These are four of the shocking public comments submitted to the Prison Board on April 14; Marritte’s is last. Each one is different, yet they all say exactly the same thing: The lack of medical care is deplorable in the Nevada Department of Corrections and civil rights are being violated daily. Not only are basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution being trampled, all this occurs at a huge unnecessary expense to Nevada taxpayers.
Public Comment No. 1: Denial of medical care, other civil rights violations and NDOC’s use of the federal courts as a grievance process
“If we handle grievances and discipline in a balanced and fair manner, that eliminates lawsuits, which are expensive and time-consuming…As an inmate, you know you’re going to get a fair shot…” – Howard Skolnik
In late 2006, my husband was forced to file a federal civil rights lawsuit for denial of care for his serious medical needs, needs which had been diagnosed by NDOC’s own doctors. Magistrate Judge McQuaid in a Report and Recommendation to the court wrote:
“Defendants failed to act despite having knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm. … Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” proscribed by the Eighth Amendment. … Defendants have denied and delayed Plaintiff’s access to medical care by refusing to follow the suggested course of treatment for Plaintiff’s condition and, instead, merely providing Plaintiff with pain medication (although that is in dispute as well).”
In spite of Judge McQuaid’s strongly worded opinion and an unequivocal diagnosis by NDOC’s own doctors, my husband continues to suffer. The violation of his civil rights is worse than ever. As part of a campaign of retaliation, in fact, my entire family’s civil rights have been violated.
I sought help in resolving the withdrawal of my family’s visitation privileges several times. In addition, I submitted a public comment to the April 2008 BOP meeting; but, because no one at NDOC was willing to mediate the visitation issue, we were forced to file yet another civil rights lawsuit. The court allowed the case to proceed in March of this year. We are happy with the judge’s order, but we would prefer to just visit my husband; we haven’t seen him since 2005 and he has two new grandchildren born since that time.
Neither the medical case nor the visitation case ever needed to go to federal court. With oversight, arbitration or mediation, these issues should have been resolved quickly and easily.
Also, please consider that the following civil rights violations are ongoing and recurring. Administrative remedies have been exhausted on each one of them and each one of them, if not resolved, may end up being litigated in federal court. Not only is this immensely hard on my family, it is not fair to the hard working people of Nevada whose state and federal resources are being drained to pay for the complete lack of oversight of NDOC and the arbitrary decisions made by certain officials.
Denial of use of medically prescribed walker and/or cane – NDOC doctors prescribed a walker and/or cane, yet wardens have summarily rescinded that medical order.
Stopping of prescribed medication by a nurse - NDOC had my husband on pain medication for over a year. On his return to ESP (Ely State Prison) from NSP (Nevada State Prison), a nurse summarily discontinued his pain medication, causing further excruciating pain as well as “cold turkey” withdrawal from narcotic pain medication without even medical monitoring, in spite of the fact that the patient suffers from severe hypertension and blocked coronary arteries.
Confiscation of prescribed eye glasses – Patient’s eyeglasses were confiscated and all requests to see an eye doctor have been denied. This has caused excruciating headaches and eye pain.
A nurse’s rescinding of no-kneel order prescribed for severe degenerative disc disorder – A nurse summarily discontinued a no-kneel order that had been prescribed by NDOC doctors. The nurse claims that he discontinued the order because patient had “assaulted staff,” even though that never happened and the disciplinary charges for this event were dismissed.
Unauthorized taking of money from inmate’s account even after a restitution sanction has been lifted. Family services and my husband’s case worker refuse to discuss this issue; therefore NDOC is taking half of my husband’s money as restitution, even though the restitution sanction has been rescinded by Warden Greg Smith.
It is outrageous to the reasonable person not only that these gross civil rights violations continue unabated, but that the only recourse for inmates and their families is the over-burdened federal court system. Such unnecessary litigation places a financial strain on state and federal resources. We do not enjoy litigation. In fact, it is ruining our lives. We just want the violation of our rights to cease.
This pattern of retaliation and abuse must stop. My husband has been in the system for almost 25 years. He and his father were convicted of killing the man who raped their sister and daughter respectively. My father in law served 18 years and was released. His son, however, will pay with his life since his sentence was life without parole.
But his sentence should be the punishment: He should not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in the form of denial of medical care, summary denial of the use of prescribed medical devices or the basics of a civilized life for a disabled person. And the people of Nevada should not be punished by having to spend their hard-earned dollars to pay for litigation for issues that should and could be easily resolved by professionals acting as adults instead of as tantrum-throwing babies seeking retaliation.
I have made a good faith effort to attempt to mediate each of the above-mentioned issues with prison officials. Additionally, my husband has filed grievances, all to no avail. No one will resolve or even discuss these issues, leaving us, in the end, no alternative but to go to federal court yet again.
We do not want litigation; we do not want money from the state. We simply want the violations of our constitutional rights to cease.
I recently read an article where Mr. Skolnik says: “If we handle grievances and discipline in a balanced and fair manner, that eliminates lawsuits, which are expensive and time-consuming … As an inmate, you know you’re going to get a fair shot, which diminishes the likelihood of something boiling over.”
The administrative regulations are in place, federal law is in place, and Mr. Skolnik’s words express the right sentiment. It is my hope that the BOP commissioners will be able to assist my family in resolving these issues, so that my husband’s physical suffering can end and he can finally meet the grandchildren born since the imposition of this unconstitutional visiting sanction. It is also my hope that we can avoid further expensive and time-consuming litigation.
I am able and willing to provide documentation of every issue discussed herein.
Public Comment No. 2: Incarcerated people in Nevada are not receiving medical care
Dear Commission members and people present,
My name is Annabelle Parker. I live in The Netherlands, and I am a friend of an inmate in Nevada, Marritte Funches (#37050, Ely State Prison). Mr. Funches has serious health problems – chronic disuria, an enlarged prostate, severe kidney pain – and he has been having these health problems since 2004 or earlier. Left untreated they developed into severe kidney pain and possible cancer. In Dr. Noel’s report for the ACLU, Mr. Funches is mentioned on page 18 with these symptoms, which date from 2004.
Mr. Funches is being kept on “high risk potential” status in Ely State Prison, locked up 23 to 24 hours a day. He receives no diagnosis for his ailments and no treatment. This HRP status is not justified by any logic or backed up by any facts. Mr. Funches has as few points as needed to qualify for medium level security. Therefore, the HRP status he is under is illegal and is used to make him suffer more.
Cruel and unusual punishment is what I as a European and world citizen would call this. I am sure that the medical care Mr. Funches needs, had he been treated when the symptoms started, would not have been very expensive nor would the problems have been life threatening. But since nothing has been done to adequately diagnose what he is suffering from and what he needs to cure this, his ailments have become severe, with excruciating pain and potential kidney failure in view. And this in 2009, in a time when ample medical care exists to treat the disease that Mr. Funches is suffering from.
Due to Mr. Funches’ HRP status, doctors are not allowed to order certain tests, and currently he is not being seen by any outside doctors or specialists. There is only a nurse who sometimes gives a painkiller. Without the approval of the warden of ESP, who has continuously denied doctors’ recommendations, either directly or by simply refusing to remove Mr. Funches from HRP, there is no end in sight to the suffering of Mr. Funches.
Only upon an investigation of the medical care at ESP was Mr. Funches, along with a few other inmates, sent to High Desert State Prison some time ago, to be medically evaluated and treated. But his HRP status and specific notes written into his file by Warden E.K. McDaniel hindered access to medical care. On numerous occasions Mr. Funches’ medical appointments were cancelled simply due to his HRP status. Recommendations from Dr. Henff for Mr. Funches to be seen by an outside specialist were denied, now by Warden Dwight Neven, under the direction of E.K. McDaniel.
From Jan. 17 to Oct. 2, 2008, Mr. Funches was forced to languish and continue suffering from excruciating pain, as his symptoms got worse and worse. Warden Neven had the power to override E.K. McDaniel’s classification; so did Director of Prisons Howard Skolnik, both of whom Mr. Funches appealed to in this regard on several occasions. At one point, in June 2008, Dwight Neven was going to remove him from HRP after numerous prison staff at HDSP and Assistant Warden of Programs Jim Henson spoke up on his behalf, which would have allowed him to receive medical care and to program. But again, under E.K. McDaniel’s urging, Warden Neven decided not to take Mr. Funches off HRP. And so for another nine and a half months he was forced to languish in pain and misery. Numerous pleas to all of those above mentioned went ignored.
At NSP there was even more harassment. He was even given the psychotropic Elavil, even though it is known that this psychotropic makes disease of the urinary tract and prostate worse. And in his situation, the last thing he needed was a psychotropic. Mr. Funches was taken back to Ely State Prison in January of this year, still suffering excruciating pain from a potentially life-threatening illness if left untreated. And although Mr. Funches meets all the requirements for a medium security prison, Warden E.K. McDaniel refuses to take him off HRP. And with no legitimate explanation whatsoever.
And this is the same for the wardens and nurses, doctors (or so-called doctors) who also do not act upon the facts when an ill inmate is housed in their prisons. As the judge in the recent order of the case of Mr. Cavanaugh stated: “(A)s a matter of common sense, prisoners, as human beings, have the same bodies and suffer from the same medical conditions as the general population.”
Now, ladies and gentlemen of the Commission and people present, this is what I read on the Nevada DOC website, accessed March 29, 2009:
“The mission of the Medical Division of the Nevada Department of Corrections is:
“To provide quality, constitutionally mandated health care, using an efficient system of managed care, that is professional, humane and appropriate, and in support of the mission of the Nevada Department of Corrections.”
How, I ask you, is it humane to keep someone suffering in severe pain and not diagnose him and treat his disease? Is it appropriate? I think not. Does it support the mission of the NDOC? See the NDOC Mission Statement, accessed March 29, 2009:
“Protect the public by confining convicted felons according to the law, while keeping staff and inmates safe.”
So how is an ill inmate being kept safe from medical abuse and misuse of medicaments, in the absence of any diagnosis?
Let’s see the vision of NDOC:
“A Nevada with no more victims.”
So, no more victims, but what about the victims NDOC itself makes? Or those who work for NDOC?
What about the philosophy of NDOC?
“We will pursue our mission with integrity, act in a professional and ethical manner, be responsible for our actions, and raise the department to the highest standards.”
So if NDOC is responsible for their actions, why do those in charge let sick inmates die or leave them to suffer? How can we, the public, hold them to their responsibilities? Clearly the highest standards have by far not yet been reached. Is there any integrity? Is this professional? Is it ethical? This is the opposite of what I see is happening in Nevada’s prisons.
I myself wrote letters to the Office of the Inspector General on Jan. 23, 2009, for Mr. Funches and also a letter for Mr. R. Egberto (#20632), which I will add herewith. I received a reply from the office only about my letter for Mr. Egberto, which did not convince me that they would pursue the issues with the vision and philosophy of NDOC in their hearts. When people who support Mr. Funches call the warden or his secretary or Dr. Bannister, they always get the same reply: that there is nothing wrong with him – implying our friend is lying to his friends! – or that he gets adequate care: Tylenol against the pain, but the pain does not go away, and the symptoms surely will not go away!
The wardens and head of prisons may be proud of their budget that cuts costs for medical care, but the costs of medical care will definitely go up when the NDOC keeps mistreating those who are ill this way. It is inhumane, it costs human lives, it is unprofessional, unethical, and does not keep the inmates safe. It also costs money. This way of dealing with people has to change. Is it not a shame to be seen by society as inadequate and unprofessional? Or do the wardens and head of prisons know no shame?
Hoping that this Prison Commission has the courage to change the things mentioned above for the better of all, and requesting an independent overview of the prison system in Nevada, so that these missteps in medical care do not happen again, I remain,
Annabelle Parker, The Netherlands
ACLU Class Action Complaint (2008), viewed on March 29, 2009
Dr. Noel’s Report, viewed on March 29, 2009
Order by the judge in the case of Patrick Cavanaugh
Public Comment No. 3: ‘His family is terrified for him’ – sister of an inmate
My brother was an inmate at the Stewart Conservatory. He was injured on the job in June of 2008. He was sent back to work and not properly checked out. In August because of his previous injury and continuing to work his back was more severely injured. He had Spina Equinus, a smashed spine. He also had some crushed nerves in his back. All he was given for pain was aspirin after he left the hospital. He developed sepsis from poor care, which turned to MRSA, the flesh eating disease. He was put in isolation for a month with no books, magazines or anything.
His continued pain has been ignored. He also has blood in his urine and he defecates blood. For this, he was told he would need another surgery. After an MRI and many letters written by his family to prison and state officials, a date for his surgery was set.
On April 9, 2009, he went for surgery, but after waking from the anesthesia, he was told he “did not need surgery,” that instead he needed another treatment. He was told there is only one place in Reno that gives this specific treatment and that Workers’ Compensation refused to pay for the treatment! He is told he will just continue to suffer. Spina Equinus, if left untreated, will leave him unable to walk or have any semblance of a normal life.
Because he was injured and is no longer able to work, he has lost good time – work time credits – which has set his release date back from Nov. 10, 2009, to March 10, 2010. Because of his deteriorating health, his family is terrified for him and believe if he does not get the proper attention he will not make it home.
I understand that he committed a crime and he is in prison, but this is very cruel and unusual punishment. Please remember that these are people also, not animals.
Public Comment No. 4: Inmates of Ely State Prison address the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners
Esteemed board members, Mrs. Masto, Mr. Gibbons, Mr. Miller:
My name is Marritte Funches. I make this statement to you in severe pain and possibly from my own death bed after years of suffering needlessly from kidney and prostate problems, all the while enduring a long list of harassments. But all I’ve experienced and observed over the past 19 years here compels me to speak on behalf of everyone.
Immediately upon his arrival, E.K. McDaniel began implementing his lockdown-supermax ideology. He closed the school building, shut down the gym, locked down all but one of the general population units, and cut ‘most every positive program we had. The few remaining are now nothing more than a single workbook, which only call for you to answer a few questions alone in your cell in order to complete and receive a certificate. ESP was not constructed to be a supermax prison or even a lockdown prison. In order to implement this ideology, Warden McDaniel has had to manipulate conflicts and create policies which violate our human and civil rights on a daily basis.
Although we go outside alone with no other inmates and the enclosure is searched between each exercise period, we are forced to endure the humiliation of no less than three naked strip searches, two of which include anal cavity checks. In the cold weather months, when temperatures reach below freezing, we’re not allowed to wear gloves or any other extra clothing and there’s no inside area in which we can to exercise. We’re often forced to choose between going outside late at night, 1 or 2 a.m., or not at all. And to further discourage us, while we are outside, our cells are subject to being trashed for no reason.
We’re only allowed two showers per week, two weeks a month, and three per week the other two. Just going to the shower is made to be as humiliating as possible. We are forced to get down on our knees and to crawl backwards out the door while handcuffed, where leg irons are then applied. Once in the tiny shower stall, we’re forced to get down on our knees again, this time in whatever puddles of filth are left from all the men who showered before you that day.
Some of them are mentally ill or vindictive, so they have no restraint or they intentionally urinate etc. for whoever comes after them to kneel in. Some of these men have HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitus and staph infections. Suffice it to say, many of us refuse this humiliation and simply do not shower. But then we are not allowed to receive soap in our cell. Soap is only given during showers, at which time we’re allowed to bring a single small piece of soap (1 ½ x 1 inch) back to our cell, enough to wash your hands once or twice. This is all intentionally designed to keep us from wanting our five hours of fresh air and sunshine each week.
Early on in the McDaniel regime, in order to justify locking down the prison, he created hostile environments intentionally to cause violent conflicts, removing the convicts he knew could keep the peace and then mixing various gang members, known informants, pedophiles, mentally ill inmates: a sure recipe for conflict and one that that any person with common sense could see.
It is common now to see known enemies being forced to live in the same cell together. When cellmates can’t get along, requests for a cell change are often denied. Men who should not be living in a cell with anyone are threatened with harsh punishments if they don’t.
Warden McDaniel has instituted a policy among the inmates that punishes those who refuse to inform on each other or to participate in their own humiliation. And he rewards so called snitching, which is really just a tactic used by less scrupulous inmates to manipulate the system by fabricating lies to avoid punishment for their own infractions, obtain extra privileges, and to remove other inmates they don’t like. Men are regularly removed from the general population and found guilty of write ups based solely on the word of an unknown informant. This leads to many of these men doing more time in prison due to loss of good time credits and to loss of jobs and parole denials. And, as can be expected, it creates a lot of conflicts, including assaults, rapes and even murder. Warden McDaniel knows this, yet allows it to continue.
The horrors revealed in the declarations of state employees Barbara Walker and Lorraine Memory regarding the interference of Warden McDaniel in the medical care of ESP inmates is especially telling. Warden McDaniel has likewise encouraged a policy that rewards depravity and prejudice among his staff. Corrections officers are allowed to harass and even brutalize us with impunity, our complaints regularly dismissed or denied outright.
The few policies in place to protect what rights we do have are ignored. I myself have suffered many attacks, both physical and psychological, to this day for speaking out on behalf of our rights and seeking to expose the cruelties I’ve witnessed, such as the murder of a mentally ill man in 1999 known only as Edmonds at the hands of both corrections officers and medical staff. He was a young man in 2006 crying out for help as he revealed thoughts of suicide, only to be taunted by corrections officers as he was moved to the infirmary, and he somehow ended up dead the next day while on suicide watch.
Even our efforts to educate and keep ourselves sane under these conditions are criminalized. Simply sharing a book or a bowl of soup is illegal here. In fact any correctional officer with racist views or religious prejudice can take whatever books or literature they want from us under the guise of “gang activities.” Just recently literature on the Civil Rights Movement, Barack Obama and pro people politics by authors such as Alex Haley and Howard Zinn were held up by Warden McDaniel himself as gang materials and disposed of.
Esteemed board members, we realize there is an underbelly to this business and an appreciation among some for Warden McDaniel’s willingness to sacrifice our civil rights and even our lives to cut costs, but we wonder at the real cost. Has the board calculated the numerous monies it has and will continue to cost the state in legal fees, settlements and damage awards, along with the cost to “your” moral authority and standing in the community as families are destroyed by the loss of loved ones who have died needlessly due to lack of access to proper medical care, mental illness and suicides that could have been prevented? These are men who took their own lives rather than endure these conditions.
Then there is the cost of young men dehumanized and humiliated to the point there is only hate and frustration in their hearts. Then they are expected to re-enter society well adjusted and be able to function as productive citizens.
I submit to this board that many of us here want to change our lives, but this will never be allowed under the regime of E.K. McDaniel. Ely State Prison needs a new administration, one that will respect our rights as human beings and citizens of this country, rather than treat us as enemy combatants, criminalizing even our efforts to educate and improve ourselves as men.
In closing, I’d like the board to imagine for a moment that there is a great ship on the Pacific. The name of this ship is the Promise and Hope of America, a great ship indeed. But every so often during troubled waters, people fall from the ship and are swept out to sea. Now you have a chance to throw these people a life jacket or you can stand there, apathetic, and do nothing.
The fact is ESP is not a supermax prison. The majority of inmates here do not fall within the standard that calls for them to be locked down this way indefinitely. And as the majority of these men will return to society, it is our assertion here that to allow business to continue as usual would be a great disservice to the public interest.
We ask that ESP be run as it was built to be run as an open yard with regular access to the gym, school building, chapel and law library for all general population inmates with inmates in the segregation units receiving 8-12 man yard time, so everyone can get the necessary fresh air, sunshine and exercise to promote good mental and physical health.
We ask that mentally ill and protective custody inmates be sent to a facility better equipped to deal with their special needs or that in the least they be housed in separate units to keep the peace and order within the prison.
We ask that two full time medical doctors be employed to ensure all 1,000-plus inmates will have access to competent, quality and professional medical care that meets the national standard of care.
We ask that corrections officers undergo better training and that the training include a communications course that encourages humane and respectful treatment of the convicts.
And we ask that all rules, policies etc. already in place to ensure the fair and professional treatment of convicts be strictly enforced, including the discipline of staff misconduct, abuse of authority etc.
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, NV 89301
These comments were previously published by Make the Walls Transparent, where it was noted that they had been received via email. To learn more and get involved in winning justice for Nevada prisoners, visit that site, Nevada Prison Watch and Nevada Prisoner Voice.