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Untitled Prison Memoir

The Time I Shat on Myself. And No One Cared. Except for the smell.

I am HIV+. As a result I received required medical “treatment” whilst in prison. I use the quotes on purpose. Of ALL the doctors I saw – ONLY ONE treated me like a human being and worked to alleviate my suffering. He was also one of only two correctional officers to *ever* shake my hand. Dr. Berrios single-handedly fought the Bureau of Prisons to get me HIV medication when I did not meet their standards for “having AIDS.” They are THAT behind on research to believe that in order to need an ARV drug you must be already in the throes of AIDS. Crazy, right? I fought with the doctors for over three years to get past that, and would not have succeeded had it not been for Dr. Berrios. He gave me life.
Thanks guy. 🙂
But this story isn’t about him, it’s about another situation involving a different doctor.
And me shitting myself.
I had been incarcerated for less than six months, long enough to feel I had some grasp on the rules and procedures, but still new enough to rarely (if ever) question authority. I did what I was told, when I was told and hung my head down when I was unhappy with the results or the demands. At this point in November of 2007 I was being held in lieu of sentencing at the Tangipahoa Parish Jail – a true hellhole of a prison. Roach-infested and run by a “good ol’ boy” mentality the place is everything you know from Oz – without any attractive men. The food was often, if not always cold, occasionally had bugs floating in it and was only edible in the sense that you could chew it if you had no other choice. That it was cooked using free inmate labor and cheaply purchased second hand foods should come as no surprise.
I had not been “down” long enough to have many doctor’s visits at this point – lots of screenings, but no actual doctor sat down with me, reviewed a file and offered care. THis would be the first time. The prison had a Nurse Practitioner who prescribed medicines and whom you saw for “sick call” should you have minor ailments not requiring a visit to a hospital or clinic. This Nurse is who prescribed the proton-pump inhibitor medication to me (a generic form of Prevacid). When I was called out that day to report to Booking I had no idea it was for an HIV care referral. In booking I was handcuffed, leg cuffed and had a chain wrapped around my waist which was then attached to the handcuffs. I wore an orange jumpsuit with sweat shorts, a white tshirt and boxers underneath. I had only orange plastic slippers as shoes, though thankfully I could afford socks.
After being “restrained” I was loaded, alone, into the back of a passenger van whose windows were darkened with tint and backed by steel rebar. The separation between the front and back of the van was also rebar covered in shatterproof plastic. A deputy from the jail, whose name I was neither given nor would have remembered, drove the van. He had a bushy mustache and cut grass on the side. Apparently being a soul-sucking minion of the state injustice machine doesn’t pay enough. Who knew?
The Nurse had put me on the generic Prevacid two days earlier as a replacement for the Zantac I had been taking for about four years straight. My combined diet coke, coffee, sugar and crystal meth addictions left my stomach in raw knots at times and the only thing that ever seemed to work (because giving up those things? Yeah right!) was to take Zantac in ever increasing doses. Unfortunately Tangipahoa did not offer Zantac and would not without a prescription. THough it was sold over the counter and some such medications could be purchased via the Commissary then, Zantac was not among them. The Nurse, in his wisdom, refused my request and instead granted one I had not requested, likely because it was cheaper for the prison. The aforementioned Prevacid.
This did not help my stomach. Yet the day of the doctor’s referral it wasn’t bad at first, a little grumbly, a little sore, but nothing I could not handle. I acutally felt good. THe day was crisp, but not cold, I had recently gotten in a boatload of my own Robert Jordan books to read, I had access to a cellphone I could use to receive calls from Caleb (a wholly different shit story in of itself!) and money from my mother and sister Michelle for goodies on the Commissary. I could not really watch TV and I lived with extremely violent men who would as soon beaten me as rape me (yet another shitty story!) but all in all, it wasn’t terrible. Even the evening onslaught of roaches crawling out of the circulation vents was tolerable after a few weeks.
As the van bounced down the highway towards Lallie Kemp Regional Hospital my stomach suddenly and wretchedly dropped. The feeling was not unlike the downward side of a large hill on a roller coaster. I knew what was coming next.
“Excuse me, Boss?” I asked (even after only a short time down I had taken to the norms of calling deputies “Boss” when I wanted their help and “Deputy Sheriff” when I wanted to be a shit to them.)
Boss grunted in response. I imagine his mustache must have twitched. He had just been telling me a story of how beat-up-tired he was from working two jobs – one of which involved lawn care – and giving me the left-handed slap of a compliment that I *must* be enjoying having to “not work” for my “room and board.”
“I need to use the bathroom.” I said.
“We almost there, son.” the man said. Not unkindly, but rather how one might address the child of person one really does not like.
“I don’t think it can wait.” I said, softly.
“It just gonna have to. Ain’t nowhere to stop, unless you failed to notice, you an inmate. I cain’t let you piss at no McDonald’s.”
“I don’t have to piss, Boss.” I replied. Sheepishly. “Number 2. Bad.”
At this point my stomach has started gurgling, quite audibly, and there is a restrictive pain around my duodenum. I’m clenching my butt cheeks together with as much grace and force as the bouncing van, leg/waist chains and circumstance will allow. It is not working.
“Well shit.” the man said.
I blinked. Was this a command? A commiseration? A blithe dismissal? What punctuation could I insert into his comment to give me direction? His tone offered none. The van bounced over a particularly rough patch of asphalt.
And my control slipped. Not a fraction, but totally.
I shat freely.
Not a pleasant, English country-side, Anne of Green Gables shit, but a watery, foul-smelling and toxic shit which burned like acid. Because, well, that’s exactly what it was.
The generic Prevacid had done something to my stomach and now I was reaping the rewards. As the funk drifted forward, the shatterproof glass could not keep it away, Boss made a loud noise of disgust.
That was it. Nothing more.
A full twenty minutes later we pulled into Lallie Kemp Hospital. My backside was sodden and my clothes stuck to me. Boss put the van in park and got out to open the side door. He helped me down, wrinkling his nose at the disgusting smell wafting off me – he did not offer to remove my chains.
Holding me firmly by an elbow, Boss led into the hospital. I hung my head in shame as we passed through hallways of people waiting, knowing they had to be watching as I passed, staring at the grotesque spot of wetness that must be covering my backside. I imagined their thoughts:
“Who did he kill?”
“I can’t believe criminals get medical treatment!”
“Did he shit on himself?”
“No more than he deserves.”
“Where are my kids?”
“What a loser.”
“Did he shit on himself?”
I suppose I had other thoughts to accompany the shame and uncomfortable sensation of wet shit trickling down my legs, but I cannot now remember them. Boss led me out of a door and to my surprise I saw the van in the distance. We could have walked along the outside paths, but for some reason – habit maybe? – Boss had specifically taken me past the groups of people. Perhaps he enjoyed my humiliation. Perhaps it was simply that he was so checked out he could imagine no other way. Neither explanation would shock me and neither excludes the other.
Still holding to my elbow Boss led me to a set of back buildings, actually opening the door for me as we entered. Such a gentleman!
Inside were a small coterie of very shy people. Perhaps not so shy – perhaps they just did not want to be noticed. After all I was now in a clinic for HIV patients in a small town (Hammond, LA) – a place where having HIV was synonymous with sin and consequence. At least I judged it so, then. No one met my eyes. THey did however wrinkle their noses.
The nurse behind the makeshift desk, a large stack of files looming behind her, looked up at us with disinterest. She clearly saw enough inmates that the sight of one all blinged out was not unusual. Like everyone else, she did smell me, judging by her wide open nostrils and curled lip. Or maybe she just had an innate disgust at the criminal justice system.
“You’ll have to take a seat…” Nurse Grumble said. “The Doctor isn’t here yet.”
“Um, Boss…I need to use the bathroom…” I said.
Boss eyed me up and down. A look of pure, dedicated consideration.
“This way.”
He led me to a bathroom, uncuffed my hands from the waist chain, uncuffed one wrist and gave me the gimlet eye. “Be quick about it. And nothing funny, ok guy?”
I expected Boss to see himself out and shut the door. He did not. He saw himself IN and shut the door behind himself. Boss sidled into the corner and watched as I undid my jumpsuit and managed – barely – to pull it off my shoulders. It was stuck to my ass and the back of my legs. The sound it made when it came off was sort of like a mashup between a pop and a slap. I did not really WANT to look down at my underwear, but I had to. My pale knees shook and bunched around my ankles, surrounded by orange bunting, were a pair of white boxers with a massive, slightly crusty and drying puddle of greyish brown filth. Little bits of something clung to the fabric. Somehow, my gorge did not rise. I glanced up to see if Boss was watching, remembering his admonition to “Be quick about it” and unsure if I would be punished for daydreaming at my own shit stain. He was cleaning his fingernails with an attachment from his key ring. He must have sensed me looking at him.
“You almost done there, son?”
“I haven’t even sat down.” I said to the floor as I reached for toilet paper in what would be a vain effort to clean my ass free of muck.
“Well get a move on, we can’t miss your appointment.”
“I need to clean myself up…I..” I stuttered. The evidence was wafting in the air alongside the proof in the boxers below, yet to actually say it aloud – to admit that I had shat myself and to not some random person but to Boss, to the man in charge of holding me prisoner, to the very symbol of my decline and defeat – was harder than I could ever have imagined. “shit myself.”
“Well that’s obvious there, son.” Boss said, a creeping note of softness entering his tone. “Go on.”
But of course there was little to be done aside from wiping. There was only toilet paper and a sink and hand soap. I managed to clean my ass off as my stomach grumbled with impending doom. Wiping down the boxers was not as easy and I had to settle for just get as much of the mess up as I could. Surprisingly, Boss did not try again to rush me, allowed me what I imagined was a full ten minutes of free, if it can be called such while bound in chains, time to clean up.
As I pulled my slopped boxers up, Boss said, “All better?”
How to answer? Was there an answer? Clearly I had only imagined his momentary softness or perhaps it had simply been exactly that: momentary. Unsustainable. A recently broken down and incarcerated meth addict with HIV I intimately understood the word “unsustainable.” I empathized with him. He let me button my jumpsuit and then reattached the handcuffs to the waist chain, led me by the elbow out of the small bathroom.
Some two hours later I was seen by a tired-looking, only vaguely disinterested doctor. He asked me routine questions.
How long had I been positive? How many times had I shot heroin? Did I engage in male to male sexual activity? And finally, thankfully, but with little grace…
“Are you currently having any problems…?”
“Well yes, actually, Boss.”
“Don’t call me that, it’s Doctor.”
“Um, yes, sir. Doctor. I…I used the bathroom on myself earlier. Number Two.”
I figured using the word shit, even though I could still smell it, might be inappropriate. I wondered how the “Doctor” had not smelled it and found it necessary to ask?
“Does this happen often?” he asked. In the corner Boss took a phone call and barked out times and prices. I heard him distantly, not really processing the content of his words.
“No sir. This is the first time.”
Not true. Just the first time today. A long time meth addict who had engaged in all kinds of odd sexual pecadillos had not only shit on myself (and others!) numerous times, I had done it unintentionally in public enough times that though I could not remember the last phone number I’d owned, I instantly remembered the last time I’d committed such a party foul. Still that was so not what “Doctor” was asking. So I answered as expected. I’d already told one doctor long before about my weird sexual past and it hadn’t turned out so well, funnily enough that story was about stomach problems too.
“Tell me what medications you’re on…do you take Prevacid?”
“They just started me on a generic version a few days ago.” I replied, pleased at his guess, which likely was not a guess at all.
“Figures. Proton-pump inhibitors sometimes do this to people in your condition. What were you taking before?”
“Zantac.”
“And that worked for you?”
“Yes.”
“OK. I’ll write you a prescription for that. Anything else?”
I stared.
That’s it? The “Doctor” had already turned away from me and begun writing on a pad of paper. I suppose he had given me not just what I needed, but what I wanted, yet all told the visit had lasted less than five minutes. All the waiting, soaking in my own slightly damp shit and that’s it? Shouldn’t he have told Boss to undo the chains and let me get out of my dirty clothes? Shouldn’t he…do SOMETHING? My stomach grumbled as the “Doctor” wrote, but it was drowned out by Boss barking into his phone.
“We all done here?” Boss said as he closed his clamshell flip phone.
“Yes.” the “Doctor” said handing an envelope to Boss with a practiced hand before he walked out of the room.
“Let’s go inmate. And try not to shit on yourself again until you get back to the prison.”

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