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8.28.2003

Compound Fracture

I'm going to take a break from looking at Kirstin's trial today, to talk about another kind of injustice she - and other innocent people in prison - are being forced to bear. That is the careless treatment of prisoners in general.

For the most part, there isn't a lot of pity or sympathy for the plight of those caught up in the prison system. After all, the good majority of them have committed some crime or another, and a civilized society will believe such a person should be punished. By extension, we don't blink when their punishment goes beyond what was required by law. If a prisoner has an ear infection and is treated poorly, we're not likely to get all up in arms about it. It is not that the health care is unavaliable, or that the health care officials are cruel (usually). It is simply a matter of indifference. They don't care, and by and large, the public doesn't care about the state of the prison system either (there are exceptions).

I recently learned that Kirstin Lobato had to have an impacted wisdom tooth removed, a fairly common piece of dental work. I have never undergone the procedure, but a very good friend has, and I recall him being in pain for days despite military-strength drugs (and yes, those are a bit stronger than most), and he was unable to eat solid foods. Now, this is part of a message I received recently:

[Kirstin] had 4 impacted wisdom teeth. They only removed one. The oral surgeon tried to get authorization for all of them, but the prison would only authorize one. Can you imagine having to go through that 4 times? Without pain medication other than Motrin? It is positively inhumane.

Motrin. Maybe people with migraines can get by now on chewable aspirins. We could handle compound fractures with a stick and some duct tape. Or perform CPR with a rubber hammer and an air pump.

I know that history has some glowing reports on how useful leeches can be in dealing with almost any medical problem.

Anyhow, the point is this: when faced with the concept of a person needing four impacted wisdom teeth removed, and the oral surgeon says he or she can remove them all at the same time, it would be both sensible and kind to do it that way. It would also be right to prescribe an effective pain medication. That is the sort of treatment you can expect - as a matter of course - outside of the prison walls. But not inside.

To be honest, it is not easy for me to care when it comes to the health of those in prison. Like many people, I don't really feel much for those who are serving time for the crimes they have committed. But that indifference ends when I remember that the injustices that plague criminals in prison also harm the innocents in prison. It is, to me, an unacceptable state of affairs. And in Kirstin's case, this is but one small example of how the initial failure of justice to protect her has now fractured into more personal harm.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a Russian novelist famous for his insights into the complexities of humanity, once wrote:

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners.


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