Cognitive impairments, disabilities affecting communication, and laws designed to prevent prisoners from filing "frivolous" lawsuits against their keepers - like the Clinton-era Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) - make it extremely difficult for some individuals to assert their rights behind bars. I received the following letter from one such prisoner nearly two years ago, when I didn't really know what I was doing, and I wasn't much help to him. It was somewhat outdated then, and getting updates from Daniel has been hard, I presume because he depends on the kindness of others to help him write. The last letter I sent him was July 23; I haven't heard back yet. As I understand it, though, not much has changed for him.
According to his record, on November 2, 2001, Daniel killed three people. I don't know how; I always presumed it was in the accident in which he was so badly injured himself, since the convictions were for manslaughter. That's a lot of devastation to cause in one fell swoop...and to live with, for both the survivors and the one who destroyed those lives.
Daniel was sentenced to three consecutive ten year terms in state prison for his crimes. He has lost his freedom, been exiled from society, and grown estranged from his family as a consequence of his actions. Short of death, incarceration and lifetime felonization are the most severe penalties we can hand out to people; incarceration is in itself a special kind of torture. Prisoners of war and kidnap victims are treated for PTSD even if they were well cared for by their captors, because simply being involuntarily seized and imprisoned causes terror and trauma. We don't need to add individualized torment and humiliation on top of what we have already decided to dish out to those we have imprisoned. That is cruel and unusual, and barred by the US Constitution for a reason. It's not just becuase of what it does to them when prisoners are neglected or abused- it's because of what it does to us, too. Our own humanity is diminished in the process of doing so to another.
When I received Daniel's letter I spent my energy trying to get help from the organizations that I thought were supposed to intervene in cases like his, to no avail. What I learned in my quest was that the DOJ answers almost every SOS from prisons with a form letter denying any intent to investigate, and the resources of the American Civil Liberties Union are quite limited. The Arizona Center for Disability Law - which is the only Protection and Advocacy agency in the state for people with disabilities refused at the time to serve disabled individuals in custody, simply because they were in prison. As far as I know, except for lending technical assistance and the weight of their P&A authority to the Parsons v Ryan litigation, they still don't serve disabled prisoners. I called a few attorneys at the time but found no takers; Daniel, of course, can't afford to retain one, so they'd need to be willing to take his case on pro bono.
The ACLU-AZ and ACDL now have their hands full in with Parsons v Ryan, the class action suit they're pursuing against the AZ Department of Corrections for substandard health care. Hopefully that will ultimately help prisoners like Daniel. But any settlement or judgement that comes out of it - if there is one - will be years down the road - he's suffering now, and the degree to which he can regain any functioning through physical therapy declines with time.
The matter of accommodating people with disabilities for moral and legal reasons aside, someday this man will be free again, and totally dependent on public benefits if we can't help him engage in rehabilitative activity and learn to compensate for his disabilities soon. Daniel was 19 when this tragedy happened that landed him in prison; he will only be 47 when he is released, according to his earliest supervised release date. He can still be productive and contribute to his community once free - unless we leave him to waste away in prison as he has been, growing more dependent and more bitter with the passing of the years.
I believe the conditions of confinement that Daniel has endured, as well as the neglect of his requests for reasonable accommodations, are an egregious violation of the Americans' with Disabilities Act, and he has suffered both physical and psychological harm that was not intended by his sentencing judge as a result. If there are any attorneys or disability rights advocates reading this now who think they may be in a position to help this man, please contact me, Peggy Plews, at 480-580-6807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was shot in the back twice with a 357 magnum. I lost 1 kidney, 3 feet of intestine, piercing my liver and stomach as well. I went out the back window of a vehicle at over 90 mph, split my head open & was in a coma for over 6 weeks. I suffered severe brain & nerve trauma, as well as collapsed a lung, needed a trayek, stomach tube to be fed, tore every ligament in left leg, shattered my right femor, which was replaced. Destroyed 2 bones in left arm, got replaced, destroyed all 3 major nerves & all tendons in left arm as well. I also had a catheter, which was never supposed to be taken out because of the severe brain damage I acquired, & I urinated on myself for well over 9 months, at least 100 times a day, & frequently still do. Never was I supposed to walk either. So, in 2002 I came to prison, 1 year after my accident. I fell on my face 100 times a day, crippled people fall much harder than normal people with balance, all the while urinating on myself, only able to take a shower every other day.
I never got info, help or therapy for any of my disabilities. I loved my family very much, needing to hear from them, so I began my sessions of pure painful frustration to regain my writing ability. I would have to write twice a day everyday, painfully, bloody blisters is what I created just to keep the ability I acquired, which was garbage. And, to create the garbage, I would have to press down really hard to stop my hand from shaking, creating a wound, that had to be broke open that night or I would lose the garbage ability I created. I even developed a way of stopping the blisters from being created. I had to buy constant bandaids, which we could only buy 1 pack of 10 a week, so I had to get other people to buy every week as well, so I didn’t lose the garbage ability I acquired, what was at least readable if you focused & were able to see thru the blood. I was unable to tie my shoes, so that made a lot of things more difficult. Was unable to brush teeth or any other things that needed two hands or required fine motor skills, which I just found out was one of my major disabilities, 7 years being in prison. I was unable to communicate with my family, friends or loved ones. I missed all of my daughter’s baby years growing up regardless, but not even being able to hear about them because I couldn’t write & correspond was torture!
Any little cold or medical problem I was automatically denied treatment for because of not even being able to fill out an HNR. In ’03, I started to acquire small cuts on my fingers and mouth that would not heal & were very painful. I couldn’t imagine what they were from until I just presumed they were from not drinking enough water & only having 1 kidney. So I got someone to fill out an HNR & made it to the doctor, who confirmed my theory. So, I drank more water, but the cuts kept appearing, so I drank more water & the cuts on my fingers & mouth kept showing up becoming more & more painful.
So, once again I begged to have an HNR filled out the doctor said I wasn’t drinking enough water. So, I could never get this simple, yet very painful problem taken care of. And, I was drinking several gallons of water a day & was just dealing with crazy pain from such a simple problem. All the while continually falling on my face pissing on myself that much more, smelling up the runs until I made it to a 4 yard. Then it was just my cell stinking, getting my cellie made at me! Getting in numerous fights physically with my cellies, as well non-stop arguments, being physically & verbally abused.
That is about the time I started to see the dentist on my several years of not being able to brush my teeth properly. My many years of painful cavities & the painful fillings they created, numerous fillings and root canals. Now, Dec 31st ’09, I got two painful cuts on my lip that will not heal, still I’m getting these cuts on my lips from brain trauma! Starting in ’03 D.O.C. began to start their continual denial of treatment & cause suffering & pain from not listening to me when I said I cannot have my finger nails clipped like a normal person & they’d bleed if they were. So, every month the nurses would clip my nails & make them bleed, despite my attempts to get them filed. That happened until the supervisor nurse Nash at Rincon unit in ’07 paid attention to the nurses constantly making me bleed & my yelps from the pain every month, sometimes it needed to be done twice a month & she got myself the info I needed to fill out to get a pumice stone. So, I ended up only having to have the intentional pain of having my fingers clipped by D.O.C. FOR ABOUT 4 YEARS.
Now, it’s ‘09& I’ve been trying to get an arm brace since ’07 to stop the constant atrophy from turning my left arm into a ball. And, it’s now Dec 31st ’09 & my arm is curling up in a ball, killing me. I’ve been approved from the doctor that works for D.O.C. to have a cell mate assistant since ’06 & numerous deputy wardens have refused their own physician’s prescriptions & the o DW now Jacobs. I’ve talked to her several times & she says, “it will be taken care of when she finds the time, there’s other more important things.” & that’s why I have to go without communication with my family, friends & loved ones during the holidays, brushing my teeth, functioning without having to beg to have my shoes tied, being able to turn in HNR’s or any inmate letters.
It’s 1/1/10, & still no brace for my arm. I can literally feel it curling as I’m writing these words. In ’03 I started to have a severe pain in my right testicle, so I begged to have a C.O. fill out an HNR, being in SMU, I made it to the doctor who said it was just a hydrocele & I wasn’t going to die. The next couple years it grew larger & larger, giving more & more pain, as well making it that much more difficult to rehabilitate by myself with no therapy until finally it didn’t just beat me up both physically & mentally, but making every single other thing harder to function, but broke me down physically & I collapsed in ’06.
The nurses came took my vitals, put me on a lay in over the weekend & seen the doctor Monday, who said I’d live. In ’08 on a Friday my testicle was the size of a baseball & forced me to the ground again & I was taken to medical again, told I was going to live, given a lay in until I see the doctor on Monday. Sunday came around & it forced me to the ground again with unbearable pain. I went to the hospital in an ambulance this time, where the doctor told me I definitely needed surgery, but he couldn’t perform if I was going to live unless D.O.C. approved it. I was taken back to prison & after was told my surgery was approved. I was told by the surgeon that there was a large percentage of the hydrocele returning after surgery if I continued my rehabilitation with no therapy. So, with the mental stress from having a baseball for a testicle for 6 long years & the constant physical pain & from it making everything so hard to work on rehabilitation myself on my own I was manipulated by D.O.C’s negligence into having one of my testicles removed!
In ’09 I was told by Ms. Mongia, a 504 representative that works for D.O.C. that I was supposed to be provided physical therapy for my arm, as well for my other physical therapy needed, my writing, brushing my teeth, feeding myself, walking, running, as well for occupational therapy. So, I turned in a HNR asking for, which was returned with the response this is not an ADA yard, where I wouldn’t get no therapy, occupational nor physical, as well would be denied my physical access & movement, which is mandatory I’ve learned for people with severe brain & nerve trauma like I possess. Which was like when I was placed in SMU & Central unit with no movement & I kept losing my movement abilities over & over, which were beyond impossible to establish, especially without therapy, instruction or even a direction or just an opinion.
I received a First Level Appeal Response to answer my inmate First Level Appeal that I wrote on Oct. 21 ’09, today 1/7/09. Stating, that it’s been noted that I’ve received treatment over the last year to accommodate my disabilities, which included the issuing of knee sleeves, an arm brace, and recent steps to replace an arm brace due to irreparable damage. Also stating, I’ve been evaluated and diagnosed for a sore right shoulder incurred as an injury after my participation in repetitive pull-ups. I’ve requested adjustments on my arm brace since ’07 & got documentation of continual pleas since 5/12/09, several, and have all just sent me around in circles. I’ve gone to the HUB several times since ’07 being fitted for a new arm brace & continually apologized to by different medical personnel employed by D.O.C. for D.O.C. not sticking with a company, not allowing them to do their job by letting them come to work to do their job & still haven’t received a brace.
The knee sleeves I was issued by my request, supposing that they would probably help me not get arthritis if my knees are constantly popping. My arm brace finally was taken & I was seen for replacement in Nov., I still haven’t received a replacement, all the while, like it has been for the past 7 years, except in ’06 when I got an arm brace, my arm is literally killing me from pain & curling up in a ball. I haven’t received any kind of physical or occupational therapy, which I was made aware I qualified for because of my impairments & to request for by a Ms. Mungia, a 504 personnel employed by D.O.C. in June of ’09. I requested & my response was this is not an A.D.A. yard. The injury in my shoulder I got was from pull ups, which were done to somehow stretch the tendons, self sufficiency therapy, since no therapy was being provided, as well a step approved by the supervisor nurse Larry, who stated my arm would be so much more crippled from all the atrophy & having no brace, no therapy if I wasn’t doing them.