Post-Prison Memories: The Hospital

After being sexually assaulted by a cellmate, transferred from HMP Bedford to HMP Norwich to HMP Isis (inside Belmarsh’s wall), I collapsed physically and mentally. My diet, being largely vegan, had been insufficient. It is a struggle to maintain a vegetarian diet in prison, let alone veganism. Apples, oranges and the occasional soy yogurt were my daily bread for the first 60+ days. Once you arrive at a new prison you are moved at least twice before the administration “settles” you, and this is only if you have reached the terminus of your stay in Her Majesty’s care. This is most unsettling: imagine being chucked out of your house every couple of weeks, sent to a filthy place with shit on the walls, hair everywhere, and – if you’re extra lucky – blood stains on the walls, floors and sink!

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HMP Belmarsh & HMP Isis Image Courtesy of: The Daily Mail

Experiencing this, after months of disappointments, I collapsed at the end of September (2016). Awaking in the middle of the night, I found myself pulsating uncontrollably. The muscles, tendons and other bits of flesh under my skin were moving in waves from my head to toes; the most profound fear overcame me, and I thought death was approaching. My scalp itched with stress, my wrists burnt, and my legs shook. I was thin, dropping 10kg in two months and barely stabilizing. From 79kg at booking (15 July) to 69kg in two months. I felt bony. I could feel my bones on the wooden frame under my thin plastic sleeping mat. Talking to Alexander on the phone later that day (or week), I could feel a burning weight in my legs, arms and chest. I felt heavy. I went to the medical “hatch” where two so-called nurses, bitter hospital rejects, said come back, we’ll give you pain relief. Always paracetamol. Always. Broken arm? Paracetamol. Severed head? Paracetamol.

The only way to get any medical attention in prison, and even this is difficult, is to fall to the ground and not get up. I had tried this at HMP Bedford and the nurse told me to get up, called another nurse who looked at me, without any examination, and said you’re fine. Prison healthcare is an abomination in the UK, and I suspect it is bad in the US. I have been to county jail in the US, and it took an act of Alexander calling from London to get me my medications. Prison is a different story when compared to a US county jail, where holds are (usually) shorter. You aren’t going anywhere. Your life, at least for several months, sometimes years, is determined by these people. I felt so unwell, so ready to die, that I simply went to the medical hatch and collapsed in front of everyone. The guards called a “code blue” (meaning I needed an ambulance), and the sadistic nurse screamed over and over, “NO! He’s still breathing! He’s still breathing! He’s still breathing.” Having no training she didn’t know what to do, and neither did her colleague, another nurse. They stood there screaming. Other nurses arrived, one put some oxygen to my face and seemed to know a bit more. Nurses stood around saying “It must be Spice (a drug) … Yes definitely, Spice or some drug.” They laughed. They laughed and they mocked me as I laid on the ground. I can hear those laughs as I write this.

After the paramedics arrived the laughing and mocking stopped. Mustn’t act like that in front of people from the outside. It’s just a different world in here. We can’t show them what happens. Act professional. Give me the damn vitals. And so I was put into a wheelchair and taken to the hospital; I felt relief – finally I would see a real doctor. A senior officer had several questions for me: Your partner visited you today, didn’t he? Did he give you anything? (A sandwich, I said) Oh, you called your partner, where? (Mobiles are not allowed, I said: on that authorized prisoner phone). The questioning ended. I was in a chair being wheeled to the ambulance; then the cuffs. Handcuffs. And a blanket. The paramedics looked at me with distrust. Arriving at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, with two guards, I was shackled to one of the them via my right wrist. Patients looked at me in horror. A woman and her family quickly closed the curtain next to us. I wasn’t able to use the toilet by myself, so I had to piss into a large, hard gourd-shaped paper container. Oh, that’s a lot of urine, said another nurse, sent from the basement I would imagine; the National Health Service is under strain, and prisoners are at the bottom of the homo sapien rubbish heap. A few blood tests. You’re fine. I knew I wasn’t “fine.” Back to prison. My mind was buzzing with the freshness of just seeing the road, the outside, people dressed in clothing that wasn’t grey, wasn’t a track-suit, a mixed-gender environment where some people did smile, where people at least feigned to care. In prison, you are treated like scum on a daily basis. The hospital was an aperture to another world. For a moment I felt refreshed. It lasted for about half an hour after I arrived back in my cell.

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