Drug War Prisoners

February, 2001: Tuberculosis, By Richard J. Lester, Drug War Correspondent

Note: It is with relief that we are again able to post a column by this Drug War correspondent reporting from the front lines. With apologies to our readers and to Mr. Lester, regular posting of his columns was interrupted over the second half of 2000 due to the reorganization this web site underwent. Columns withheld from posting in 2000, dated accordingly, will be entered on this page along with new columns as they are submitted. A full account of the events leading to Mr. Lester's confinement as a POW will appear in the Letters section shortly.

Webster's Dictionary, College Edition, gives us a brief description of the lungs and swelling lesions occurring in tuberculosis.

But maybe I should tell my readers that I am no longer an inmate incarcerated at Sheridan, Oregon. I am now an Arizonian imprisoned at Safford in the far eastern part of the great state.

Safford is located on the side of Mount Graham at an elevation of approximately 4,500 feet above sea level.

While chained at the ankles, waist, and wrists for three long fifteen hour days without even the courtesy of using a restroom facility, we were transported like beef cattle on their way to the slaughter house.

But I won't elaborate further, because that is not the intent of this article, as my title suggests.

After a near riot, three gang fights, two stabbings, and one death in Phoenix FCI, we finally arrived on the side of the mountain and began our intensive do's and don'ts training programs. I am a serious asthmatic and the elevation here at this facility prevents me from breathing normally. I huff and puff with the mere thought of exertion.

So when they presented the film on contagious diseases and accompanied it with a lengthy dissertation of spreading communicable airborne germs, the entire audience paid close attention, Why?

Simply because we are housed here like cockroaches in a latrine. The fact is, I live in a hallway with an average of 60 inmates passing my small bunk every 5 minutes. All with viral infections and spitting up and out sprays of mucus in every direction.

Now they surely touched enough on HIV and AIDS, but the highlight of the session was that awful word Tuberculosis. It is an airborne disease and is extremely easy to spread. We are stacked on top of one another in bunks separated by only 14 inches. That means that the man lying across from me is at best two feet away if we both sleep in the middle of our mats.

No prevention is offered to the inmates. The day they told us that the BOP is experiencing almost an epidemic of this contagious disease, two men were carried out as we attended the briefing. Of course, there are many infected inmates and officers as well.

While the nation and the media is busy reporting and discussing that terrible Mad Cow infection, we are being infected and exposed to one dreadful disease after another.

So what? I'll tell you what. Men in this federal correctional institute will be getting out in months if not mere weeks. They will be coming home to their families and people like you, walking down the street, and you will be the recipient of the call letters T.B.

There are several things that can be done to prevent this from happening, and the first is to separate inmates so that they are not in such close proximity. Put us in rooms and not in hallways, adding to the already bad conditions. Maybe this can be addressed by not sending so many men to prison for such long sentences. But that of course is wishful thinking.

You know, we used to be a preventive society. Now we have become a society that deals with the health problems facing the expanding prison population after the fact. Well, maybe that is how we keep the numbers down. Incarcerate us and murder us through disease.

Until tomorrow, if I am alive, I remain your inhouse advisor.

Richard J. Lester






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