The other death sentence: Deliberate indifference at Corcoran SHU

by Kambui Nantambu Jamaa and Joka Heshima Jinsai

“Do no harm.” – Hippocratic Oath

“Being in physical distress locked in a cell turns into a truly terrifying experience when you can hear the cops banter with each other about you being a ‘crybaby’ … It’s especially terrifying when you are experiencing symptoms you don’t understand and you have witnessed others calling for help only to learn that person didn’t survive.” – Sonja Marcus, former prisoner

Kambui-Nantambu-Jamaa-031914-web, The other death sentence: Deliberate indifference at Corcoran SHU, Abolition Now!
Kambui Nantambu Jamaa, March 19, 2014

“Deliberate indifference” is defined as “the act(s) or omissions of a prison official who knows that the prisoner faces a substantial risk of serious harm or significant pain and disregards that risk by not taking reasonable measures to abate it.” But what happens when deliberate indifference is longstanding, pervasive, well documented and expressly noted by officials over the course of time. Yet the state does nothing to correct it?

What happens is prisoners die. Prisoner deaths, especially in SHU, are almost a “tradition” at Corcoran. While the Gladiator Games and other state sponsored horrors here are most notable in the public memory, they are NOT the most lethal. That distinction belongs to deliberate medical indifference.

We would like to take this time to give you our perspectives on this phenomenon, in hopes this discussion will prompt a closer look at the curious case of Corcoran Health Care Services and its discontents.

Kambui’s statement

From my heart, soul and every fiber of my being I greet you and trust that the reservoir of love, solidarity, human decency and revolutionary compassion continues to build, strengthen and move the people towards this united front to change the imbalance of the many injustices our beautiful people experience. I also extend my love, respect and highest regards to all my brothers (reps) for their fearlessness and courageous effort in coming together and bringing this movement to life! I also extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the families, friends, loved ones and coalition members as well as to the families and loved ones we’ve lost along the way in the foul pits of these hell holes.

I’m writing this because I feel the many of you out there in so-called “society” who have supported me should know what’s going on here with me and the medical negligence, deliberate indifference and callous disregard I continue to be subjected to here in Corcoran’s 4B yard SHU.

I will begin by saying I’m a Type 2, insulin dependent, very brittle diabetic, with high blood pressure, neuropathy in my extremities – mostly in my feet, lower legs and neck – and now it has spread to my right hand in my index and ring fingers. Neuropathy is a very painful form of degenerative nerve damage. I was diagnosed in 1992 at Pelican Bay, where I spent the first 10½ years of the 24 years I’ve been in solitary confinement, believe it or not!

My diabetes has been out of control from 1993-2015. I am vision impaired, and for the past two years my Hbc A1C has been 9.3; normal is 6.0 or lower. And in spite of all this, the warden, Dave Davey, the chief medical officer and the yard MD continue to say they can treat me and my diabetic needs are being met. Yet I’ve been rushed to the ER for hypo/hyperglycemic events on numerous occa­sions.

Corcoran-SHU-cell-art-by-Billy-Sell-Courtesy-Prisoner-Express-Gary-Fine-Cornell-University-web-231x300, The other death sentence: Deliberate indifference at Corcoran SHU, Abolition Now!
Billy “Guero” Sell, who died on hunger strike as his neighbors shouted for help, was an accomplished artist. This is his Corcoran SHU cell. – Photo: courtesy Prisoner Express

On every 602 (appeal or complaint form) I’ve filed, Sacramento (CDC headquarters) simply dismisses my concerns and agrees with Corcoran. Be it for better treatment for diabetics, special diet, medications or any other accommodation, they’re just rubber-stamped and denied.

Now I’m damn near blind because these quacks refuse to treat my diabetes or even transfer me to a medical facility that can treat my diabetes. I think they want me dead. Even some of the correctional officers around here have stated, “They’re going to kill you one way or another!” or “How come they don’t transfer you?” I’m at the point now where I think these devils are really trying to kill me.

All the instances of being rushed to the ER, only to be brought back to the same diabetic program, or lack thereof, is not only deliberate indiffer­ence but attempted murder! As we have told these MDs, you can’t place a brittle diabetic on a fixed insulin dosage and tell them to pick and choose what to eat and what not to eat in a standard prison diet – with no supple­mentation for what’s missing.

I have been exercising at times and not know­ing my blood glucose level is 31, and that’s because I had nothing to repl­ace what I didn’t eat, which causes my blood sugar to drop. This is very dangerous and can cause diabetic coma.

There’ve also been instances where my glucose level was over 500 and the glucose monitor read “HIGH – check ketones” and Corcoran Medical sent me back to the cell without treatment in clear hyperglycemia – without giving me insulin or taking urine to measure ketone levels in my system. This can kill me, and on several occasions it nearly has.

All the instances of being rushed to the ER, only to be brought back to the same diabetic program, or lack thereof, is not only deliberate indiffer­ence but attempted murder!

This was evident one day in 2013 when I had to go “man down” and call for medical aid because the correctional officer who was doing first watch count ignored my request to summon a nurse, because he thought I was faking and trying to get them to open my door so I can hit (assault) one of them. When it was clear I was sick and vomiting – the cell light was on and uncovered – he left.

Two hours later, I tried to call the control cop. Someone in the section overheard me, and began to shout out to control. Finally, the control cop opened the window and shouted, “He called the medical staff, but they have an emergency on 4A.” We all knew this was bullshit.

An hour or so later, two sergeants and about eight cops, along with an LVN in military attire, pulled me out into the rotunda. While I straddled the chair, I was literally surr­ounded by all these cops. I didn’t know if I was about to be jumped, so I stayed as alert as I could in the event I had to defend and protect myself.

As I began giving my symptoms, I start heaving, about to vomit, and one officer grabbed a small trash can. The LVN went into the office and called the ER, and then took my vitals. Ten or 15 minutes later, the paramedics arrived and admitted they could not get my blood pressure down, and my glucose level was so low they had to pump glucose (sugar) into me intravenously.

This was the third or fourth time I was nearly killed by Corcoran SHU medical incompetence and the second time by custody’s slow response to my medical emergency and condition.

J.-Heshima-Denham-after-hunger-strike-0711-headshot-web-219x300, The other death sentence: Deliberate indifference at Corcoran SHU, Abolition Now!
Joka Heshima Jinsai at the beginning of the first hunger strike, in July 2011

With diabetes, if it’s not managed properly, its complications progress dangerously. This is what I am suffering now, and if this continues not only will I be blind, but amputation, kidney failure and heart disease will happen sooner than later.

I’ve been held captive in these SHU dungeons, Pelican Bay and Corcoran, for the past 24 years now. I’ve seen how healthy, mentally stable men suffer the years of being held back here by developing medical conditions that go untreated.

Not only are we denied constitutionally mandated medical care and nutritious food, but at least 20 of us here with 10-20-plus years in SHU as validated so-called “gang members” have been skipped over for a DRB (Departmental Review Board) hearing. (The board has the power to release people from SHU. – ed.)

Brother Heshima and I have not been taken to the DRB though we have a combined 40 years in SHU, ensuring our subjection to this lethal deliberate indifference is open ended.

Heshima’s statement

What Kambui has described here is a pattern of strategic medical indifference, which I’ve witnessed – and experienced firsthand – over the course of the l6 years I’ve been confined here at the Corcoran SHU torture unit. I’ve watched as Corcoran medical staff allowed a brother’s infected tooth to turn into a green pustule or abscess, then to sepsis, and finally I watched the brother die.

I watched as a brother whose common cold was allowed to progress into the flu, and though he complained of chills, fever and difficulty breathing, they just gave him Motrin and again sent him back to his tomb (cell). Three days later, he passed away of pneumonia.

We all watched as Billy “Guero” Sell died while hunger striking against indefinite torture as guards ignored cries for help from an entire unit.

I watched as my Comrade and Brother Zaharibu repeatedly requested monitoring and treatment of his degenerative disc disease, and after years of them dismissing his concerns, when a spinal x-ray was done, not only had the degeneration in his lumbar and sacral vertebrae progressed to virtual desicc­ation, but it had spread severe spondylotic spurring into his cervical vertebrae (neck), compromising his equilibrium and leaving him in perpetual pain.

On at least five occasions I can recall, I’ve had to yell to get emergency medical attention as my Comrade and Brother Kambui went into diabetic shock, so severe that he was near death. On at least one occasion, Kam’s blood glucose level was a low 44, and instead of giving him an emergency glucose tube, this numbnut nurse actually INJECTED HIM WITH INSULIN, sending him into instant hypoglycemic shock. We’re damn lucky he’s not dead.

Heshima-Denham-2013, The other death sentence: Deliberate indifference at Corcoran SHU, Abolition Now!
Heshima in 2013, after the last hunger strike

As for myself, I severely damaged my cardio-vascular, muscular and connective tissue during the three hunger strikes – 2011 and 2013 – and coupled with my age, it has me on “chronic care.” Though I’ve gone to medical and chronic care appointments MULTIPLE times about the pain in my right side, beneath my rib cage, since the close of the first hunger strike, they’ve yet to even diagnose, let alone treat it.

Though we adhere to a strict exercise and training regimen, the physical structure of Corcoran SHU cells affords little space to move. Yet we MUST in order to combat the quasi-sedentariness SHU imposes. The damage to my body has had one disturbing side effect for me: I find myself more susceptible to injury.

To give you an example of why this is such a dangerous prison, recently I injured my left knee and right side of my back while working out. Though related to the connective tissue damage I sustained, it was so severe I could not function – or even walk – normally. Two days later I went to my chronic care appointment, not with my normal MD but with a nurse named Rouch.

As I attem­pted to explain the severity of my pain, and how the Motrin I had was proving ineffective, she kept putting me off, stating: “That’s not what you’re here for. Fill out a sick call slip!” She then asked me why I was on chronic care, as she stared at the computer, which stated in bold print why I was on chronic care: severe musculoskeletal pain and tissue damage.

I ignored the question as I examined her. I was on chronic care for the very thing I was complaining of, but part of the core contradiction with Corcoran health care services is the vast majority of its employees are right wing conservatives from the Central Valley who openly complain about prisoners receiving health care in prison that many on the street have to pay for with insurance – as though we asked to be subject to imprisonment and civil death – and this often translates in how – or if – care is delivered.

Wanting to ensure that I understood her position clearly, I asked: “I am in debilitating pain which is impairing my ability to function or even walk normally, I’m sitting in a medical clinic full of health care “professionals,” and you’re telling me I have to fill out a sick call slip, wait weeks in pain to be called, and then you’ll treat me?”

Self-portrait-art-by-Billy-Sell-Courtesy-Prisoner-Express-Gary-Fine-Cornell-University-web-300x211, The other death sentence: Deliberate indifference at Corcoran SHU, Abolition Now!
Billy Sell, self-portrait – Photo courtesy Prisoner Express

She stated, “Yes, you’re not here for that. Fill out a sick call slip when you go back.” Realizing she did not understand – or even care – that her response was a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment’s deliberate indifference standard, I had no interest in further dialogue. Nor was I interested in indulging in reactionary anger. Her position did not surprise me; this is Corcoran health care, where incompetence, deliberate indifference and death are the standard prescriptions.

When she finally got up to take my vitals, she saw my leg extended and asked me why. I looked at her with empty eyes, and in my best “Are you kidding me, lady?” voice, I said quietly, “Because I’m in pain.” She stated she’d give me some Motrin, but I needed to fill out a sick call slip to be treated. I simply ignored her, waiting to be returned to my cell.

One of the first things I had told her was Motrin was ineffective for the pain, and I knew something was wrong because my pain threshold is very high. It was clear she’d dismissed it as soon as I said it.

This is Corcoran health care, where incompetence, deliberate indifference and death are the standard prescriptions.

When I returned to the cell, I immediately filed a medical 602 on the incident. To clearly demonstrate how secondary actual health care delivery is here in Corcoran SHU, in relation to the primacy of its authoritarian dictates, the appeal was cancelled by the health care appeals coordinator.

In some of the most irrational and convoluted logic I’ve seen in some time, the appeals coordinator stated I “brought up concerns beyond the purpose of my chronic care appointment” and I should “fill out a sick call slip as instructed and wait to be called.” As such, they were “interpreting the staff complaint as an ‘anticipated action,’” so the appeal was cancelled.

That I was appealing a clear instance of deliberate indifference is so obvious as to warrant no explanation. What is of note is their response to it. I sent the appeal and cancelation to Prison Watch Network, as it is a matter of public interest, employed a week of reiki and focused meditation (Sha) until the pain in the injured areas of my body was manageable, then continued our work. I refuse to kow-tow to state torture or authoritarianism – not now, not EVER.

Michael-Zaharibu-Dorrough-1214-web-300x212, The other death sentence: Deliberate indifference at Corcoran SHU, Abolition Now!
Zaharibu Dorrough, December 2014

Our experiences here at Corcoran SHU and the accounts of tens of thousands of others around the nation reveal that deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of prisoners is a collateral consequence of the expansion of the Prison Industrial Slave Complex in Amerika, but it is one we will NEVER accept. Health care is a HUMAN RIGHT, no matter if you’re free or bond. What we cannot overlook is its clearest expression is targeted so keenly at political and politicized prisoners – and has ALWAYS been.

It is no coincidence that Kambui, Zaharibu, myself and many, many other political and politicized prisoners are subject to this political terrorism. Phil Africa of MOVE was recently murdered by state medical indiff­erence; Mumia Abu Jamal was recently nearly killed by a glycemic event eerily similar to those Kambui has endured; Leonard Peltier, Marilyn Buck and far too many freedom fighters have been murdered, injured or degraded by state deliberate indifference.

As we gear up for the Free Speech battle of this generation, we hope you will consider questioning the wisdom of releasing the CDCr from federal medical receivership and, more centrally, what type of society uses deliberate medical indifference as a weapon to kill, injure and torture segments of its population who simply oppose the oppression of man and woman by man and woman.

Think on these things. They are worthy of great meditation.

Send our brothers some love and light: Kambui Nantambu Jamaa, s/n T. Robinson, C-82830 CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-28, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; and Joka Heshima Jinsai, s/n S. Denham, J-38283, CSP-COR-SHU 4B1L-25, P.O. Box 3481 Corcoran, CA 93212.


My Brother Eric Garner, we didn’t know you

but we watched you die

Standing on the street trying to feed your family

and make ends meet

Them pigs didn’t give you a chance to

But we saw your dear wife tell your

story with tears in her eyes

Them pigs knew who you were

because they had been in your face

harassed you before trying to give you a case

My Brother Eric, your death was not in vain

You gave rise to Black Lives Matter

Oscar, Trayvon, Mike and you stand tall

The people will bring justice to you and all!

This racism thing, injustice in Amerikkka, is widespread

and you wonder why your citizens run off to aid other countries in

putting your ass to bed

Hijacking planes filled with beautiful, innocent people

and flying them into your World Trade to stop your evil!

So, Brother Eric, you didn’t die alone

Part of us is with you – New Afrikans stay strong!

– Kambui Nantambu Jamaa