Scrambled eggs, tortillas, and salsa

Mike was sentenced to fifty years to life for stealing $200 from a convenience store.  Mike was a Jehovah’s witness.  Mike was my cellee.  And Mike was sick.

When I first moved into the cell with Mike, I wasn’t sure what to think.  He was old, at least he looked it.  He walked with a cane and slept with a CPAP strapped to his face.  Other than his apnea, Mike didn’t really know what was wrong with him and the prison doctors certainly didn’t know either.  What he did know was that it was getting progressively harder for him to walk each day.

When I moved in, Mike had already been waiting six months for the “emergency” transfer he so desperately needed which would house him in a medical facility where he might get better treatment. A bed had been made available at a medical prison a few months earlier, but the transfer had been cancelled.  Something to do with not taking patients who’d previously been treated for depression with medication.

So, Mike got dramatically worse each and every week I lived with him.  He was slow and mobile when we first met.  He would make the exhausting trek from the cell to the chow hall to the pill line and back to the cell twice each day.  He would make the journey out to Greystone Chapel every Saturday afternoon.  The rest of the time he spent in our four foot by nine foot broom closet lying on his bed, reading his Bible, writing home to his wife, or watching television.

Two months later, Mike was no longer mobile.  He couldn’t walk.  I brought him breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a tray from the chow hall beneath the suspicious gaze of the guards who were convinced I was actually trying to double up on meals. I fetched the nurse to make sure he got his meds, and the cops just thought I was trying to get the pills for myself.

Mike continued to get worse.  He cried to himself on his bunk because he was in so much pain.  He often fell down trying to get to the toilet at night.  I would catch him when I could but I wasn’t always there, in time or at all.  I’ll never forget the look of shame on his face when he opened his first pack of adult diapers.  Day by day, I felt like Mike was slipping away and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

The fellas on the yard told me that I needed to move out of that cell for my own well being.  You see, if Mike died while I was living with him, the guards would assume that there was foul play; I would go to the hole until an autopsy cleared me of any potential murder beef.  I would lose my job in the welding shop. My classification hearing would get delayed which meant my actual release date could end up being further out.

I spoke with my homeboys to see if there was any way I could talk to the cops about what was happening but that was a no go.  It could be misconstrued as snitching, even if well intended.  I talked with my most trusted friends and they, too, thought I should take care of myself and move out.  But none of these people knew Mike.  To them, he was just that guy that lived with me.

I decided to stay in the cell with him.  Of course, I was scared.  I was scared of the idea that Mike might die in the cell with me there and I was scared of the idea of going to the hole and having my whole program fucked up.  But I think I was more fearful of what it would feel like to move out, abandoning him to whatever knucklehead may end up in the cell with him.  Would he bring him his food?  Would he help him out?  Would he tolerate the multiracial Jehovah’s Witness crowd that sometimes gathered outside the cell to check on him?

So, I stayed.  And one locked-down afternoon, I discovered Mike motionless and breathless in the cell with me. His arm, hanging over the edge of his bunk, hadn’t moved in a couple hours.  I couldn’t see his face because he covered up his respirator with a towel while he slept.  I shook his foot and no response.  I yelled his name and nothing.  Finally, I walked up to the head of his bunk and removed the towel, only to see his purple face with the CPAP strapped to it, bubbles blowing from his mouth.

“MAN DOWN!” I yelled from my cell until the cops, nurses, and gurney showed up.  They used a sheet to drag his pale blue body off of the bunk, out of the cell, and onto the tier.  A nurse pronounced him dead by swiping her fingers across her throat. The cop standing next to me quietly uttered, “Snap crackle pop”.

I was escorted away in handcuffs and locked into a coffin-sized, plexiglass-lined cage,  pending transfer to the hole.  Anxiety had the best of me. I  raged with all the selfishness of somebody who saw the immediate future and dreaded all of it. I struggled to find my breath and had to squeeze to the bottom of the cage where there was air.

Four anxiety-ridden hours I remained in the cage.  A guard finally approached and I was set free to return to my cell.  “Go pack up your cellee’s shit,” he told me.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because somebody brought him back to life in the ambulance.  You didn’t kill him because he ain’t dead now.  You’re a lucky motherfucker,” the guard said nonchalantly.

I learned later that Mike is brain dead.  A vegetable.  In a sick twist of fate, Mike got the emergency medical transfer he so desperately needed. He was hooked up to life-support in order to serve out the remainder of his life sentence.  If he could remember anything, his last waking moment was me bringing him breakfast.  Scrambled eggs, tortillas, and salsa.

51 thoughts on “Scrambled eggs, tortillas, and salsa

  1. These stories are killing me. I’m sorry you experienced these inhumanities but glad you’re sharing so the rest of us can see.

  2. Matt… I am so sorry you went through this. I’m also very proud of you for starting this page. Your eloquent words will reach people in a way that matters. Keep it up!!

    1. it is hard to read and digest. You were in a notorious prison from what I hear. I my son was in such I do not know if I could bare it. Hope you had support, but hey you survived it. Some people out here walk around as IF in their own prisons.

  3. What a moving story about how your presence brought humanity to an inhuman place and circumstances. This story shows how you showed up with your heart, even in a heartless place. What a life lesson for us all.

  4. Thank you for helping my brother in faith. Jehovah God will bless you for caring for him. Maybe we will meet in paradise. I pray so.

    1. Mike was certainly a faithful Witness. He was a very kind man and spent a lot of time writing commentaries on scripture which he sent as letters to others on the streets.

  5. I knew a Jehovah’s Witness dude in the joint. His celly was elderly and I’d often see him helping him with simple tasks such as putting his socks on. Like your celly he was lucky to be housed with a solid dude who helped him every day. Not everyone in there would’ve been so cool. He could’ve easily been locked down with someone who didn’t give two shits whether he lived or died. Great writeup

  6. God bless you!! I know of prison life, never been there but have a love one. I fight for everything that he needs! You have to have an outside voice. I do not understand why his family did not fight for medical attention! Yes, you can make these non caring heartless staff do what needs to be done for a love one!!! Again thank you for your kindness! God has you! Trust and beleive!!!

    1. Not sure how much his family knew. He was the type that might not have told them in letters what was going on, and I’m not sure if his family ever visited him (at least not when we lived there).

  7. I was locked up with an elderly lady who was going through severe kidney problems. She also requested a medical transfer but the wait for medical attention is very long. I used to get in the shower to help her bathe despite the comments. They did allow her a wheelchair but she had to ask people to push her. I remember finding her grey in bed one day it was a weekend so I got the guard whom call the 911. She lived and got transfered but it forever changed my mind of people. They truely have no reguard for oeople who make mistakes.

  8. God has a plan for you .very proud of you sacrificing your life to make sure he was taking care of .you don’t see people doing that these days ……

  9. Your story touched my heart along with a steady flow of tears. Through it all you did what was best for him and not allowing the what would happen to you if he had died. God called it, not those people who are so called in command with lack of compassion for human beings because it’s just a job to them. I commend you on your faithfulness to a friend/celle,
    Peace and Blessings!

  10. Keep writing for Mike. Tell these inhumane treatments. One day it will make a difference. I’ve been on both sides. I’m a former CO from Ohio who fell in love with a gentlemen who is locked up!

  11. Hi I just wanted to let you know I’ve enjoyed your blog posts lately. It’s nice to know other people are experiencing the human side of prison and can see how wrong it all is. My husband was at New Folsom Prison CSP recently for court. I’ve been printing our your articles for him to read, he has been locked up for 14 years on a wrongful conviction at age 16. Feel free to check out our blog innocentat16.com Thanks for the good reads, keep ’em comin’!

  12. Jehovah will surely bless you for the great heart and kind spirit that you shared with Mike. Even on the outside people who care they way you did are hard to find. Keep writing!! Hope to see more of your blog soon.

  13. This really touched my heart. Hit home, my husband passed away while serving time in prison on Aug 5 2016. I was told he died at the hospital. His celly and neighbors told me that CO’s did not help him when his celly yelled man down! They made my husband wait until they felt like comming. Your story reminded me of some of the things my husband and his celly went through. I beleive God put you in your cellys path because he needed you there for him. Thank you for sharing. Be blessed.

  14. Touching and riveting story. Keep writing.

    I am so sorry you were incarcerated and I’m glad you’re out. However, it is wonderful that you were there for your cellee; he needed help and you were there for him. It is also wonderful that you have chosen to write about your experiences. I have never been in prison and, although I have ex-con friends, they don’t like to talk about it much. I imagine that most people who have not been to prison have as little idea of what it is like as I do; it is important that we all get a sense of what prison life is like so that we, as a society, are more motivated to advocate for prison reform. No one should be sentenced to years in prison for stealing $200, no one should be denied medical care, no one should have to fear being put in the ‘hole’ for doing a good deed. The whole system needs to be overhauled.

  15. Thank you for sharing your stories. I’m sorry that you had to live through .
    Keep writing it’s great therapy.
    Blessing, stay positive, focused and determined. Chin up shoulders back!

    1. I think this event was a symptom of a system-wide issue. Slow communication channels, few empty beds in medical facilities, overcrowding in general, inability to assess when a medical condition is severe or not. Do I think the guards around me could’ve done a whole lot different? Not really, given the circumstances. I definitely think things could’ve been done differently at an administrative level. This issue is far bigger.

  16. There is no end in sight to the inhumane mass incarceration that our country has been fixated on, for the past few decades. It was beginning to get better with Obama ending the use of for profit prisons for non deportation cases but all of that has already been undone under Trump. I was incarcerated for a mere 120 days but it changed my life. I was lucky. I had a good attorney and I’m white. I have since gotten clean and I have spent a lot of time on political actions, like California’s prop 47, that help ensure that only the who people belong in prison are in prison.

  17. Amazing story, your celly was blessed for having you and maybe you too were blessed. Our awesome lord has you and your celly. God continue to bless you. My boys done 21 yrs and coming to the end of the tunnel, lots of stories to tell but he won’t talk about what he’s gone through, blessing.

  18. Just Amazing! You remind me alot of myself, btw my name is Matthew too. I don’t know if you know this but in one translation, it literally means, a “gift from God.” And that’s what you were to that man and people like us who don’t really know what to do with themselves after seeing all we have. I am 42 now, and I have learned to stay out, I was a heroin addict and that repulsive drug has taken everyone I have loved, and half my own life. But I am free today, I now live with Hep C and a chronic Neurological Disorder but bro, I don’t have to fill out a form for sick call. I get to call and make an appointment. Thank you for your writing! And you know I had a really successful blog which basically chronicled my own life behind bars, and it was very therapeutic as I am sure you are finding out. Stay out, people need you. Alot of pressure. Good, it was meant to be. LOL

    1. Good luck withyour hep C. Now that you’re out hopefully you can get Harvoni. I had hep C For 40 years, and yes it screws with your nervous system, your bones (osteoporosis) I had a liver transplant in 2012 and doing good. But hep c damages more than your liver. I also had liver cancer. I can’t even list the things it caused. But today I am hep C Free. Medically Ill always have to fight what it did to me but I’m alive! Wow! And loving it. Dr said I wouldn’t have made it another couple weeks. So I wish you the best. I got it from shouting drugs in my 20’s.I’m in my 60’s now and every day is a new day I get to live, in spite of the pain issues. You don’t feel pain if you’re dead! Life is for the living!

  19. Hi found you by accident. I’m going to reblog this. The way medical issues are handled in prison is criminal in itself but they are allowed to get away with murder which doesn’t make sense. My blog is on prison issues but it is foremost on an inmate Jamie cvCummings. He has epilepsy. I know the things he has been through. We’ve been writing for ten years. He’s also the father of one of my grandsons. I won’t get into his story. If you want you can read it at http://mynameisjamie.net. I also put out a newsletter once a month. It’s at the top of the scroll if you want to go to it (and subscribe 🙂 This month was on medical issues. I also use writings of other inmates or x-inmates and things of interest if you write something special I can link to or reprint.

  20. Hi, I felt your pain, anxiety and fear. I served a total of 21 years on a life sentence. Of those 21 years I spent 18 years at CCWF. I seen many thing that I now will live with for the rest of my life. From medical neglect to staff retaliation. My heart goes out to Mike and his family. For those of us who went through all the drama and abuse at the hands of staff and inmates know the feeling and need to be the voice for those left behind. No one knows what it’s like unless they have been there. Thank you for your story.

  21. can someone answer me this; what is the best way an indigent prisoner, no friends nor family outside the prison, chronically ill (with multiple medical issue) get adequate treatment? Are filing greivances any hope?

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