Mark Hayward's City Matters: Prescription for trouble at Hillsborough County jail
Most everyone has their notion about how convicted criminals — especially child abusers — should be treated in prison.
Lock 'em up and throw away the key. Throw 'em in a cell with a sadistic, 300-pound lifer. Take a scalpel to their lower parts. The Valley Street Jail in Manchester has a new one: Don't give them the medication their doctor has prescribed.
That's the situation for Kevin Murray.
Murray, 50, has been in Valley Street since Feb. 20, following his conviction of felony sex crimes involving a young teenager.
According to letters he sends to his brother, the 50-year-old doesn't get his prescription medication for high blood pressure or his prescription inhalers. Four medications for depression and anxiety have been replaced with a single one.
He gets no lotion for a dry skin condition.
And what worries his brother, John Murray, the most, is that Kevin doesn't have access to Nexium, which counteracts bleeding stemming from an esophageal disorder that can lead to cancer.
In letters to his brother, Kevin Murray gives indication of internal bleeding.
"Day No. 4, no medication," reads a letter dated Feb. 23. "Saturday night I was curled up on the floor, fetal position. Nobody helped me. I was in pain all night, my breathing is acting up. No meds, my stool is black." (Doctors will tell you that black stool is a sign of internal bleeding.)
After eight days in the jail, Murray started getting an over-the-counter antacid, his brother said. And he was given a prescription medicine, Paxil, for anxiety. Nothing else.
"A doctor and nurse, they take an oath to care for people," said John Murray, a retired highway worker with the town of Merrimack. "Even if my brother wasn't in this mess, I'd be concerned. It's wrong. People shouldn't be denied their medications."
The medical unit at the Valley Street Jail has a troubling history. The jail has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits related to medical care. In 2008, the jail's long-time doctor was fired after he refused to follow a federal judge's order and give an inmate her medications.
And the head nurse at the jail, whose job is to run the medical unit, lacks an nursing license.
To be fair, jail Superintendent David Dionne said he can't have 500 doctors on the outside making medical decisions for each inmate. He said that once an inmates enters Valley Street, the jail puts in a request for the person's medical and pharmacy record. Once the information is received, a doctor can examine an inmate. But he's under the care of the jail, not his outside doctor. "Our doctor is now his doctor," Dionne said.
Dionne said doctors on the outside don't have as much oversight of a patient as the jail does. The jail quickly learns that a new inmate is an addict, and it cuts off his normal meds until the drugs are out of his system.
"They're not in the best of health when they come in here," Dionne said.
Dionne said confidentiality laws prevent him from discussing Murray. He said Murray could file a grievance with jail officials. Or he could write Dionne a letter.
That may be how it's supposed to work, but the weak link is the nurses, according to Mike, a former inmate who did not want his last name used. If the nurse doesn't like you or doesn't think you need medical care, you suffer, Mike said.
In the latter part of the 2000s, Mike helped inmates file habeas corpus petitions to challenge the jail's medical decisions. In one 2008 case, a judge ordered an inmate released or his medicine provided for anxiety, night terrors and post-traumatic stress.
"It's a sad state of affairs there," Mike said.
Murray's physician's office — St. Joseph Family Medical Center — wouldn't speak about Murray, or even its experience with the Valley Street Jail in general. A physician at Manchester Community Health Center said she hears complaints from her patients once they leave Valley Street.
Some complain about substitution of prescriptions. Sometimes that can be OK, depending on the substitute, said Dr. Laura Fry, associate medical director of the clinic.
"Some of the stories: what do you believe, and what don't you believe?" Fry said.
Meanwhile, John Murray said he doesn't know where to turn. He said his brother is losing weight; he has no teeth and doesn't have enough time to eat the jail food. (Dionne said Murray can request a special diet.) His skin condition is getting worse. And his letters grow more desperate.In his most recent letter, Murray said he was brought to the medical unit and harangued by a lieutenant and nurses for disrespecting a nurse.
"I started to cry again I started to apologize for complaining about stomach ache," he wrote.
He told the lieutenant that the nurses took an oath to care for patients, and his lack of care was unethical and immoral. The lieutenant said his crime was unethical and immoral.
He asked about seeing a doctor. Not today, the lieutenant said.
"They took me back to my cell," Murray wrote, "and I cried myself to sleep."
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.