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"Wheelchair Hell"
December 8, 2011 2:34 AM   Subscribe

"Imagine 12 men in a dorm all in diapers and sitting in their own feces," he says. "It smelled like a combination of what people had for lunch that day and pus from people's open wounds. I've been in a wheelchair now for three years, and the jail is by far the worst place I've ever seen for a disabled person." -- L.A. Weekly on "Wheelchair Hell" in the L.A. County Men's Jail
posted by bardic (42 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Why would jailers take wheelchairs away from injured or paralyzed inmates, a key allegation in the lawsuit? Saving money could be a reason."

Yeah, saving money and because they think of the inmates as subhuman and deserving of whatever horrible treatment they dole out. Milgram, anyone?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:47 AM on December 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


I actually can't deal with reading this. Between this and the DLA/Suicide thing, I'm about ready to be on the side of the gigaton-impact asteroids.
posted by Zarkonnen at 2:51 AM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


im more on the side of improving things but w/e yours is good too
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:57 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Remember the days when people would read something infuriating and horrifying like this and the uproar would force those responsible to put an end to it?

Neither do I. Did they ever really exist?
posted by JHarris at 2:57 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Remember the days when people would read something infuriating and horrifying like this and the uproar would force those responsible to put an end to it?

Neither do I. Did they ever really exist?


To abuse a Sagan quote, don't be so cynical your brain falls out. How about these:

the abolitionist movement
the workers' rights movement
the women's rights movement
the civil rights movement
the gay rights movement
the environmental movement

Certainly at least one person in those movements read something infuriating, at some point.

For more about LA County jails, see the ACLU's Cruel and Usual Punishment — How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls L.A. County Jails.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:08 AM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


That was infuriating and heartbreaking. I sometimes wonder if we have any hope of turning this humanity ship around.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:28 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The sheer inhumanity of the US penal system never ceases to boggle my mind and regularly surpass the bounds of sane.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:47 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm sure those people who are left to rot in their own faeces will come out of jail completely rehabilitated.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:10 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


To abuse a Sagan quote, don't be so cynical your brain falls out.

I actually wasn't trying to be cynical. It is good to be reminded of those things.
posted by JHarris at 5:01 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is an example of a punishment that is far more cruel than a death penalty.
posted by Renoroc at 5:06 AM on December 8, 2011


I represented a quadriplegic man who was charged with assault one time. Apparently some home health care person was changing him and he urinated, causing her to get urine on her. She went to the magistrate and the magistrate took out a warrant against him for Assault on a Female (maximum punishment of 150 days in prison).

The DA dismissed it, of course, but the following all happened:
1. Woman tried to have a quadriplegic criminally charged for assaulting her.
2. Magistrate actually issued a warrant against a quadriplegic man for assault.
3. Quadriplegic man had to get a lawyer.
4. Quadriplegic man had to go to court to face these charges.
posted by flarbuse at 5:47 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Remember the days when people would read something infuriating and horrifying like this and the uproar would force those responsible to put an end to it? Neither do I. Did they ever really exist?

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle did a lot to establish the FDA food safety regulations.

Granted, Sinclair was trying to rally people to do something about unsafe working conditions instead, but hey.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:48 AM on December 8, 2011


I represented a quadriplegic man who was charged with assault one time. Apparently some home health care person was changing him and he urinated, causing her to get urine on her. She went to the magistrate and the magistrate took out a warrant against him for Assault on a Female
posted by TedW at 6:06 AM on December 8, 2011


(that last comment was me being speechless)
posted by TedW at 6:07 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]



What is it with LA and criminal justice? Buncha cowboys out there. Of course you've got Joe Arpaio in Phoenix, with his tents, bologna sandwiches and pink underwear.

Honestly, is it a reformatory or a penitentary? The former seeks to reform anti-social behavior and recognizes a prisoner as someone who may be redeemable. The latter? Well, how's that working for you?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:07 AM on December 8, 2011


JHarris: "Remember the days when people would read something infuriating and horrifying like this and the uproar would force those responsible to put an end to it?

Neither do I. Did they ever really exist?
"

Willowbrook.
posted by Splunge at 6:18 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know why we don't just shoot people who are convicted of a crime in the head immediately after the verdict is read. Our prison system isn't interested in the slightest in rehabilitating anyone, must less just plain treating people humanely, and it seems the majority of Americans are fine with that. (LOL PRISON RAPE JOKES LOL)
posted by Legomancer at 6:20 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's really fucking simple, and I'll say it in little words so the conservatives amongst us can understand:

If you believe in "law and order" because it is necessary in this "great nation", and you imprison people as a result of those beliefs, then it's your fucking duty and responsibility to do it correctly. "Do as I say, not as I do" is a childish and idiotic philosophy.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:35 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Benny Andajetz: " If you believe in "law and order" because it is necessary in this "great nation", and you imprison people as a result of those beliefs, then it's your fucking duty and responsibility to do it correctly. "Do as I say, not as I do" is a childish and idiotic philosophy."

As with many issues however, people on all sides of the political spectrum seem to follow a personal policy of 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind."
posted by zarq at 6:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


As with many issues however, people on all sides of the political spectrum seem to follow a personal policy of 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind."

Oh, I agree that that is the overarching problem here. The real insanity is that when the issue becomes public, the jailers are allowed to posit some kind of economic argument. They insist that these people be incarcerated; they need to be responsible for funding the situation. Do it right or don't do it. End of story.

(It's the equivalent of the joke about the young man who kills his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he's an orphan.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:00 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find myself less sympathetic than the rest of you. Both of the men featured in that story did try to kill someone, after all. Further, Morgan was classified by doctors (whom I am inclined to trust more than a gangster) and has not yet had his lawsuit heard.

I think the most convincing part of the article was not emphasized, and it's a problem that is, I believe, not unique to those in wheelchairs: Those men were presumed innocent, and their punishment should not have begun until they had been tried. That is true of every person awaiting trial, and it is, if you ask me, a far larger travesty. (Tens of?) Thousands of truly innocent people are being punished.

Finally, this is not a balanced piece of reporting. We hear a gangster, a man who attempted murder, and a plaintiff-side lawyer. I'm not saying they're wrong. They may totally be right. But I'll suspend my despair until I hear about this from a judge or a paper a little more, well, hard-hitting than LA Weekly, which appears to be an alt-weekly tabloid.

And finally, finally, Reyes got three years' probation after he shot at people. Seriously? Probation?
posted by bexpert at 7:15 AM on December 8, 2011


As with many issues however, people on all sides of the political spectrum seem to follow a personal policy of 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind."

Followers of one religion are enjoined (in Matthew 25) to visit prisoners in prison. Then again, I suppose harassing school boards and picketing libraries is more fun.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:15 AM on December 8, 2011


ricochet biscuit: " Followers of one religion are enjoined (in Matthew 25) to visit prisoners in prison.

I'm not a Christian but I would think that a better rule of thumb for all people, religious or not, would be to help create and maintain an environment in our society in which it is less likely they'd wind up locked away in the first place.

Then again, I suppose harassing school boards and picketing libraries is more fun."

Priorities... priorities...
posted by zarq at 7:23 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle did a lot to establish the FDA food safety regulations.

These days, a modern-day version of Upton Sinclair would be lucky if she were on anyone's radar. If she were, she'd be torn apart by Fox News for being a socialist.

Ruthless Bunny: Honestly, is it a reformatory or a penitentary? The former seeks to reform anti-social behavior and recognizes a prisoner as someone who may be redeemable. The latter? Well, how's that working for you?

The American penal system pays lip service to rehabilitation but in reality it abandoned rehabilitation as a goal decades ago. Now the main goals are punishment, retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation. If there's any effort at rehabilitation it usually quickly becomes fodder for local news stories about how the taxpayers are footing the bill for criminals to live the good life.
posted by blucevalo at 7:27 AM on December 8, 2011


These days, a modern-day version of Upton Sinclair would be lucky if she were on anyone's radar. If she were, she'd be torn apart by Fox News for being a socialist.

Upton Sinclair actually was a socialist.

Upton Sinclair was also a "he", for the record.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The American penal system pays lip service to rehabilitation but in reality it abandoned rehabilitation as a goal decades ago. Now the main goals are punishment, retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation.

Don't forget "profit".
posted by clarknova at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is the fact that prison life in the US is hell on purpouse ? Kind of trying to make you think twice about committing an offence.
Because if so, for the real innocents that land in prison this must suck twice.
posted by elcapitano at 7:51 AM on December 8, 2011


Benny Andajetz: "The real insanity is that when the issue becomes public, the jailers are allowed to posit some kind of economic argument. They insist that these people be incarcerated; they need to be responsible for funding the situation. Do it right or don't do it. End of story.

(It's the equivalent of the joke about the young man who kills his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he's an orphan.)
"

Completely agree.
posted by zarq at 7:59 AM on December 8, 2011


Those conditions (open wounds, sitting in feces) would lead to blood poisoning and death pretty darn quick. It happens to people (like Christopher Reeve) who are not in jail. I think that if the paper investigated deaths during or some time after prison stays of these folks, they would find a connection. I have no proof, of course, outside the knowledge that you put somebody in those conditions when they're paralyzed? That's what happens.
posted by angrycat at 8:00 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because if so, for the real innocents that land in prison this must suck twice.

My aunt was a prison guard for a few years. Whenever she spoke about it she always repeated the pat phrase "no one in prison is guilty", which of course means everyone is guilty and also a liar. I've heard this refrain enough from others to realize it's an ideology, i.e.: the system always works, everyone's a criminal, those who maintain innocence are lying cowards on top of being damned.
posted by clarknova at 8:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Upton Sinclair actually was a socialist.

Upton Sinclair was also a "he", for the record.


Yes, but the modern day Upton Sinclair probably wouldn't be a socialist, and might not be a "he".
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:34 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My aunt was a prison guard for a few years. Whenever she spoke about it she always repeated the pat phrase "no one in prison is guilty", which of course means everyone is guilty and also a liar. I've heard this refrain enough from others to realize it's an ideology, i.e.: the system always works, everyone's a criminal, those who maintain innocence are lying cowards on top of being damned.

Back when I was young enough to be shocked by this kind of thing, a clerk at a prosecutions office in which I worked turned from the counter and said to me "If I knew what he'd been charged with, I wouldn't have been so helpful!" Charged with, mind.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:42 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those men were presumed innocent, and their punishment should not have begun until they had been tried.

Even if they are convicted, their punishment should not include being subject to conditions like these.

If you are going to lock people up and control how they live, what they eat, whether or not they see a doctor - if you're going to control every aspect of their lives, then it is your duty to ensure that they do not have to live like this.

Also, regarding the rehabilitation vs punishment thing: "The only purposes of imprisonment are “retribution, deterrence and incapacitation, not rehabilitation,” said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent interpretation of a 1984 sentencing law. The ruling, written by one of the court’s most conservative judges, Andrew Kleinfeld, overturned a Hawaii man’s two-year sentence for violating the terms of his release and sent the case back to the trial judge to impose a shorter term." link
posted by rtha at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Even if they are convicted, their punishment should not include being subject to conditions like these.

If you are going to lock people up and control how they live, what they eat, whether or not they see a doctor - if you're going to control every aspect of their lives, then it is your duty to ensure that they do not have to live like this.


This.

So many seem to forget that loss of freedom is the punishment. Imprisonment removes your freedom to do as you wish for a specified period of time. That is the punishment. Denying medical care or food or basic, humane conditions is just piling on, and completely unjustifiable.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:53 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I couldn't even finish the article. It's just incomprehensibly horrible.
posted by 26.2 at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2011


Even if they are convicted, their punishment should not include being subject to conditions like these.

We're talking about County Jail here. There are likely some people in pre-trial detention who haven't been convicted of a crime yet.
posted by mikelieman at 9:24 AM on December 8, 2011


Upton Sinclair actually was a socialist.

That 20 page stream-of-conscience rant the protagonist gives at the end of The Jungle kind of gives that impression.

Fun Fact: LA County Jail is also de facto the largest "mental institution" in the nation. Around 1/7 of the population is mentally ill.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:43 AM on December 8, 2011


We're talking about County Jail here. There are likely some people in pre-trial detention who haven't been convicted of a crime yet.

I get that. Is there something I'm being unclear about when I say that, guilty or innocent, pretrial detention or maximum security for life, no one deserves to be treated this way?
posted by rtha at 10:47 AM on December 8, 2011


can't read this shit. fucking fascists
posted by growabrain at 12:04 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find myself less sympathetic than the rest of you. Both of the men featured in that story did try to kill someone, after all.

Yeah, that's the attitude that allows these conditions to ummm fester, pun intended. That hey, it's awful if you're innocent and accidently have to suffer through these indignaties, but as long as you're guilty of whatever you're accused off, than you deserve everything you get in prison.

(And of course, if you dig deep enough, everybody is guilty.)
posted by MartinWisse at 12:24 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I read this and cringed continuously throughout. Not only is this treatment destroying the dignity and humanity of these prisoners, it's a great way to kill them.

As a quad myself, I have gotten so so many lectures on how to prevent skin breakdown/pressure sores, because 1) open sores are bad and 2) if they get infected, or, hell, if they get deep enough, you're looking at potential sepsis, renal failure and/or death. As angrycat mentioned upthread, pressure sores contributed to the death of Christopher Reeve. And the conditions that speed along skin breakdown/sore development and infection are exactly those described in the article.
posted by clavier at 5:43 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, Bardic, thank you for posting.

I've been musing about why disability rights doesn't have the, I don't know, cachet of other civil rights movements. I know for me, I was an advocate in my pre-para life, and subsequently rolled a hard six and went into academia. And I've always told myself, been there, done that, like books better, even grading papers is oft-times funner than trying to make folks care who are on a different planet, a different set of concerns altogether.

Actually, now that I think on it, didn't a group of deaf students organize and create major changes at a school for the deaf in D.C.?

Anyways, I would think that when it comes to say, racial issues, gender issues, sexual orientation issues, there may be more of a community than what exists twixt the disabled. I mean, for real, the things I am interested in are apart from my wheelchair and all that comes with it. I could and should extend my hand to those people I mock at Tea Party rallies, the ones who use the motorized scooter and scream about not touching their Medicare. Maybe I'm too old. Maybe I'm too cynical, or full of it, or something.

That being said, I hope every motherfucking person in that motherfucking institution start bringing down some hellfire on this shit. I'm talking ACLU class action, I want individuals to feel hurt deep in their wallets.

I swear, it's enough to wish the Wheelchair Assassins in Infinite Jest were a thing.
posted by angrycat at 6:52 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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