When my recruiter called and asked me if I’d like to do an assignment in Corrections an hour outside of Flagstaff, Az, all I heard was the Flagstaff Az part. I would be closer to my three out of four kids and rest of family and I had been up in Crescent City, Ca (most northern city, five miles shy of Oregon) for several months. I finished work on a Wednesday evening, 1500 miles away, hit the highway on Thursday morning because I was to start at the new assignment on Monday morning, when I really started thinking about the word……”Corrections”……meaning “Prison”…..well, I thought to myself, with an inmate population of over 1800, I would be working with another provider OBVIOUSLY, so I was okey dokee….love that team work thing.
I could literally write a book on my seven month experience at the Winslow State Prison but I will keep it blog worthy. Even now I can sit back and think “what the HELL…….”
I had a couple days training, quickly came into the realization that I would be the ONLY provider for this massive group in orange pajamas. The first week I got used to finding things, everything being locked, and that dreadful sound of doors slamming shut and locking behind you. A sea of orange everywhere you looked. “Hey Doc!! What are we gonna do about my __________” (fill in the blank here with any ailment you could possibly imagine) as I walked down what felt like “the green mile” every morning to the gate I got to open with keys that all looked the same to get into the Medical building. This was all gonna be ok….right?
Yes….it was true…..I was living and working right smack in the middle of an episode of “Prison Break”. All the characters were there. I played the Dr. girl in the white coat, there were the racial groupings with the leaders, the staff and the CO’s. Yep….Prison Break. The only difference is there was no Scoffield, and the prison wasn’t brick. Oh boy…..but still…..an awesome staff, very friendly, very funny, and a routine that I could handle. This truly was gonna be ok……
Then? Reality…..yes Tink, you do work in a prison…..
One of my very first days of working by myself I was looking for some form and went across the hall from my office and exam room to the main hub where all the nurses worked and the CO’s had their working area…..I looked out of the window and saw a sea of orange kinda float into one big massive pile out on the yard as all kinds of walkie talkies were blowing up with language I did not understand (no new employee orientation for me until I was there for months) so I stood there, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, saying “what the heck is going on???”….One word, said in unison…..
*Enter flashback to an episode of Prison Break that was filled with blood and shanks and weapons made out of everything possibly imaginable…..but thats television right?*
All I could seem to mutter was “What do I do?” Answer? “Go to the ER and we will start bringing in bodies……”
It took about two seconds for my brain to flip that switch from deer in the headlights, not really knowing anyone, the routine, or where anything was, into my ICU/ER alter ego and ran into the small ER within the medical building. I looked at three gurneys, equipment against the wall, over the bed procedure lights, and a wall covered with cupboards….and then? Yep, the bodies started coming in.
I won’t describe the full event, because quite honestly, I don’t remember details it was so quick. I felt like an air traffic control person, directing traffic and doing quick triage. Everyone was cut or stabbed, the worst being a carotid artery, but there were quite a few bodies that were either brought in, treated or bussed out in ambulances. It was surreal.
That was the first week.
I was there for a total of seven months. There were a total of three riots while I was there. The worst in my book was the one where there were loads of inmates brought into that little ER but very little blood. Just little holes in bodies. Come to find out the damage was caused by pieces of fence that were slowly but surely worked off as small pieces, wrapped around the middle finger and bent down the palm to not be seen and the when whoever was leader gave the signal, the fence pieces were bend and turned to stick straight up from the fist and with every punch there was a stab wound. Kidneys, spleens and lungs were all stabbed. Again, thankful for my ICU/ER years where you could quickly see internal bleeds…….
To sum it up:
I never got used to orange, I still have an aversion to the color. I worked harder than I ever could have imagined. I learned more than I ever thought I would. I saw squandering of state funds. Underpaid employees responsible for great feats in a dangerous environment. I saw tax money being spent on a high percentage of Mexican illegals. The Mexican cartel is alive and well in our American prison system. That prison is a world of its own with its own language, rules, and heirarchy within the prison walls with the inmates. That the gang mentality and behavior was a daily thing, the ethnic groups were clearly divided, ran their own side businesses, and somehow communicated with their outside counterparts, even in other prisons. Saw more tattoos that I thought was humanly possible. Became an expert on Hepatitis C. That drug availability is easier within the walls than out. That not ALL prison inmates are bad. And that I worked with the best group of people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
Not sure I would ever repeat the experience. Top story you ask? Well prepare yourself because to me? It was the infamous MARBLE MAN, who had surgically implanted a full sized marble into the shaft of his you know what with a RAZOR BLADE, it had been there for five months, became severely infected and wanted me to “get it out”…….I had no words. To the ER he went. No way…….
You can’t say what I do for a living is dull…..
Until next time……Cheers!
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