Francisco Hernandez

Most all of us at one time or another are going to experience a trip to the hospital sometime in our lives, and usually these memories leave some unpleasant memories for us. Note, imagine your worst nightmare of a hospital visit and times that by a hundred, and you might come close to what TDCJ inmates experience getting transported to and from the hospital for routine medical care.

For a doctor’s visit that might be made to the general practitioner in the free world, we can go down to the infirmary and see a doctor or the nurse practitioner. But for anything that gets reccomended to a specialist or an emergency, we have to go to John Seely Hospital in Galveston.

The trip starts the night before you will be transported. You won’t even find out you’re on the bus the next day until about 10:30 at night. They do this for security reasons. Telephones are already turned off by then, and I guess they are sure you won’t be staging a Fast & Furious style bus-break if you can’t tell your family you’ll be on the bus. You pack up all your property and it is inventoried by the officers. Most of it is left on the unit. The only property you are allowed to take with you is a toothbrush & toothpaste, soap, a spoon and a cup. You can also take your shower shoes. You’re not told how long you will be gone, even though the usual trip is three days. Yep, a three-day visit to the doctor’s office. Also, we used to be able to take the Bible, but for some reason, that’s no longer permitted.

The following morning, you’re called out on the medical chain, and the arduous journey begins. Get ready to experience the nightmare. We go out to the bus, where, rain or shine, hot or cold, we are stripped butt-naked, searched, and allowed to dress. Then you’re shackled to another inmate and crammed into a bus that surely would not pass a state inspection. Most have no working heat. They sure don’t have A/C. And they break down beside the road on a regular basis. I was once stuck on a bus for four hours. Between the heat, the crowd, and other stuff I’m going to tell you, this is a safety hazard, for real. I mean, you’re only on the bus in the first place because you’re SICK! We’re already on our way to get medical treatment! So all this just adds to the pain and suffering. This is part of the reason why many of us choose to refuse medical treatment that requires transport even when the unit doctors reccomend it. There’s no other way to get to these appointments, unless it’s in an amubulance, and in the TDCJ, you sure don’t want that, because it means you’re all but dead. But at least you’re on your way, now. Get ready for the commute from hell.

You’re next stop from here is the Darrington Unit, the roach motel of prisons everywhere. My personal reason for going to see the specialist was that I have gastro-intestinal problems. Here I am, on this crowded bus, handcuffed to the guy next me with the same problem. Let me tell you, this DOES NOT nix well. To top it all off, if I can’t hold it and need to go to the bathroom, I have to use the toilet- STILL CUFFED TO THIS GUY NEXT TO ME- and the only accomodation is just a few inches from the next seat. Ever taken a dump surrounded by five guys, and one wearing the same bracelet as you? I hope you never have to. Urinating is one thing, but the other is pure hell for a guy in my condition.

Anyway, you’re on this bus, and the driver is either slamming on the brakes or petal-to-the-metal the whole way. You’ve been bounced, boinged, and bonked to death, and then, wow, you’re at the Darrington. Everyone is run off the bus and un-cuffed. Then stuck in a cage with benches, and , all of a sudden, that one toilet on the bus is looking pretty good, because now, there’s NO toilet… well, at least not one you can use. It’s right there outside the cage, but if you ask to go, the barely speaking English officer from Nigeria looks at you like you just grew a third eye right out of your forehead. It’s been “out of order” for at least the last two years, as far as I know.

When they get around to it, the guards give you a sheet and a johnny sack (prison sack lunch) and you’re moved to another cage, but they call this one a dayroom as a joke. It has a bunch of benches and a little more room, but it’s also gots dozens of broken-out windows, floors, so grossly dirty their black, and all kinds of graffiti. There’s also a urinal. The head is across the hall, and if the guard acknowledges you exist, you might actually, finally, get to use the commode.

After about four or five hours of sitting around this dump, the guards start hollering out names to put into cells. I don’t know why, but the vast majority of Darrington officers are Nigerians. I can’t even explain to you the frustration of trying to figure out what three Nigerian women standing at the front gate and yelling different names in incomprehensible English are saying.

The transit cells are a mess. You usually have roaches, mice and an occasional rat. You usually DON’T have a working toilet, a mattress, or a blanket to cover up with. You’re also doing real good if you have a working light. Cats also roam the hallway, popping occasionally into your cell to visit. I happen to be allergic to cats, so this is a big deal for me. But, since they can fit through the bars in their quest for little mousies, and I can’t go anywhere, I’m at their mercy.

The last time I was in transit, I got stuck at Darrington for the whole weekend. I was housed in the segregated offender wing. My cell was covered in smoke and fire damage from floor to ceiling. I guess the segged inmate they’d put in there before deciding to use the cell for overflow transit had burned his mattress up or something. You couldn’t touch anything without getting black soot all over you. Since I was up on the third floor every time they gassed an unruly offender that weekend, I got gassed right along with them. If I grieve all this, they don’t care, because I don’t even live on that farm, I’m just passing through, so they throw the grievance out having settled the issue with, “Offender moved to another unit.”

I can’t decide whether it’s worse going through all this aggravation in the summer when it’s hotter than hell, or in the winter with all the broken windows and no blanket. Either way, it’s torture.

Keep in mind all this is even BEFORE you get to the hospital. There’s still another bus trip to the hospital in a few hours when the Nigerians roll you out of bed at 3:00 in the morning, and if the hospital is not going to admit you for any reason, you’ll spend almost all day waiting in their dayroom and then come right back to this hell to spend the night again.

The one highlight of the trip is getting to see the water and the ships in the Gulf as you make your way into Galveston. As soon as you arrive at the hospital, the bus goes into a garage/sally port. Everybody is taken off the bus after about twenty to thirty minutes of mysterious nothingness, waiting on the guards to come back and let us off the bus. Your property is taken and put into a cage along with your jacket, if you somehow snuck one past the guards on your unit when you got on the bus in the first place. Somehow, jackets are very dangerous on the bus. Go figure.

Everyone is herded in groups of about ten or so into an elevator. We all end up in a strip-search room where everyone gets naked, again, and we do the little dance so the officers can make sure we’re not sneaking in whatever chronically ill people sneak into hospitals. Then we all put our clothes back on, and we are taken to the dayroom to wait for our various appointments to be called. It’s already filled to capacity when our bus gets there, so there’s no room left on the benches. We try to find a clean place on the floor and sit down. If we can’t, looks like we’ll be standing for the next couple of hours until they start calling the appointments. The men are all chattering loudly, and the guys trying to watch the TV turn it up so they can hear better. So, the guys talking talk louder so they can be heard over the TV. So, the TV guys turn the TV up again, and pretty soon, every soul stuck in this 20′ X 30′ room has completely maxed out their noise-making potential. Add to that the flushes from the urinals and the toilets that, thank God, we finally have access to, and it’s quite the symphony.

The guards come in every so often and yell out the names of those who have the doctor visits in small groups depending, I think, on the department. I say this, because all the guys with a cast on go out in one group, all the guys with a colostomy bag go out in one group, etc. (And, WHEW! There’s nothing like the smell of a colostomy bag being emptied in the dayroom toilet.) Anyway, my name is finally yelled out, and I get a break from the chaos for about an hour as a doctor who is so young his mommy still has to drive him to work, tells me that he can’t figure out what my problem is, we’ll have to schedule another test. You’ll come back in two months. no. No. NO. NO! N000000!!! Why me, God? Why me? Yet, I’m better off than the poor guy that is sitting next to me back in the dayroom. They never called his name out at all, and at the end of the day, they told him he “missed” his appointment and will need to come back just to see the pimply-faced doctor next time. He’s rocking himself and mumbling incoherently in the corner.

At around 5:00 PM, it’s back to the strip room, back to the property area, back onto the bus, and I’m on the road again to Darrington.

Once I get there, it’s pretty much the same, but this time, I have to go see medical along with all my other busmates. I guess they must know exactly what we’ve been through at this, point, because they make it part of the routine to check our vitals and make sure we’re still alive. Miraculously, in my case, I still am, BUT EVEN HERE, the infirmary only, has a urinal) no toilet, and trying to explain my medical condition and need to go to the bathroom was flat out ignored.

Putting sick inmates through all this pain and suffering, all this stress and aggravation, is not the way to treat people with medical needs. It’s a terrible way to treat ANY human being. I understand that we are prisoners. I understand that transport is a big deal for security reasons. But we are humans and should be treated like humans. To me, it’s like the whole process is set up to deliberately discourage us from seeking the care we need.

Because of all these things I’ve been telling you about, I decided I wasn’t going back to John Seely for anything. This is a viable option for me, because I have made parole, and I’m just waiting to be released to community supervision. The choice wasn’t hard. I’d rather suffer with the medical problems I have than go through the nightmare of the Galveston trip again. A lot of guys worse off than I am, and with no end in sight to their incarceration, have made the same decision, and it really makes me wonder if, in the end, the TDCJ-is deriving any benefit from it. They may be saving a few dollars now, but what if these “minor” problems get really serious later on? That’s going to require a lot more treatment.

At least, I reflect, I haven’t been given a cancer diagnosis. Those guys take chemo treatments once a month or so, and they have to make this trip month after month while fighting a terrible disease. God help them.

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