The incarcerated are supposed to receive the same type of medical care as those in the general public. That is not reality.
Stories of medical neglect and mistreatment are everywhere in the U.S. prison system. Too many men and women who have been sentenced for a crime are also being sentenced to death without the public’s awareness.
I have witnessed many cases of medical neglect inside the Missouri prison system. This is the story of one of them.
Earl McEntire was a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War. I first met him in the Missouri Veterans Program at Moberly Correctional Center. He had a bushy gray beard and long hair, always a bit frazzled. At 5-foot-4, Earl resembled a smiling little troll doll. He was quick to help others and volunteer for extra duties — and he had an infectious laugh. His quick wit and warm personality endeared him to both peers and staff members.
He had spent 30 years in prison and was on his final stretch. During the summer of 2021, he was close to going home to his family.
Earl began to complain of nausea and weakness. He told me he had a massive umbilical hernia that was protruding from his abdominal wall. To resolve that issue, the prison doctor had prescribed a waist wrap. But Earl knew that something else was wrong with his body too. He filled out multiple health service request forms to see a doctor, but was only instructed by prison medical officials to “drink more water,” he said.
Over the next several months, we watched Earl’s health deteriorate. He lost a massive amount of weight, began to get confused at times and became incontinent. The men in the Veterans Wing complained to staff members and correctional officers. Phone calls were made and staff attempted to intervene, but the medical department was contracted from outside of the institution, making timely care difficult.
By November, bones were protruding from the sack of skin that covered Earl’s frame. In November, a nurse was called to the housing unit again because Earl was short of breath. Like previous times, he was asked if he had been drinking enough fluids, he told me. His pulse was faint and his blood pressure was unreadable. He was finally sent to an outside hospital, where doctors discovered he had stage 4 cancer that had metastasized throughout his body.
Earl was going to die soon, so the warden sent a request to the Missouri Parole Board for medical parole due to his terminal diagnosis. His original release date was May 2022. Medical parole was approved on Dec. 10, 2021, for his release on Dec. 14.
But Earl passed away in the prison’s infirmary around 1:40 a.m. Dec. 11. He died in the arms of another incarcerated veteran, who had volunteered as a hospice worker.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.