Stevensons Little Shop Of Horrors

It used to be that one consoling statement you might hear a condemned prisoner utter as he was cuffed by the bailiff to begin his sentence would be, “Well, at least I can get my teeth fixed.” This was because it was well-known, to those with any kind of first-hand experience with prison life, that the prisons did a pretty good job of fixing your teeth. In fact, the making of dentures was a well-regarded career path for ex-offenders, and this led to kind of a cottage industry of good dental care in the prison system. Sadly, those days have passed us by, and there’s no reasonable up-side for the state or any other player in the “game” for this to be so.

As a matter of fact, my own experience with dental care here on the Stevenson Unit has shown me that the horses and the dogs receive better care than the human beings. The dentist assigned to our unit is universally despised by the prisoner population, and for good reason. On any given day, one can sit in the infirmary waiting area and listen to horror stories of prisoner experiences with this clown, but just to show you a typical history of the kind of “care” he provides, I’ll tell you about what I’ve gone through.

I’ll be the first to admit that my teeth weren’t in real great shape when I got locked up, but they were far from a worst-case scenario. I had a number of cavities, but, as you can imagine, there are some meth-heads that come into the system with terrible problems with their gums and teeth due to some of the side-effects associated with an addiction to “ice”. Health care policy in the TDCJ, in partnership with either University of Texas Medical Branch, which covers most of Texas from east to mid-west, or Texas Tech University Health Services in the far-west, provides for cleaning every two years or so. To get this, a prisoner must put in for a visit to the dentist, who conducts an initial examination and works up a “plan” to fix any problems that are found prior to the cleaning.

When I was sent to my transfer facility, I was in mid- toothache after biting down hard on a rock I found in my beans at the Middleton Unit in Abilene. Such occurences are far from uncommon. I’ve found at least five such rocks in my beans over the 13 years I’ve been incarcerated. After an initial exam and X-rays, the tooth was repaired. In addition, a broken tooth that had died was removed and another cavity was filled. The dentist was great. He had a friendly bedside manner, and like all the professionals I encountered in the TTHCS part of the state, he treated me like a patient, not like an axe-murderer, which I truly appreciated. After this, and after I’d been locked up about 18 months, I received the first, and so far ONLY, teeth cleaning I’ve received since my incarceration. Let me be clear. I’ve been locked up for 13 years, and in the whole time I’ve been a ward of the state, I’ve had my teeth cleaned one time.

I didn’t receive any care during the brief time I was in transit between my transfer facility and my I.D. unit, but I didn’t need any.

Upon arrival at the Stevenson, where I knew I’d be living for awhile, I put in for my cleaning/initial exam, hoping to start getting some of my cavities taken care of. I’d already been told that the TDCJ no longer offered caps, crowns, or dentures as part of the dental care availableto offenders. I thought this was really strange, since I’d never been to a dentist in the free world that didn’t offer these services, but I also knew I was living in some alternate reality known as prison now, and I was learning something new everyday, most of it pretty discouraging. I’ve since learned that all of these services ARE available, just rarely provided, which is also strange. To me, it either is available or it isn’t. Instead, it seems to be provided only to those who call their families and make a fuss. This wasn’t an option for me, because as much as my mom and dad lovedme and were concerned for what was happening to me while I was locked up, the last thing they wanted to do was to call up here and “make waves” lest anything terrible happen to me. All that said, I wasn’t expecting too much out of my visits- hopefully my cavities filled and another cleaning when my time came. I got a hell of a lot more than that.

Around March 2008, I put in a sick call and was scheduled to see Dr. William Bergey. I was given an initial exam and a “plaque test”. The plaque test could possibly be the stupidest thing I’ve seen in the medical department. Here’s how it works. They give you this little cup of red dye, and it stains any plaque you have on your teeth. If there’s too much plaque, they will deny you dental services. So, to reiterate, if your teeth are dirty, you can’t get them cleaned. This is the genius of the TDCJ hard at work. I passed my plaque test at my transfer facility with flying colors. In fact, the dental hygenist out there told me, “You have really clean teeth for a man your age.” Since that time, under Bergey’s care, I haven’t passed a single plaque test- this in spite of no radical change to my personal hygiene. I brush at least once a day for two full minutes. Most days, I brush at least one more time for 20-seconds per “quadrant”. Many days, I brush at least three times. I’m not too qualified to say, but I have to think I have at least average dental hygiene. I’m doing the best I can in here with a toothbrush the length of my thumb. It’s not like I can sit in here and pull my Oral-B off the charger and go at ‘em!

Bergey says that I can’t get my teeth cleaned because, A. I can’t seem to pass the plaque test, and B. I’ve never completed my “dental treatment plan”. Let’s talk about that.

In May, 2008, Bergey filled one of my teeth. Since the teeth in your mouth are numbered, I’ll use the numbers in case any of you are dentists. In the fall of 2014, the filling came out of tooth #2. Bergey refilled it. Again it came out. Claiming that he’d done all he could to save the tooth, which obviously excludes a cap or a crown since he never even attempted these rudimentary procedures, he pulled it in August of 2016. Tooth #2 is a molar, and molars are some important teeth.

In addition to the May, 2008 procedure, Bergey had to “adjust the cusp tip” of tooth #22. It was striking the opposing tooth in my mouth after he’d done some earlier work, causing indescribable pain. It felt like I was being socked in the jaw everytime I chewed a bite. He told me, “You’re not very tough, are you?”This from a weasel of a man amazingly reminiscent of Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons”.

In October of 2011, Bergey “fixed” tooth #29. In June of 2014, he noted on my chart that this tooth was “missing restoration”. This happens a lot with Bergey’s work, for on that same day in October, he also “fixed” tooth #28. Right this very minute, this tooth is missing its restoration, and only babying it along with saltwater gargles keeps it from abcessing. Guess what treatment Bergey wants to do on it? That’s right; his preferred method- PULL THAT SUCKER!

In March of 2011, Bergey repaired tooth #20. It lost its filling, which was noted in March, 2014.

Besides shoddy dentistry, there have been other issues that have caused me much consternation. For instance, one day, when I was scheduled to have a filling done, I noticed that his dental assistant, Ms. Martinez, took the dental tools out of the cleaning machine with her bare hands, spread them out on the tray, and then put on gloves before calling me into the office. I asked her point-blank if those were the tools they’d be using to do my work. When she said they were, I objected. “I saw you handle those instruments with your bare hands. They’re supposed to be sterilized. The dentist was sitting right there and he came unhinged. “You don’t tell us how to do our work! You don’t know the first damned thing about what we do.” I stood my ground. “I may not know how to be a dentist, but I know you’re not about to do surgery in my mouth with those instruments right there.” He said, “It’ll either be these or none at all.” He had the officer sit me in the waiting room. After I’d been there for almost two hours, he brought a “refusal form”. I wrote why I was refusing the visit, and he said, “You don’t write anything on that form but your signature.” I said, “This is what I’m writing and signing, and I’m not signing anything else.” He took the form out of my hands and went straight to the shredder. Right in front of me, he shredded my refusal. Looking in my records several weeks later, I found out he’d written that I refused the visit and wouldn’t sign voluntarily, but of course, he didn’t say why.

Since Bergey is the only game in town, I’ve done everything I can to get rid of this menace quack and his little shop of horrors. Jay Goodman was bleeding from his mouth for WEEKS after a procedure to remove one of his wisdom teeth. A guy they call “Tex” had a jaw swollen to the size of a Softball, and he refused to see this dentist, because of repeated failed dental procedures he’d done on him in the past. I’ve heard about infections, fillings that lasted a few days or never stopped hurting after the procedure was done, remaining sensitive to cold or heat. He repeatedly makes fun of the prisoners he’s working on. Before extracting one man’s wisdom teeth, he told him, “You must not be very wise, anyway, because you’re in here.” He makes snide remarks like this all the time. Armed with this information, I decided I would try to make the appropriate governing agencies aware of the problems.

I started with grievances, Step 1 and Step 2, which I claimed as harassment and incompetence, asking for another treatment option (i.e. another dentist). I was told my claims were “unfounded”. [See attached documents.] Then I wrote the address provided for offender complaints. I was told by a form letter response that the complaint had to come from a free world person. Since my Mom had died by this time, I asked my friend in California to submit the form. They wrote him back telling him that I hadn’t even requested dental care. [Letter from TDCJ dated 12/1/17.]

Medical Examiners, and finally, upon their direction, to the Texas Stare Board of Dental Examiners. The ultimate response was, “The SBDE has determined we do not have jurisdiction over this matter.” Now, you tell me, if the Texas agency that gives practicing dentists the very license they hang on their wall that enables them to practice doesn’t have jurisdiction over this quack, then who in the wide, wide world of sports do I need to write in order to hold this man accountable for his actions and misconduct? The ADA directed me to a web site, for crimminys sake. Apparently, no one’s told them the TDCJ is still in the dark ages, with no access to computers for inmates.

Simply put, this guy is down here in Cuero exercising questionable dentistry with even worse bedside manner. He’s putting people’s health and safety at risk by forcing them to remain untreated. I mean, really, if four of five fillings YOUR dentist did had fallen out, would you go back? Of course not! And I’ve bent over backwards trying to work around this loser. I asked for permission to get my teeth clean without a “treatment plan”, so I wouldn’t have to see him at all. This was denied. I requested to have my dental treatment done on another unit. That’s right...! was willing to endure the Dirty Darrington, just to get competent dentistry. This, too, was denied.

The options from here get real thin. I can request a transter to another unit of assignment. “This is not advised.”[I-60 response from Ms. Gloor, Stevenson Unit Practice Manager.] The reason it’s not advised is because I would probablyend up on a unit where they like to shank people or beat the hell out of each other, since I’m “bucking the system”.

The last option, and the one I’ve Deen pursuing now for almost a year, is to find a free world dentist who is willing to come in here and make a housecall inside a prison. Ms. Gloor’s response spells out the difficulties of this. IF I a find a willing dentist, he or she would have to be approved by the“Dental Quality Review Committee”. I have no idea who is on this committee, but I can’t imagine them turning ANYbody away if they’ll let Bergey practice.

pproved by them, the dentist must meet the warden’s approval. Finally, having jumped througn these hoops, said dentist must pass a security/background check. If by some miracle of miracles I can find someone willing to put themselves through all this crap just to come in here and cap a tooth or fill a cavity, I must pay for the dental treatment IN ADVANCE. Now this one’s interesting. How does a dentist who has never so much as X-rayed or seen the inside of my mouth know “in advance” how much it will cost for me to get fixed up?

As you can see, the whole thing is a farce designed so that the TDCJ can say, “Oh, the inmate doesn’t HAVE to use the one dangerous and incompetent dentist we provide for him! He has all kinds of options, including using the free-world dentist of his choosing!” Yeah, right.

Look, I understand that there are going to be dentists out there that may not have the standard of care or the bedside manner I prefer, and believe me, I’m not looking for some perfect solution to these problems. I realize I got myself in this situation, and, without meaning ANY disrespect to the hard-working and commendable medical staff we DO have working here, I don’t come to the infirmary expecting first-class care. But what I DO demand is COMPETENT care, and care that doesn’t endanger lives. It probably shouldn’t be too much to ask that the care come with, if not kindness, at least simple courtesy; if not courtesy, at least no insulting or derogatory remarks.

One last thing. You might be thinking, “isn’t Mike worried that Bergey will sue him for saying he’s incompetent and dangerous?” My friend, I would love nothing more than to go into a court of law with all the information I have on this man, and let a jury of his peers determine once and for all, for all Texas to see, that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing standing over that chair with all those stainless steel do-hickeys.

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