A California Jail Is Torturing My Brother to Death

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Common Dreams

A California Jail Is Torturing My Brother to Death

A sister fights for the life of her brother who she says is being tortured by medical officials at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California. (Public domain)

On Thursday April 17 my brother Brad was on his way to a baseball game in SF with an old college friend of mine. Kathleen would tell me later that the message on her cell phone was short and to the point—he couldn’t make it, something had come up. I introduced Kathleen to my brother in the visiting room at San Quentin State Prison. Even though the trek there always involved bad food, arbitrary authority, long lines and hours of waiting, she came with me frequently and over the years our long conversations made them goods friends. Brad was finally paroled after 34 years. He had been “breathing free air” as he likes to say, for 6 months when she got the call saying he wasn’t gong to make it to the game.

That morning the parole officer came to the half-way house in Oakland where Brad was living and also cooking breakfast for the mostly young, African American men housed there as an alternative to incarceration. When I visited the month he got out, one of them told me how much he liked Brad, who was also doing some mentoring with them. Tucker, the parole officer, took Brad to Santa Rita Jail, Dublin, in Alameda County based on alleged traces of THC in a drug test." Though 67, and much worse for the wear of 34 years inside, Brad had been healthy and happy that morning before he was arrested and entered the facility.

My niece Elena got up at 6 am to make the drive from Tracy over the Altamont Pass for the 8am phone visit behind glass in Santa Rita Jail. It was Saturday morning—Brad had been there for almost 2 days. An IT business engineer not given to hyperbole, Elena’s words in the email when she got back were chilling,

Brad’s in pretty bad shape. He has not been given any of his prescriptions since he has been in, including his blood pressure meds or painkillers. I don't know how much more physical stress he can endure, much less the mental - he looks pale and shaky and frail.” 

My brother was enduring forced, cold-turkey withdrawal from morphine. In San Quentin he was started on 100mgs of morphine 3x a day to deal with the constant pain of a botched knee replacement that blew out the blood circulation in his leg, which is now covered in huge bubbled veins. The first time he showed it to me in Quentin I almost vomited. He also tests positive for hepatitis C.

I frantically called the jail and told the attendant that my brother was not getting his medication and was ill. I waited on hold, endlessly. When she returned she said he had missed “pill call” that morning but had his meds now. I believed her because I wanted to. I couldn’t bear the thought of him in the pain of withdrawal. He told me many times how finely he calculates taking his meds to avoid the onset of pain.

Easter day was sunny and beautiful and I tried not to worry. I waited for Monday when the San Francisco lawyer I hired, John Stringer, would go to see him. Because of the time difference between New York and California, his email came in late that night:  

I am sorry to tell you that Brad is receiving NO meds at the jail and is in very bad shape.  I have faxed a letter to Dr. Watson, his treating physician in Oakland, asking him for help and I will be sending a letter to the Sheriff, but Santa Rita is notorious for this type of treatment.  I am also sending a request to Sacramento asking for the hold to be dropped and for immediate release.  All of you should bombard the Sheriff's office with requests for medication.

On Tuesday morning I exploded in into action in a state of rage, despair, anguish and the realization that the state of California might finally succeed in claiming the life of my brother, something they had tried to do for so long. The words of one of the members of the parole board that finally released him rang in my ears. She told Brad, some of the old lifers like you shouldn’t even be on parole since you’ve done so much extra time. Their assessment of how much time Brad should have done for the crime he committed was 11 years. Brad did more time than most murderers for a crime in which no one was injured. I came to understand long ago that Brad was a political prisoner. I kicked myself for not hiring the lawyer earlier to challenge the conditions of his parole. I called the jail again.

I got through to the charge nurse after 2 hours and she said they wouldn't give him any "controlled substances" and that he was on a "withdrawal protocol" under a doctor's care. Throughout the contentious conversation I challenged her in every way, emphasizing that they were incapable of giving him the care he needed and he should be immediately hospitalized. When I said you’re forcing a painful withdrawal against his will she snickered and said he had no rights to give consent. She hung up on me. When I recounted the call to my lawyer, Stringer said, “The jail doctor laughed at Bradley.” A day later Stringer filed a public entity claim to compel the jail to provide care stating, “SRCJ personnel have ignored his current medical state and have actually laughed at him when told of the dire pain he is experiencing.” That’s when I knew they were actually torturing him.

In my state of wild anxiety I started writing. I faxed letters to the Alameda Country Sheriffs office that runs the jail, and sent a duplicate to Brad’s doctor, pleading with him to intervene and call the jail. When I finally got through to the doc’s office the secretary’s voice reached out and said, we like Brad so much. "He’s always so polite." They would try to help.

On Wednesday an Alameda County Sheriff called me, responding to my threats of litigation. My letter had pointed out that they were violating 3 out of 4 health standards requirement of the US Marshals including, excessive pain not controlled by medication. I included a link to a report about the Riker’s guard who was charged for denying medical care to a prisoner. He explained in a controlled tone that they couldn’t release Brad, so he couldn’t go to a hospital and they had rules and protocols. He said he had seen my brother personally. When I described Brad’s condition as, “on death’s door,” he did not disagree. I emphasized that Brad had been in good health when he went in less than a week ago. He told me their doctor was now talking to Dr. Watson. When I asked why I had to make that happen all the way from New York he said, well that’s good “you’re taking care of your family.”

A few minutes later Tucker, the parole officer called me for the first time. I had left up to 4 angry, clenched-teeth messages. He agreed that Brad was a nice guy and was doing well. I argued with his various justifications like “he knew what would happen.” Outraged, I said you think he deserves to die? Even if he did smoke pot, it’s being decriminalized. In the end he said defensively, “You ask Brad how I am, he won’t bad mouth me.” I said, “No, of course Brad wouldn’t bad mouth you. He’s a really nice guy. He’s a loving, decent person.” He muttered and then the banality evil spoke through the phone line. “Well, in the end, I’m just doing my job.”

By Friday, April 25, my lawyer, the Alameda County DA, and the Public Defender, who represented Brad at his hearing, were shocked and fearful of his medical state. Another court date was set for May 9 and Brad was sent back to the jail to endure more of this treatment. I do not believe he will survive.

My last letter to the Sheriff was an exposé of the for-profit Tennessee based medical contractor who is presently torturing my brother in the Santa Rita Jail. Corizon has been sued 660 times for malpractice in the past five years. A class-action lawsuit was brought against Corizon on behalf of Idaho inmates that charged extreme cases of negligent care over 30 years. Indeed, the Philadelphia Enquirer reports that Corizon "has been accused of neglecting patients in many states."

Prisoners jailed for minor charges have died from mistreatment. Three Corizon nurses and two prison officials were accused of negligence in the death of a 32-year-old man at Lino Lakes Correctional Facility. Xavius Scullark-Johnson died in his cell in Rush City, Minnesota. The reason the Corizon nurse gave for not calling an ambulance are the exact reasons Santa Rita Jail and Alameda Sheriffs give me for not providing the care Brad needs—cost cutting, profit-making "protocols."

Brad is being ground up by a corrupt system of monetized brutality, expressed at every level from state contracts, to law enforcement, to the individuals—the nurses, the doctor, the parole officer, the Sheriff—all so involved in its daily expression of cruelty that they can engage in torture and call it "protocol." All I can do is keep fighting them, and as the doctor and lawyer advise, keep calling the Santa Rita Jail.

Robin Andersen

Dr. Robin Andersen is Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University. In addition, she directs Fordham's M.A. Program in Public Communication and the Peace and Justice Studies Program. Contact her by email: andersen [at] fordham.edu

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