Ages In Prison

By: Mike Powers

When I was arrested in 2004, I was 34 years old. It was the first time I was ever in trouble with the law outside of traffic tickets. I was healthy as a horse, and thanks to my bicycle, the arthritis in my knees wasn’t giving any trouble. I’d ice my knees after a hard game of basketball, but I wasn’t ever taking any pain meds for it. Prison has certainly taken its toll on my body.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess anyone would be feeling it going from 34 to 47. Thirteen years is thirteen years, after all. I was a young man when locked up, and now I’m almost “over-the-hill”.

I had my fourth knee surgery while in prison, and that put an end once and for all to my basketball “career”. It was fun while it lasted, and even now, from time to time, I come out of retirement, but believe you me, I suffer for it. It usually takes me two to three days to start walking like a human again when I try it. But one of the problems in here is there are no low-impact exercises available. The closest thing I have to that is walking in circles, and I got to tell you, I HATE walking in circles. When I made bond and retained Francisco, he told me, “I want you to start running two miles daily.” He explained that it would greatly reduce my stress and help me get in shape for whatever was coming - a trial and anything else after that. Well, if you knew me at all, you’d know just how much these words meant to me, because for all of my hatin of walking or running, about a month after this conversation, I’d worked up to running two miles a day. I like the bike so much better, though. I feel like I’m getting somewhere on a bike, and I don’t have to walk like a zombie the rest of the day, all stiff-legged.

But in here, there is no bicycling, of course. There’s no swimming. No skating. No low-impact cardio at all. That is a big part of some of the trouble I’m having these days. Yeah, I’m thirteen years older, but you’re only as young as you feel, and I’m tired of feeling 70!

When just bending my leg at a 90-degree angle started causing too much pain, the does here put me on meloxicam. Compared to how worthless ibuprofen was in helping with the pain, it was a godsend. But truthfully, any of these NSAID pain meds scare me. After all, I had to watch my brother scratch his skin bloody when his liver failed from diabetes. I like my liver. I want my liver to be happy and healthy until death do us part. So daily meds that pound the liver ain’t my cup of tea.

I’ve also had problems in here I’ve never had before. Even though I practice good hygiene, I’ve had several styes in my eyes. Never had ringworm until two years ago. Still have no idea where I got it, but did you know that bleach kills ringworm?

Even though I use shower shoes every time I go to the shower, and keep my shower shoes clean and wiped dry, I finally got so tired of catching athlete’s foot that now, I just use the powder every day to head it off before it even starts.

One of the most frustrating problems I’ve had is chronic dry skin. Unless you have cracking AND bleeding skin, the prison doctors won’t give you any kind of lotion. The lotions they sell on commissary suck. Still, when you see your skin turning into crepe paper, you got to do something. Especially when a nice oil bath isn’t one of the possibilities. I miss a good soak, and I’m convinced that about half of my “aging” problems are from a lack of a wonderful bath. Ben Franklin knew his stuff, ya’ll. He had a desk fitted over his tub so he could even take visitors and continue working while in the bath. And now, he is recognized as America’s first genius.

Anyway, the lotion I have access to is this crappy cocoa butter stuff they sell at the store. It’s cheap, and that’s the last good thing I can say about it. I doesn’t rub in. It doesn’t hydrate my skin very well. It doesn’t even smell nice and cocoa buttery. I’d probably be better off rubbing butter into my skin, but since the chow hall doesn’t do butter, I guess I’m screwed on that, too. I don’t think all the years without air conditioning helped in this area, either. It can’t be good for your skin to cook it at over 100 degrees three months of the year. I have developed a whole new appreciation for my ancestors built on nothing more than my awe at how well they survived and thrived absent air conditioning. They were a hardy people indeed. And they probably had crepe paper skin.

Two of my toes have toenail fungus. Two of my toes will have toenail fungus until I get out of prison. Why? Well, they don’t treat toenail fungus at the infirmary in the TDCJ, and they don’t sell anything on the commissary to fight it. On top of that, I don’t know any home remedies for it, so I’m up the creek with toenail fungus. Gross, I know, but it is what it is, people. That’s not the only problem with my little piggies. On another two toes, I have calluses that have affected the way the toenail is growing. The calluses were caused by, you guessed it, dry skin. One deformed toenail has a really interesting growth pattern that I’d like to study...on somebody ELSE’s foot! It kind of curls up, up and away, which plays hell on my poor socks, not to mention the fabric on the toe of my shoe. (Hey! How’s everybody enjoying the trend of making sneakers out of fabric? Great, huh?) Anyway, my poor toes are one reason that for the first time in my man’s life, when I get out of here, I will have a pedicure. Yes, I will.

I may be venturing into too much information territory, but some other delightful conditions I’ve encountered since my prison term started are kidney stones - 2 bouts - and, ahem, hemorrhoids. Just about any prisoner who has very much time under his belt and a few miles on his odometer gets these, because all the seating in here is either metal benches or metal stools. Either way, there’s no cushion, and that’s awfully hard on the backside. I was much more fortunate than most in that I had only one episode, and they subsided and haven’t returned. Yay for the small joys.

I could read a book without cheaters when I got locked up. Now, I wear full-fledged bifocals. I was really fortunate in this regard, also, in that my eyes were dimming gradually, and I had plenty of time to get an ophthalmology appointment. Let us say, a poor guy with glasses somehow gets them broken. It presently takes six months to get an ophthalmology appointment and another four to six weeks to get your glasses, so if this happens to you, I hope you don’t mind being half-blind for over half a year. Not to mention that fun ride on chain to get the eye exam. At least you don’t have to go back to get your glasses. They ship those through the mail.

So, my latest gripe... You might recall that last year, I had surgery on my left foot to correct hammer-toe, a condition that makes your toes curl up and lock in that position. Besides a radial scar and the macho-cool experience of not flinching as the doctor pulled two 8” steel pins out of the ends of my toes, it also left me with nerve damage from six weeks on the crutches.

Apparently, there is a thick bundle of nerves that runs right under the rim of the front part of your armpit, exactly where the crutch likes to rest. I learned, too late, alas, that the nice, cushy part of the crutch that is clearly designed to fit perfectly under your arm is never supposed to actually touch your body under the arm. Instead, you’re supposed to let the arms carry all of your weight on the handles of the crutch. Oh, yeah. Somebody must think I used be a medalist in rings or pommel horse at the Olympics, but they are sadly mistaken. Nope, all 260 pounds of this boy were riding on top of those crutches, and the inevitable happened inevitably.

My present state would make for some great physical comedy if someone was so inclined to make fun of the partially disabled. This is because the simplest tasks have now become morbidly painful. These tasks include, but are not limited to, tucking in my shirt, putting on a coat, and, interestingly holding anything in front of me for any length of time, no matter how light and airy said object may be. Holding a communion cracker up while waiting for the minister to finish his communion prayer nearly made me cry last week. Crazy, huh? One problem with this new and exciting form of pain is that it never seems to hurt the same way twice, and so there’s no good way to stop the pain the same way twice. Sprained ankle? Don’t walk on it. Hurt knee. Limp just so. Nerve pain in your arms? All bets are off. I can be shaving and be using the same movements throughout. All of a sudden, halfway done, this pain will shoot up my arm. Man, if I could see it coming, I could doge it, but there’s just no predicting this thing. Well, unless it has anything at all to do with having my arms over my head. I haven’t hit a good volleyball serve since last year. Couldn’t play a game of H-O-R-S-E right now to save my life. Can’t imagine what I’d do if I had a tennis court and couldn’t serve the darn ball. Tragic. Just tragic.

After X-rays when all this first started, the doc told me I needed to do some stretches and wait 6-10 weeks to get better. When he said that, it had already been 8 weeks since I was off the crutches. Another two weeks didn’t help. In fact, another 52 weeks hasn’t seemed to help much either.

Now, I know I’m really sounding like my Papa sitting on the front porch and trying to one-up all of his old pals in the aches and pains department, but I really do have a bigger point here. A lot of the problems I’ve described in this chapter would be alleviated by freedom - the freedom to bathe appropriately, the freedom to go to the pharmacy and buy medicine for toenail fungus, and so on. And some of these other problems might be fixed if I had a different and better health care provider, or if it was not such a danger to life and health to go on medical chain. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t have my freedom, and I don’t enjoy reasonably accessible treatment for serious threats to life and limb. Just an X-ray means I have to get on the bus, and it just ain’t worth it to go through all that and be told, “You need to stretch.” It only makes it worse when all that stretching doesn’t get you anything but more pain and agony.

Now, as bad as this feels, I can’t ever think much about it without considering the plight of those that have decades in prison and decades to go before they get out. I’ve seen some of these poor old fellows at the prison hospital, and it is heartbreaking. For the most part, anyone they ever loved is either dead or has forgotten them, and they face all these trials along, with only the prospect of death giving them any release. Yeah, I get it. I KNOW they did something terrible to get the time - or at least most of them did. Let’s not forget the ground we’ve covered about innocents in the prison system and the corruption of the justice system, Still, away in time and distance from the horrendous deeds done to merit such lengthy sentences, it’s hard to think justice is being served by letting some old man stew in his own vomit, a situation I’ve seen twice repeated at John Seely.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez