End Medical Neglect in Massachusetts Prisons

We’ve heard several stories from folks inside about the horrific healthcare they’ve received, even before the pandemic.

Healthcare in the Massachusetts DOC is at an absolute crisis, and incarcerated organizers want to make sure their voices are heard.

If you have stories of medical neglect in Massachusetts prisons, please let us know by using this secure form or emailing info@deeperthanwater.org directly.


End the Contract with Wellpath, Before I go Blind

By: Ronald Leftwich

Prisons and jails across the US are failing our communities. Countless incarcerated people in the US are receiving negligent medical care from a for-profit company called Wellpath. This corrupt and deeply negligent medical provider – which is owned by private equity firm H.I.G. Capital – was sued at least 1,395 times in federal court between 2008 to 2018. Locally, horror stories about Wellpath’s negligence are being revealed across the country, from California to North Carolina. Recent reports have exposed Wellpath’s egregious health care services in immigration detention centers, as well as the company’s failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks in incarcerated populations. 

Despite Wellpath’s record, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) has contracted with Wellpath to provide medical care for all people incarcerated in state prisons. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere, Wellpath has subjected incarcerated people – who are unable to receive care elsewhere – to undue suffering and negative health outcomes.

I know this because I’m incarcerated in a state prison in Massachusetts, and I am going blind.

I suffer from severe glaucoma, an eye disease that causes loss of vision. When treated appropriately, vision loss due to glaucoma can be slowed or stopped. Without proper treatment, this illness can cause complete blindness that is irreversible. Because Massachusetts has hired Wellpath, I fear I am on this path.

In July of 2020, an ophthalmologist at Boston Medical Center, growing alarmed by the progression of my glaucoma, scheduled me for immediate corrective eye surgery to prevent further loss of vision. When September arrived, and I still had not heard from Wellpath about the surgery, I began writing letters to Wellpath, asking about the surgery. For months, I received no response. Finally, in November, I began receiving notices stating that the surgery had been scheduled. Yet, when I saw a Wellpath nurse in December, she looked at my record and told me, “I do not see any mention of surgery of any kind.” She promised me that she would look into the matter and get back to me. Several more months passed and I heard nothing. Frustrated and concerned, I wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Corrections asking her to intervene on my behalf and assist me in getting my surgery. I received no response to my letter. 

I then asked a friend in the community to contact the Commissioner’s office. My friend’s call prompted a response and Wellpath finally scheduled my surgery. On June 8th, 2021 – nearly one year after my ophthalmologist called for immediate surgery – I underwent micropulse laser surgery for my glaucoma. 

Many incarcerated people don’t have a friend or family member to advocate on their behalf. I’m not sure my surgery would have ever been scheduled if not for my friend’s call. 

But even after my surgery, I still struggled to get the recovery care I needed. I was refused shades for my windows, even though dark lighting is necessary for recovery. Now, I am waiting on Wellpath to schedule this surgery for my other eye. When I was last brought to an appointment with my ophthalmologist at BMC, she expressed concern at the way Wellpath has continuously pushed back the dates of my appointments.

Due to Wellpath’s negligence, my eyesight has continued to deteriorate in ways that could be prevented by basic treatments. I now take eight prescription medications to control my glaucoma. When I run out of these prescriptions, refilling them is never a certainty. I always let the Wellpath nursing staff know that I need a refill one week prior to running out of these prescriptions. Still, Wellpath rarely refills them on time. Due to this negligence, I often go two to five days without them, despite my best efforts to follow my doctor’s orders. Without consistent access to these medications, I may quickly lose what is left of my vision.  

Sadly, my experience is not unique. There are many cases even more egregious than mine.

This raises many questions. Why has Massachusetts given Wellpath its stamp of approval? Why have they handed responsibility for the health care of thousands of individuals over to a medical provider that is well known for providing negligent care?

If a just and moral society is to be measured by anything, should we not first look to see how that society cares for those who lack the opportunity to care for themselves – those who are sick, elderly, incarcerated or homeless? Should we allow institutions and structures to exist that do not care for these populations, all the while profiting off of them?

Any moral society would call for the immediate removal and abolishment of institutions that did not treat these vulnerable citizens with adequate care and concern. The Massachusetts DOC has an obligation to drop their contract with Wellpath and ensure that incarcerated people in this state receive the medical care they need.

Help us get surveys designed by organizers incarcerated in Massachusetts into the hands of prisoners:


Where is the Department of Public Health?

News stories this week have shown the spiraling crisis inside Massachusetts jails, prisons and detention centers. On Sunday, June 21, a prisoner at MCI Norfolk collapsed in the middle of kitchen duty. He was later diagnosed with COVID19. His fellow workers were placed in solitary confinement, as there’s simply no medical infrastructure to support a quarantine.

Yet in all of this, there is a single entity whose responsibility it is to oversee the health of people inside. And frankly, they’ve failed. Last month, immigrant rights organizers demanded an inspection at Bristol County. DPH listened. However, just as with MCI Norfolk, where DPH allowed the water to run brown for over a decade, DPH was inexplicably unable to find anything wrong at Bristol (we are told their inspection report is due out next week).

While we are sympathetic to the overwhelming demand put on the public health community during this pandemic, it is unconscionable to look at what is happening at places like MCI Framingham, MCI Shirley or Bristol County and say that this is acceptable, that is is the best we can do.

Prisoners at hotspots like MCI Framingham and MCI Shirley report guards showing up to work sick, administrators ordering staff to come in anyway. Prisoners are using the same flimsy masks for two weeks at a time. Infirmaries are full. A clause in the MCOFU collective bargaining agreement allows for guards to simply opt out of testing, with no requirements for containment. The virus didn’t come from prisoners. It came from staff, and it’s time DPH acknowledged this.

Building up People not Prisons is asking for help.

Call DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel at (617) 624-5200.


Hello, I’m contacting you about the COVID-19 humanitarian crisis in Massachusetts prisons, including the outbreak at Norfolk prison. I know that almost half of women inside Framingham contracted COVID19. I’m aware that guards are not being tested at multiple pirisons. Extensive, inhumane lockdowns and months without visits are punishment; not protection. Our incarcerated community has been forced to endure intense and lasting harm to their physical and mental health. The DOC’s response thus far has been a total moral and public health failure. Please


Commissioner Bharel, I’m concerned about the COVID-19 crisis in Massachusetts jails and prisons, including Bristol County Jail and Norfolk prison. I am asking you to do your utmost to protect our loved ones who are incarcerated. I’m aware the DPH reports don’t capture what our incarcerated community is forced to endure day after day. In order to protect the lives of those who are incarcerated, DPH immediately needs to:

1. Use your moral authority and public health power to urge Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Correction to decarcerate in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19

2. Use statutory powers to implement rigorous, public, and transparent oversight of DOC, especially during the pandemic

3. Issue an injunction against any respiratory irritants, including pepper spray and tear gas, within prisons, jails, or detention centers

4. Ensure all prisoners are given new, clean mask replacements daily

The humanitarian crisis continues. Please use your voice and position of authority to pressure the DOC, Parole Board, and Governor Baker to immediately decarcerate jails and prisons starting with people who are 50 years old and older and all people with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19. Thank you. 

Call DPH DOC Commissioner Carol Mici at (508) 422-3302.


Hello, I’m contacting you about the COVID-19 humanitarian crisis in Massachusetts prisons, including the outbreak at Norfolk prison. I know that almost half of women inside Framingham contracted COVID19. I’m aware that guards are not being tested at multiple pirisons. Extensive, inhumane lockdowns and months without visits are punishment; not protection. Our incarcerated community has been forced to endure intense and lasting harm to their physical and mental health. The DOC’s response thus far has been a total moral and public health failure. Please change course now. I am asking you to use your power as the Commissioner to approve all people’s medical parole who are 50 years and older and all people with underlying health conditions. Guards must be regularly tested, not just screened, in order to work at any DOC facility. Thank you.

Medical professionals / public health workers

We’re asking folks with medical/public health backgrounds to email DPH, using this template:

Commissioner Bharel,

I’m writing as a [public health professional/healthcare professional] to express deep concern about the COVID-19 crisis at MCI-Norfolk and Bristol County House of Correction. We know there have been recently confirmed COVID-19 cases in both places, and we urge DPH to do your utmost to protect our loved ones who are incarcerated. Forthcoming inspection reports that confirm the DOC narrative that “everything is fine” is outrageous, given what we know to be true from our loved ones inside. In order to protect the lives of those who are incarcerated, DPH immediately needs to:

1. Use your moral authority and public health power to urge Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Correction to decarcerate in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19

2. Develop and implement rigorous, public, and transparent oversight of the DOC’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis

3. Issue an injunction against any respiratory irritants, including pepper spray and tear gas, within prisons, jails, or detention centers

4. Ensure all prisoners are given new, clean mask replacements daily

It is past time to use your voice and your public health authority to pressure the DOC, SJC, Parole Board, and Governor Baker to immediately decarcerate all people, starting with those 50 years old and older and all people with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19. 

Sincerely,

There’s more: head over to tinyurl.com/MAweekofaction every week for more things you can do to help our people inside.

Mutual Aid Project Targeted

As most of you already know, one of the initiatives that we’ve been working on in 2019 has been a project that allows people inside to help meet the needs of other incarcerated and detained people through a Patreon subscription service that also publishes media from inside.

So far, we have sent back every penny that we’ve raised (and then some) to make sure that our family inside has what they need. All of these transactions have been recorded on a ledger and all receipts have been saved. Nevertheless, we were informed earlier this week that one of our inside organizers was questioned about the funds and told that the Department considers trafficking drugs to be the only explanation for why someone on the outside would send money to complete strangers.

This is emblematic of why we oppose prisons, detention and policing altogether: to believe in the logic of the carceral system requires us to suspend our love and support for each other, to see our own needs and those of the state as the only needs that matter.

This logic is the foundation of prisons, where prisoners face time in solitary confinement for simply sharing bottled water or toothpaste. Prisoners and detainees are forbidden from corresponding with one another, and when people are paroled, they are forbidden from staying in contact with their loved ones still inside. For many, this means leaving the only family they have left.

When people are released, they are also forbidden from giving their possessions to people still inside. People who recycle radios or fans are accused of theft and given disciplinary tickets. As of 2018, family members with more than one loved one inside are unable to visit, and attempts by prisoners to send money to family are routinely stymied.

It was in the spirit of trying to address this that we created the Solidarity Network platform, and it’s in this spirit that we intend to continue to do so.

Time and again we see that staff are the primary traffickers of drugs into prisons. And yet, the DOC uses the spectre of drugs and drug use to keep families apart and deny prisoners access to their support systems. The DOC uses this spectre to deny prisoners necessary medical treatment and pain management while conducting violent, violating shakedowns and “security” practices against prisoners and their visitors. Many of our inside members have endured recovery from surgery with no more than Tylenol. We see through this.

We ask supporters to be ready to take action should the DOC continue to escalate its intimidation and retaliation against prisoners and their loved ones. We keep us safe and we are all we have.

An inside perspective on the use of pepper spray

Several days ago a dear friend was recounting her terrifying experience of being pepper-sprayed last month while attending a rally outside the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where immigrants are being detained unjustly by ICE.

Many of you will recall how when peaceful demonstrators were attempting to prevent being run over by a crazed guard driving a pickup truck, the crowd was viciously assaulted and pepper-prayed by overzealous guards from that prison. (The guard driving that pickup truck– a Captain– resigned from his job the following day. Why he was not charged with attempted murder, or at least assault with a deadly weapon, is anyone’s guess).

The unprovoked attack resulted in several protesters requiring hospitalization and treatment for broken bones and or/respiratory issues. My friend described how, after already being pepper-sprayed twice in her eyes, nose and mouth, she dropped to the ground and blocked her airways with clothing. The threat of suffocating to death was very real for my friend that evening.

In turn, I began to share my own experiences of being gassed or pepper-sprayed, which is a regular occurrence at MCI Shirley, a medium security prison in central Massachusetts where certain guards carry pepper spray on their belts.

Fights happen regularly at this prison, a number of them in the chow hall during meals. In the year or so since my arrival at this prison there have been no fewer than thirty fights in the chow hall, with at least twenty-five of those resulting in the use of pepper-spray in order to separate the combatants. Once unleashed, usually sprayed in the direction of the persons fighting, the irritant quickly spreads through the atmosphere (in the summers, aided by the fans mounted on the wall), affecting everyone in the chow-hall, staff included. There is no place to go to escape the burning of eyes, noses and throats as all doors are quickly secured. You can taste it in the food, and you either have to eat it or go hungry. 

The use of pepper-spray in Mass prisons is relatively new. I don’t recall it being used at all in my thirty years at MCI Norfolk. And in my three and a half years at MCI Walpole, from 1981 to 1985,  other than in the notorious 10-block, tear-gas was used once in the general prison population to start a near riot (in 1984) when a rookie guard panicked when he mistakenly thought prisoners were taking over the prison while leaving the auditorium during the viewing of a movie.

I’ve seen a lot of fights in my nearly 36 years in prison, and I can tell you that once guards respond to a fight, it is broken up pretty quickly, without the need for mace or pepper-spray. Most guys won’t resist and tussle with guards for fear of being charged with assault and risking more prison time, so they cuff up.

Several months ago two prisoners were fighting in the chow hall not more than ten feet from where I sat and ate. As usual, no weapons were involved and the fight was quickly broken up. As one of the guys was being cuffed, an officer walked right up to that prisoner and blasted him directly in his face with a stream of pepper spray; a full thirty minutes after the fight was over! The poor guy was gasping for air as guards led him away while the rest of us in the area began to choke and rub our eyes.

It wasn’t the first time that that officer has done that, and I’m sure it won’t be his last. It was, and is, completely unjustified, but this is what happens when you allow people – particularly those in law enforcement to carry and use weapons that they don’t know how to use and who become overzealous in their responses to non-threatening situations, just like in Rhode Island, or in Boston at the “Straight Pride” parade.

Greg Diatchenko

NO MORE CAGES

This August 1-6th, the American Correctional Association will descend on the city of Boston for their annual Congress of Correction. The ACA annual conference is a massive gathering with thousands of participants from correctional officers to prison profiteers.

This year, the ACA is presenting an award to none other than J. David Donahue, the Sr. Vice President of GEO Group. In addition to being one of the largest private prison companies on the planet, is currently leading the charge to expand the immigrant detention and separation apparatus as much as possible. As part of GEO Group, Donahue is also focused on exporting the American neoliberal prison system to the rest of the world. Last year, in response to increased ICE raids and detentions, Donahue and his staff reported that they were “very pleased” with the exponential rise in prisoners and detainees seen in the wake of the Trump administration. 

Also in attendance will be corporations from all over the world from weapons manufacturers to groups like JPay, whose tablet interfaces are currently being pushed to replace in-person visits, extracting even more money from families and destroying the bonds that hold people together. This isn’t an aberration, this is their business plan.

In a time when all cages are overflowing with our loved ones, we owe it to ourselves and our communities to say: #NOMORECAGES

 

There will be events planned throughout the week that the ACA is occupying our city. For now, please help turn up as many people as possible to march on the conference itself on August 4th. 

 

Phone zap, call now!

TAKE ACTION TODAY! : 

The American Correctional Association (ACA) is flooding Boston with ICE agents, jailers, and detention center profiteers August 1-6! The ACA is an organization that accredits prisons that abuse transgender people, detain immigrants in concentration camps, separate families, and profit off of caging people. This year, they are even giving an award to GEO Group, the company that runs most of the immigration detention facilities in the US and regularly makes millions in profits from contracts with ICE.Learn more about them here: deeperthanwater.org/noACA

Boston Marriott Copley Place, Hilton Boston Back Bay, and Sheraton Boston Hotel have agreed to provide housing and venue space for the ACA’s “Congress of Correction”. By profiting off this conference they facilitate the strengthening of ICE, anti-immigrant institutions, and the prison industry.

Marriott (which operates Sheraton) and Hilton have BOTH publicly committed to not allowing their hotels to be used as detention facilities but why are they allowing them to be used by the people in charge of and responsible for the detention centers??

MAKE 3 SHORT CALLS on Thurs 7/25 and Fri 7/26 to tell Marriott, Hilton, and Sheraton we see their complicity and REJECT their profiteering off injustice. We demand they CANCEL all contracts with the ACA. When you’ve called, please fill out our report-back form: https://deeperthanwater.org/callreport

Call:

**New numbers today!**

Marriott & Sheraton Corporate Social Responsibility – 301-380-3550 – ask for Barbara

Hilton Global Headquarters – 703 883 1000

Christopher J. Nassetta 
(President) ext. 31010
Stephen Arnold
(VP, Customer Service) ext. 66909

Phone Script:

Hello, my name is ________. I am calling because I learned that your hotel is profiting off the detention of immigrants, mass incarceration, and the abuse of prisoners by hosting attendees to the American Correctional Association’s conference in Boston August 1-6.

The ACA conference exists to strengthen the people behind the concentration camps on the border and the warehousing of Black and brown US citizens. Companies profiting off the detention centers are being honored at the conference, like GEO Group– the company running the horrific concentration camps at the border.

Your company recently publicly declared it would not allow its hotels to be used as detention facilities. The logical extension of this moral stance is to refuse to profit off of the corporations running prisons, jails, and concentration camps.

We demand that you immediately cancel all bookings related to the ACA conference and produce a public statement declaring your hotel will not be complicit in genocide and the caging of human beings.

Will you be canceling all contracts with the conference?

Tell us how it went at: https://deeperthanwater.org/callreport

 

#NoMoreCages Call Report

Please note: none of these field are mandatory. Only fill out what you feel comfortable sharing. This is to help us adjust our strategy as we go.

#NOMORECAGES, Shut Down the ACA! Call-in Action

Instructions here: deeperthanwater.org/zap

 

For reminders to join the phone zap on 7/25 and 7/26 to keep prison profiteers and detention center developers out of Boston, see the form below.

Background info:


The American Correctional Association (ACA) is flooding Boston with wardens, jailers, and detention profiteers August 1-6. The ACA accredits prisons that abuse transgender people, detain immigrants in concentration camps, separate families, and profit off of evil. Learn more about them here: deeperthanwater.org/noACA

Boston Marriott Copley Place, Hilton Boston Back Bay, and Sheraton Boston Hotel have agreed to provide housing for the ACA’s “Congress of Correction”. By profiting off this conference they facilitate the strengthening of white supremacist, anti-immigrant institutions, companies, and people.

Marriott (which operates Sheraton) and Hilton have BOTH publicly committed to not allowing their hotels to be used as detention facilities but why are they allowing them to be used by the people in charge of and responsible for those facilities?

**Sign up below to make 3 SHORT CALLS on 7/25 and 7/26 to tell Marriott, Hilton, and Sheraton we see their complicity and REJECT their profiteering off injustice. We demand they CANCEL all bookings allotted to the ACA. #DeeperThanWater #NoMoreCages #NoHotelsForICE**

If you want, we’ll send you an email or text reminder with all the call info and a call script on Thurs 7/25 and Fri 7/26!

Update: our sign-up for 7/25 and 7/26 has ended but opposition to the ACA has only just begin. Sign up for the #nomorecages action list on Mayfirst and get ready for our big event going live.