Hundreds of prisoners formed long lines on San Quentin’s Lower Yard at the prison’s 15th Annual Health Fair on Aug. 24.
Stations were set up throughout the prison where volunteers offered medical services and wellness information, ranging from blood pressure checks and chiropractic services to mental health seminars, diabetes tests and nutritional information.
In total, 156 volunteers served more than 2,000 prisoners throughout the day.
“It’s important for everyone to have the education to take care of themselves,” said Madeline Tenney, staff sponsor of a self-help organization Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training (TRUST).
“Don’t be afraid of information. Know your health status. It’s scary to go to the doctor and find out bad news, but if you don’t, it will kill you,” said Georgia Schreiber, Alameda County Public Health Department Investigator, as the volunteers went through an hour of orientation in the Protestant chapel before beginning the Health Fair at 10 a.m.
TRUST sponsored the one-day event in collaboration with various healthcare service providers in the Bay Area.
TRUST has different workshops based on how you live your life; you learn life skills, accountability, childhood trauma [effects], mindfulness as a tool to see what is going on inside and outside of self and gain emotional intelligence.
To guarantee the community explores all the Health Fair has to offer, many stations had raffle prizes, and a gift bag was offered to all men who visited at least one station in each of the four main areas of Education, Gym, Lower Yard and the ARC building.
THE PRISON GYM:
You may have seen men with tiny pink beads taped to the ear; they received acupressure ear seeds. Patients described an ailment and then a teacher or student from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine taped a bead onto a particular area of the ear.
This was just one of the services provided in the gym, which included chiropractors, acupuncture, Tai Chi and Qigong. Present also were notaries for California Advanced Health Care Directive (deathbed agent instructions and power of attorney), hand washing education and information about diabetes.
The Health Fair would not work without a multitude of incarcerated volunteers. Richard “3Dee” Benjamin, a Team Leader, is a 55-year-old lifer who is a TRUST Fellow. He has served 25 years. He volunteers to “offer the community a service—to give back.”
“I think this is a really exciting project because it’s run by inmates; we’re just invited. I’m really impressed by who they get to come,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Tootell said.
Tootell has been invited to the Health Fair each of the past eight years.
Volunteer Charlie Thao, a lifer with 12 years in, learned Tai Chi through Restoring Our Original True Selves (ROOTS). “Tai Chi brings you health,” he said “It calms you down and releases stress. It’s like meditation.” Thao added that Tai Chi “spreads culture and brings diversity to the prison. I’m trying to make amends—give back to my community in small ways.”
Rev. Debbie has been teaching Tai Chi at the fair for five years. She’s also the Director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity at United Interfaith Church of Christ. Her church brings together people to advocate for the end of deportation and mass incarceration.
“I keep coming back because I keep thinking about the people I met last year,” Debbie said.
Arrison Seuga served 21 years in prison, 11 at Quentin. He paroled in 2010. When he worked in Receive and Release, he only met people who failed on parole and came back to prison. Now he’s a re-entry director with Asian Prison Support Community (APSC). He came back to share.
“We only heard stories from recidivists,” Seuga said. “We [people successful on parole] weren’t allowed back in. Now I wanted to be that example.” Seuga asked, “Who better to inform those who are getting out on parole than those who have navigated it successfully?”
“We have twice as many chiropractors as last year,” chiropractor John said. “Thirty-three is the most we ever had.” Chiropractor Paul grew up in Roxbury, Boston. He’s a Black man who participates as part of his commitment to social justice. This is his fourth SQ Health Fair. “I honestly feel no one should be judged,” Paul said. “People are people.”
“Each year teams are run smoother, and we manage to take care of more inmates every year,” chiropractor John said. “Our goal is to take care of everybody who needs it.”
One of the most significant stations was a table staffed by three notaries ready to execute an Advance Healthcare Directive for the men. Maria D., office manager at Alameda County Care Partners, explained the Advance Directive, “The idea is to plan ahead in the event something happens to you and you want to appoint someone to make decisions regarding your healthcare,” said Maria D. of the Alameda County Care Partners.
In the Education Building on the Lower Yard, dental hygienists gave instructions about dental care and mental health professionals offered 20-minute seminars on a variety of topics for developing inner freedom or self-expression.
There were more than 30 men who attended Ms. Strock class. Strock is an art and recreation therapist, who has worked for CDCR for more than six years. “I work at the psychiatric inpatient hospital in the main buildings helping with long term inpatient care,” Strock said, as she prepared for her first session.
Strock’s session has three areas of focus: centering mechanisms (your attention/self), body posture; and art processes.
“We’re looking for a reason to have purpose in life. Art is such a purpose,” Strock said. “Many of my clients are deeply discouraged and depressed, but a way to communicate and express.
These feelings is critical.”Dental care has always been a focus on the Health Fair, and it was again this year in education.
“I enjoy doing this,” said Shawnette, a registered dental assistant who has worked at SQ for nine years and volunteered for five years. “From the first health fair to now, a lot of patients are genuinely concerned about their oral hygiene. It’s a joy to me to pass on this information to the patients.”
At her station they offered basic oral hygiene and how to identify an emergency.
“Pain is an emergency,” Shawnette explained. “No pain isn’t.”
If you missed the Health Fair, under CDCR rules, people over 50 are entitled to a dental examination every year; for those under 50, it’s every two years.
“I’ve seen big-time improvement in the dental health of the inmates,” Shawnette said.
The ARC building was organized to provide a full range of health screenings for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol (with the results provided immediately), Body-Mass Index (BMI) and weight checks, vision and hearing. These screenings were offered by both CDCR personnel and the San Francisco State University (SFSU) School of Nursing students and newly minted registered nurses and professors.
“These basic health screens are essential to identify if you have a problem; “we’ll give detailed info for your next appointment and recommend it,” said Beth Kao, an SFSU Nursing Student.
The volunteer inmates organized the attendees in lines and prepared them to efficiently make use of the multiple health screening stations.
“I believe in giving back to my community. I’ve been in for 21 years, and this is my way of contributing,” TRUST volunteer Tim Warren said.
Warren gave credit to TRUST. “TRUST is a program where we help men turn liabilities into assets. We work to develop a full set of tools to become a better man,” .
The Lower Yard echoed with the music of participants practicing spiritual healing through drumming. All were welcome to try their hand at the shared experience sponsored by Alameda County Public Health as hundreds of men lined up at over a dozen stations set up on the Lower Yard.
A station with much attention was the CDCR’s 602 HC. the health care grievance process was explained by RN Podolsky. She detailed recent changes such as there are now only two levels and a 45-day review period. She reminded the community that this was a combined health and legal process; therefore, even though the health care matter was reviewed within a day, the legal process could take much longer. She always advised that if it is an emergency, go through the normal appointment process for quicker service.
The Bay Area service providers included the Bay Area Black Nurses Association, Alameda County Health Department, San Francisco State University Nursing School, the San Quentin State Prison Medical Department, and Centerforce.
Centerforce provides incarcerated individuals and their families a variety of services from parenthood classes and health education to connections to services upon release.
–Rahsaan Thomas, Marcus Henderson and Lloyd Payne contributed to this story