Drug Resistant

Harris County jailers are in no hurry to hand out meds to inmates with AIDS. Inmates claim this and other lockup practices endanger their lives.

The jail seems to have violated its own rules concerning quarantines. Inmate Chester Dickerson, himself a doctor, first contacted the Press in April when an inmate prescribed with TB medication was brought into the cell block. He sometimes wore a face mask. According to several inmates, the man with TB claimed that he was offered a choice between isolation or the gay cell block. He chose the latter because it had a TV.

Seale says containing tuberculosis is tricky because not everyone who has TB is contagious. Medications can suppress TB, but inmates say this man did not comply with his regimen. Dickerson and other inmates with AIDS were afraid the inmate would be the death of them, and asked to be quarantined and tested for exposure. After Dickerson filed a grievance, on May 5 the cell block was quarantined for two days while inmates were given a skin test and chest X-ray. At least one person, Brian Moreland, tested positive.

"I was angry, but I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do," Moreland says.

…but in Harris County Jail it took 18 days before he got his meds.
…but in Harris County Jail it took 18 days before he got his meds.
Randall Shook must take his medication each day…
Deron Neblett
Randall Shook must take his medication each day…

On August 1 another quarantine began in the same cell block one day before Shook was to be interviewed by the Press. It lasted for 20 days and was lifted the day after Shook was released from custody. The quarantine was for shingles, a painful eruption of blisters caused by a resurfacing of the chicken pox virus. Those who have never had chicken pox can catch it from someone with shingles.

Seale says the length of quarantines varies, depending on what the communicable disease is. Typically, an infection-control nurse looks at and interviews everyone to determine who is already immune to chicken pox, he says.

However, inmates say that they were kept in the dark about what shingles was until a nurse visited them nine days after the quarantine began. (She asked each inmate to spin around for her, fully clothed, and although she asked if anyone had burning blisters, she did not ask about chicken pox history, inmates say.) In the meantime, they were fed on Styrofoam plates and could not receive commissary goods or mail. Toilets backed up for two days. William Ward and another inmate scooped waste out so they could use them.

By that time, the inmate who allegedly had shingles had come back from isolation and was housed in an adjoining cell block, inmates report. One inmate, Ryan Chuston, confused as to why the quarantine continued if that inmate had been placed in different living quarters, filed a grievance, signed by 30 others. They stated that many people were moved around during the quarantine (in violation of the jail's policy, which prohibits any movement -- no court, no recreation, no law library). The only people who can leave are those being released from custody.

On the second day of the quarantine, the residents of the cell block rioted, and deputies took the inmates out of the cell block and into the hallway while they went through their bunks. Days later, two new inmates also were brought in. On August 14, Shook and another inmate got into a fight and were moved to solitary confinement.

"If we really had shingles, that whole jail would have it by now," Shook says of the frequent movement.

"Obviously inmates don't move on their own volition. They don't decide, 'I'm going to move to the other side of the building,' you know," Seale says. "So that had to be a decision made by someone in the security chain of command. And why the quarantine was not followed, I really can't answer."

Van Pelt said he could not comment on the quarantine until he had more specific information. When given specifics, he said he would seek answers, but was not able to obtain them by the time this paper went to press.

Ever since the June flood, Raul Carvajal has worked in a mostly empty building. Two days after the flood, inmates were cuffed two by two at the ankles and marched down the darkened stairwell of 1301 Franklin. The power and water had gone out. They were then loaded into buses and crowded into 701 San Jacinto.

Carvajal, who heads the substance abuse and HIV counseling programs, managed to get a small office for his counselors to work out of at 701 San Jacinto as well as 1307 Baker Street, the women's jail.

The HIV counseling program began in 1989 with a federal grant, which has been renewed continuously to the present day. The money, which comes from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, passes through the Texas Department of Health on its way to the Harris County sheriff's department. The grant, about $400,000, covers 80 percent of the salaries for eight staff members (Carvajal, four HIV counselors, an assistant counselor and two STD-prevention counselors). The sheriff's department supplies the rest of the salaries, as well as equipment and office space. The state health department inspects the premises twice a year, and Carvajal must supply them with a monthly report.

Carvajal, an animated man who speaks with pride and enthusiasm about the program, estimates that it has provided education to 100,000 people. Counselors conduct educational workshops on the floors (for which inmates can sign up). Inmates also can request one-on-one talks with counselors.

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