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It's a Gray Area: Reality in Pelican Bay Prison

May 23, 2010|By James P. Gray

A few weeks ago I devoted this column to the comments and observations of my friend Dr. Earl Fuller about his experiences while volunteering at the women's prison at Chowchilla. The interest in the column was high, and I wanted to share two responses with you were posted on the Daily Pilot's website.

The first one was: "Finally, some of the horror stories that those of us who have loved ones in prison will be told. I have been sending my son's story to newspapers for over 2 years, but not one of them has printed it. Maybe now someone will listen to the truth and the people will understand that things are still not right in California." The second was "What would I feel if a dear one were in prison? I am worried daily because I know someone in prison and he is sick and not being given adequate medical treatment."

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Because Fuller also volunteered to provide medical care at Pelican Bay Prison in Northern California, which houses the most dangerous male inmates, I asked him to give us his observations about the medical care these men received, and to compare it with that received at Chowchilla by the women. The following is a summary of what he told me.

The medical needs and wants of the male prisoners are really quite different than for the women, and I believe the difference is explained on a psychological basis. Women see medical care as a desirable and important adjunct to their life. Having regular visits and care by a physician confers both status and medicine, and both are considered to be a valuable commodity. The male prisoners have a different mindset because the need to see a doctor and take medicine is seen as a sign of weakness. Thus the male inmates try to limit or ignore illness until it can be ignored no longer.

The psychology also differs in another significant way. The male inmates all seemed to be convinced that they would be killed on the outside by the time they were 25 years old. So it didn't really matter what you did or to whom you did it because you were soon going to be dead anyway. But when they were caught before they could be killed and they were sent away for 50 or 60 years to prison because of one or a series of horrible acts, they were stuck continuing to exist without really ever having learned how to live.

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