Smoke from the North Bay wildfires loomed over San Quentin, but it failed to derail the 14th Annual TRUST Health Fair. Despite the poor air quality, hundreds of inmates and volunteers braved the elements to give and receive medical services.
“It was a debate in our executive office, if we should have the fair or not,” said Steve Emrick, San Quentin Community Partnership Manager. “But we made the decision to push forward; we have seen the changes this event has had on our own health services. Sometimes they capture something in someone who may not have gone in for an appointment.”
The Oct. 13 event was held on the Lower Yard where various buildings were put to new use and booths were strategically placed on the yard for services. Lines of men visited the different booths and received health information from the professionals.
“This event gets harder to organize every year,” said Dr. Ian Tremayne, organizer of the chiropractor volunteers. “But with everything going on in the world, being here is awesome. I get hate mail because of what we do here, but our jobs are being servants. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. It’s not judgmental.
“Some of these guys haven’t been touched with care in years and to see them walk away with a smile, you take that to heart,” said Tremayne.
The chiropractors were stationed inside the prison’s gym, adjusting bodies and necks to relieve prisoners’ pains. Meanwhile, other inmates were taken through the different postures and poses of Tai Chi with the practitioners from ROOTS Friends and Asian Health Services.
“It’s about awareness. I want to leave here a better man, and I’m thinking about my future”
“Each person who gets an adjustment and gets in touch with themselves is going to affect how they treat other people,” said chiropractor Darren Murphy. “In a prison population, that’s very important. We free tension and pressure on nerves.”
Tai Chi instructor Rayna Young added, “Tai Chi helps with your flexibility and strength; it calms you and lowers your blood pressure. It clears your mind and helps you shower yourself with positive energy, which everyone needs, especially with what’s going on in the world.”
Noticeably missing at this year’s fair was the acupressure station provided by the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was hard for the teachers and students to reschedule, after the fair was canceled in August, due to a San Quentin lockdown, said TRUST sponsors.
“This was a good experience,” said inmate Gene Daniels, taking in his first health fair. “It’s about awareness. I want to leave here a better man, and I’m thinking about my future. We want to be judged by what is possible and not our past.”
The men were able to fill out a California Advance Health Care Directive, a medical decision form available inside the gym area. The form dealt with end-of-life decisions. A notary public was on hand to certify the form.
“It’s important because a lot of people have medical needs and are not getting treatment,” said inmate Jesse Gomez, who also was attending his first health fair. “It’s about getting knowledge of a healthy lifestyle.”
Workers from the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) helped the men fill out the required paperwork.
“The form allows the men to be advocates for themselves and the people whom they trust with their medical decisions,” said Jen Li, ACPHD volunteer. “People always say I will do it tomorrow, but tomorrow is not promised.”
In another building prisoners received blood pressure, glucose, eye and hearing checks, administered by Bay Area Black Nurses Association and University of San Francisco Nursing Students (USFNS).
“There’s something about being able to help people and being able to help in any way,” said Lupita Estrada, who helped Sonoma County fire victims the day before coming up to SQ.
Norlissa Cooper, also of USFNS, added, “It’s important for people to have glucose and cholesterol screening and learning the right foods to eat, whether inside or outside. We have to teach each other as a community, so we can cut down on the negative statistics.”
Dental and mental health seminars were held in the education building. In one classroom the men were taken through the proper way of brushing and the process for emergency dental care. Therapy techniques were offered in another classroom on effective ways to use leisure time to manage stress.
“The more you eat, the more plaque is created. Rinse with water. Eat less frequently – if you eat M&M’s, eat them all and be done with it, then rinse,” said Eileen Hamlin, a Registered Dental Assistant with the Alameda County Dental Department. “I still have my teeth because I learned to take care of them,” she said.
Hamlin also advised that if you have diabetes, it’s more important to keep your mouth clean so bacteria won’t affect the heart or diabetes.
Courtney Murphy, another volunteer, added, “A lot of what we drink affects our teeth. Soda and energy drinks are worst, coffee not that bad. The more sugar, the more bacteria and the more tooth decay.
“Bacteria can travel through the body. The mouth is the window to the body. People have died from tooth infections,” continued Murphy, also of the Alameda County Office of Dental Health.
On the yard the men received nutritious snacks (granola bars, almonds, blueberry packs) as they visited the booths of Centerforce, a peer health group; Iglesia Jesus Sana y Salva (Jesus Heals and Saves Church), who provided prayers; and Alameda Public Health Investigators, who discussed HIV awareness and other STDs.
At the public health booth prisoners spun a wheel labeled with questions related to healthy or unhealthy relationships to receive their prizes.
“People need to know what’s new in healthcare and prevention,” said Mariam R., public health investigator. “We do care about these men’s health because they are a part of the community. We have to know what parts of the population are being infected, because sexual health is a vital part of your health.”
Spiritual volunteer Columba Ortega added, “Love motivates me to come here. Love brings us here. Our volunteers are anxious to get here every year. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to, and we like them to share with us. We wish we could do more.” This is Ortega’s third year attending the health fair with her husband, Marciano Ortega.
The TRUST health fair started as a small affair that was held in the SQ Chapel area. It has grown into the biggest health fair for prisoners in the country, said inmate Philip Senegal, TRUST vice chairman.
“We want to keep you informed. You are the voice within and we can take your messages outside. We work with multiple services to help those affected by incarceration,” concluded Lyles.“We’re committed to the SQ community. You guys are our brothers, uncles, fathers – this gives us an opportunity for dialogue and to prepare you all for release,” said Dolores (CQ) Lyles, Executive Director of Centerforce.
-—Rahsaan Thomas and Jesse Vasquez contributed to the story