By Emile DeWeaver
“This is the most important program in San Quentin because it saves lives,” said Aaron Martin, a mentor in San Quentin State Prison’s Diabetic Program. He opened the ceremony for 40 graduates with a personal story about how his lack of knowledge about diabetes almost killed him.
“When I came to the program, my vision was blurry, I didn’t know what was going on,” Martin said. He described how he went into a diabetic coma, how his blood sugar used to be extremely high, but now, with the education he received from the program, his blood sugar remains at a healthy level.
“Who knows where I’d be if I hadn’t taken this class,” Martin told the 40 graduates. “Using the information [taught by the diabetic program] changed my life. I know how to survive on my own.”
The program not only teaches graduates how to survive, it also equips them to help others. Jeffrey Ratchford said that he was able to save two people’s lives with the knowledge he’d gained.
Ratchford explained that once he was watching another man-in-blue play a card game, and the man was sweating and showing signs of low blood sugar.
“He kept saying the same thing over and over,” Ratchford said. “I asked him if he was diabetic. He said ‘yes,’ so I reached in his laundry bag and found his kit. I put it together like they taught me in class, tested him, and found his blood sugar was 39 and dropping.” Ratchford notified an officer who took the diabetic man to the hospital where he received treatment.
“I feel great about this program,” Ratchford said. “There’s a lot of programs here, but how many of them give us something that we can help someone with right now?”
As part of the graduation ceremony, Martin honored the program’s volunteers by presenting them with bouquets and certificates of appreciation.
“I regularly feel inspired by the people in the program,” said volunteer Erin Walsh. She said she draws inspiration from mentors and students and uses the inspiration to make changes in her own life.
Other honored volunteers were Kimberly Bailey, Sharon Flemming, and Dr. Elena Tootell. Nine mentors also received certificates of appreciation. Then the 40 program graduates received their awards.
“I took the class just thinking about everyday health problems while incarcerated,” said Timothy Young, one of the graduates. “There’s just some stuff we all need to know. There are tools in this class that everyone needs, tools we need to teach our families.” Some of the tools Young described are carb counting, ingredients of a healthy diet, and exercising.
After the graduates walked across the stage with their certificates, volunteers and San Quentin administrators spoke in appreciation of the program and the people in it. Speakers included Dr. Tootell, Walsh, Flemming, and Community Partnership Manager Steve Emrick.
“The majority of your ability to heal resides in you,” said Dr. Tootell, addressing graduates and mentors. “It’s not about pills and injections – though both play roles in health. The most important thing I’ve learned as Chief Medical Executive at San Quentin is that people here are so much more motivated to take care of themselves. You guys are doing things here that people on the outside just aren’t willing to do.”
“Thank you for giving me the satisfaction that keeps me coming to work,” Dr. Tootell continued. “I see the work you’re willing to do for your own health, and that makes me want to be here working with you.”
Dr. Tootell emphasized that having good health begins with obtaining good information.
Readers outside of prison who are interested in medical information about a friend or family member in San Quentin can begin the strictly regulated procedures governing the release of an incarcerated person’s medical information by calling (415) 454-1460, Ext. #3457.