s death.
To get at the magnitude of the person who has been taken from us: In a beautiful act of solidarity, his loved ones inside – those with jobs making at most $3/day, or receiving cash assistance from family member who find it difficult to make ends meet – pulled together enough money to cover his cremation and memorial expenses, a little over $2,000.00. Sparing his neice the daunting task of trying to raise the money.
We hold close all of those who escape the clutches of the Massachusetts DOC. And we grieve those who die at their hands.
We also call you to action – on Sunday, November 11, immediately following Roger’s memorial service, we will host a vigil and speak out to share the stories of those we have lost and fight like hell for the living.