“Man Down”

So, Tracy fell and had to go to the infirmary today; his leg just gave out on him, and he hit the ground. He has an ACL tear and a meniscus tear in his knee, and has gotten exactly ZERO medical care. Why? Because there IS no medical care in prison. He could call a “Man Down,” which would cost $80.00 and which is reserved for life-threatening emergencies; if an inmate calls a “Man Down” and there is not a true emergency, not only is he out the $80 bucks, but he will also get a write up and be thrown into solitary confinement as punishment. So, unless it’s a stroke, heart attack or someone is bleeding profusely, most inmates will not call a “Man Down.”

Tracy told me he has seen inmates deal with broken bones and all kinds of gruesome injuries themselves and NOT call a “Man Down” precisely because they fear the punishment for doing so, even when they truly need care.  They would rather bleed out, or die from cardiac arrest, than suffer the punishment for asking for help.  I cannot say I honestly blame them; death must seem like a lovely option to the insane, macabre hell that is High Desert State Prison and the guards who run it.

This is *maddening* to me, because the pain in Tracy’s knee is at “a constant 7,” he says, and it gets much worse at night, keeping him from being able to sleep. The prison WILL NOT give him a knee brace for it, and obviously, physical therapy – the prescribed treatment (other than surgery) for ACL tears – is out of the question. His knee is swollen up as large as his thigh, and he said his leg is starting to look deformed. Clearly, he needs help, and clearly, he is not going to get any.  I asked him about the feeling below his knee and he said he doesn’t feel much of anything.  That is terrifying to me, because the circulation is affected – and that is also something that is known to happen as a result of such a severe knee injury.  Without treatment, he could lose his leg, and that’s not even being melodramatic; that’s just a medical fact.

Adding to the evil carnival that IS HDSP, Tracy had to WALK to the infirmary – on the leg that had just given out beneath him, up a hill, approx. 1/4 of a mile.  I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the insanity of that nightmarish place.  The torture never ends, either for the inmates, or the people on the outside who love them.

Not hearing from Tracy is *never* a good thing, especially since we usually speak at least three times every day.  So when he doesn’t call, I know something is wrong, and none of the options are good: either he’s sleeping because he didn’t get enough sleep the night before; or he’s sleeping because something he ate made him sick (extremely common for him to be sick; the food in prison is notoriously horrible and inedible; some of it has even been labeled as “not fit for human consumption.”  But then, most people do not consider inmates “human,” so that has been allowed to pass); or, the guards won’t open the doors to let the inmates out, as they should; or, the prison is on lockdown because a fight has broken out/guards have shot someone/they’re doing commisary (in the evenings) – you name it, there are myriad reasons; or – well, the list is endless, and none of the items on it are great.

Combine all of the horrible things that could be preventing Tracy from being able to call, such as today’s incident (for which he spent FOUR HOURS sitting around in the infirmary waiting for the nurse to assess his knee…), with a woman (ME!) who naturally worries all the time about everyone and always has since she was a little girl and you’ve got a powder keg just waiting to errupt.  I worry like mad, and I start to panic.  I am a person who likes routine, who needs things to be stable and clockwork-like – *especially* in this kind of situation…and that is exactly what I can’t have.  *Especially* in this kind of situation.  It’s bizarre, and I hate it.

But I love Tracy, and I care so much about him and worry so much about him.  I’m glad he’s a big, tough guy, and I know he can deftly defend himself in any kind of altercation (that does not involve bullets, or a shank, for example), but how can he defend himself against his own body – his knee, in particular?  He needs a cane to help him walk, but the prison will not give him one.  He also needs a very good knee brace but, again, the prison will not give him one; both of those items could be used as weapons, apparently.  I can see the cane being used in that way, but the knee brace?  Maybe because the right brace would be one that contained metal or metal pieces and could therefore be dismantled and turned into weapons.  Geez.

I hope the ACLU will be able to do something to help the prisoners to receive the medical care they need, but I won’t hold my breath.  In fact, I don’t think that anything will be done at all to help the man I love, or any of the other men who are suffering needlessly.  I understand that most people look upon prisoners and people who are incarcerated as animals who deserve whatever they get, but not all prisoners are child molesters, rapists and murderers.  A great many of them are just people who did stupid things, like getting caught with marijuana, or writing bad checks.  These are not hardened criminals who should be cast out of society and forgotten, relegated to live the rest of their lives in unadulterated hell and torment.  Some of them just lost their way and have made, and would continue to make, positive contributions to society if they were given the chance – *especially* after being severely punished in a prison such as High Desert State Prison.

I don’t know what I can do to help, but I will do whatever it is once I find out, because the pain is excruciating for Tracy, and it is mind-numbing for me, too.  I cannot comfort him, I cannot prop up his leg with pillows, he cannot sleep in peace on a soft bed with soft, scented sheets.  Instead, he’s disregarded and treated like a worthless piece of trash.  He sleeps on a hard bunk with no comfort at all.  At least tonight, as with last night, he has his cell to himself; many of the men have been transferred to Southern Nevada Correctional Facility (and other facilities), including Freddie, Tracy’s cellie.  So until he gets a new one, he’s got the cell to himself, and for that, he is thankful.  He was lucky to have Freddie, who was an older inmate and with whom Tracy got along, most of the time.  Who knows what the next cellmate will be like?  Tracy and I both hope it’s an older inmate who is similar in temperment to Tracy: quiet, studious, respectful.  Tracy is a chess player, an avid reader, spiritual, and a mentor to the younger members of the population.  But the younger men tend to be quite rowdy at times, and always ready for a fight – and Tracy avoids that kind of stuff like the plague.  If he gets a cellmate who wants to fight, either with him or with other inmates, it will be trouble for Tracy, even if he has no involvement whatsoever.  That has happened before; his cellmate was acting up, and because he was mouthing off to the guard, he got a write up – a disciplinary action.  And since Tracy was present in the cell while that was happening, he got written up, too.  Totally unfair, but then, so is prison.  And that is just the way it is.

Anyway, I got to speak with him for exactly 6 minutes and 9 seconds before they flashed the lights (the signal for the inmates to “rack in” for the night), so he had to suddenly get off the phone and make a mad dash for his cell.  But I know we will speak tomorrow.  I just wish he was home.  He said they wrapped his knee very tight and that helped it feel better, so hopefully he’ll be able to sleep at least for a few hours tonight without waking up with screaming pain in his leg.  I will find out tomorrow…

Goodnight, Tracy.  I love you.

“Man Down”

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