For the 12th consecutive year, San Quentin, California’s oldest state prison, hosted the largest health fair to date by any correctional facility in the nation.
Held Aug. 21, the TRUST Centerforce Health Fair collaborated with the Bay Area Black Nurses Association, Alameda County Health Department, San Francisco State University Nursing School and the San Quentin State Prison medical department to educate inmates about the importance of healthcare.
Nearly 2,000 inmates received healthcare information from more than 150 volunteers who helped make this one-day event possible.
“It gets better and better every year,” said Angel Falcone, an inmate coordinator with TRUST and Centerforce. “Today, we are making history.”
This health fair is unique in that so many healthcare services are made available to inmates at one time. They were able to have their hearts checked, blood tested and blood pressure read. Additionally, in the dental hygiene room inmates were given free toothbrushes and toothpaste.
For some inmates, this was their first opportunity to receive such an array of healthcare literature and services.
“This was my first time going to something like this,” said Clenard Wade, after receiving chiropractic service. “I had a problem in my shoulder, and they took care of that. I had trouble getting on the bunk, and now I have the energy.”
The day began with orientation for the volunteers. Falcone presented awards to various volunteers who were instrumental in making the health fair a success.
“Twelve years ago the men had a vision about their health care,” said Mildred Crear, keynote speaker and member of the Bay Area Black Nurses Association. “Hopefully we can pass this on to other generations.”
Crear said things have really changed, and healthcare is becoming more universal.
Centerforce Executive Director Larry Hill also thanked the supporters. “By virtue of your being here you’ve made a huge statement,” he said.
Associate Warden Jeff Lawson thanked everyone on behalf of Warden Ron Davis and Chief Deputy Warden Kelly Mitchell.
“It is our job as staff to set the example for the men who will return to society,” Lawson said.
Steve Emrick, San Quentin’s community partnership manager, worked in tandem with staff and inmates to coordinate the event.
The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) volunteers place ear seeds on inmates’ ears. Once the ear seeds are placed, inmates were supposed to experience a relaxing effect with warm sensations, according to ACTCM literature. The treatment is said to leave people feeling “rejuvenated, nourished, and relaxed.”
“I don’t know if it works,” said Jerome Boone, who received acupressure. “I’ve never tried it before and thought I’d give it a shot.”
Dr. Ian Tremayne, who came from Chiropractic Services of Marin, saw more than 500 inmates at this year’s health fair.
“I’m here every year. This year’s definitely been bigger,” said Tremayne. “We’d be here every month if we could.”
Rebecca Ferrell is working on her pre-doctoral clinical psychology degree and has been volunteering with TRUST since June. She said it helps her to know this is what she wants to do while also helping to reduce recidivism.
Centerforce is a major sponsor of the health fair. Headed by Dr. Julie Lifshay, Manager of Special Projects, the organization paid for lunches for advisers who helped to organize the event.
“We’re that bridge between the community and San Quentin,” said Lifshay. “It’s collaboration. We all meet and communicate. We’re all working together. There was a lot of participation by volunteers and staff. The (SQ) administration is very supportive.”
“Overall, it was an enriching experience for all of us,” said Emrick. “I’d really like to acknowledge the staff members who helped process all of the health fair volunteers. They did an extremely well job. The processing was fluid.”
Inmate Mariscal Brijido has participated with TRUST for five years. “I’m volunteering to make a change in my life. I want to be able to help others so that I won’t continue to be selfish in my own life. By helping others, you help yourself to make changes in your life.”
“I’m impressed with the number of people here giving support and also the longevity of it,” said Diana Williams, a TRUST volunteer for 11 months. This was her first health fair.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) mental health department made its first appearance at the health fair this year.
“This is our maiden voyage,” said Dr. Kathleen O’Meara, CDCR Regional Administrator for Mental Health. She said the department has integrated mental health into the health fair to get the word out to inmates that it’s okay to use its services.
“It’s better to get help than fall apart,” said O’Meara. “Know your triggers.” Frankie Smith is an inmate involved with self-help group Brother’s Keepers that worked with TRUST. They helped run the workshops on mental health. “She (O’Meara) is really on board with us,” he said. “She really cares.”
“We want to change people’s mindset from criminal and anti-social to pro-social by managing their anger and processing their internal emotions,” said Sam W. Johnson Sr., an inmate and co-leader of the group Alliance for Change.
Tanisha André works in the main medical building. She was a volunteer for three years before her employment with CDCR.
“We try to reach inmates to find out what their needs are,” said André. “I’m excited to be a part of it and see what’s being offered to you.”
Timing was not good for the San Quentin dental department. No one attended the health fair. According to Dr. Mettu and Lisa S. (RDA) the California Dental Association had a convention in San Francisco the same day so they were short of available staff.
“I’m a health instructor and today not only helped the men in here; it helped my students as well,” said Larry Vitale, an RN and Professor in the Nursing School at San Francisco State University. “This day gives us a chance to talk about life long choices. This is a chance they (inmates) can change their view points and walk a way from this with a positive outlook.”
“I love coming here. It’s well organized,” said Megan McDrew, a volunteer with TRUST in the acupressure area. “We saw over 150 inmates in the fi rst hour.”
Shannon Gordhamer of Centerforce said, “Everybody worked their tables and talked about health related issues. We want to use this as a jump off point for our AIDs Day event.”
Gordhamer teaches health information about HIV, Hepatitis C, TB and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). She said, “Once inmates learn health information, they can use the tools to help educate others.”
“This day helps inspire the new nurses,” said Crear. “By working with the inmates they get the feel of working inside a prison or jail. It’s different to experience this; than just hearing a about it.”
“We want to turn the power on in every individual to live the ultimate human existences,” said Dr. Havi Simran Khalsa of Chiropractic Services of Marin. “It would be great if we could come in every day. But, we are grateful to do this once a year. We are working on a stress workshop for you guys.”
Inmate Aaron Martin works with the diabetes group. He said the group is taught by Dr. Tootell, San Quentin’s Chief Medical Executive.
“We take people from basic to advanced knowledge about diabetes,” said Martin. “We passed out different recipes. It lets people know just because we have a healthy-heart diet doesn’t mean it’s healthy for diabetes.”
Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be controlled, a pamphlet provided says. It instructs those who suffer from diabetes to “eat healthy foods every day, be active often and take medicine as prescribed,” Martin said.
Volunteer Kim Bailey worked with the diabetes group. This was her sixth health fair. A nurse by trade, she is also on the Board of Directors for the San Quentin Cares Breast Cancer Walk Committee. “I come in here a lot,” said Bailey.
Eric Faulks works with California Re-entry Institute. He volunteered to help provide inmates with other useful information such as that used for Board of Parole Hearings, resume writing, victim letter writing, parole plans, birth certificate, Social Security card and DMV identification.
“Gather as much information as possible; digest as much information as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask for information,” said Faulks.
Norman Tillman is an RN GNP with the Bay Area Black Nurses Association. This was his second health fair. He said, “Everybody looks like they’re from my neighborhood. This is good for me because I get to treat people like people.”
“I had a chance to reconnect with a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while,” said Dolores Lyles, Regional Program Manager with Centerforce. “I’m all about change and social justice. I do this from the heart.” She said Centerforce has been partnering with San Quentin for 38 years back when it started the Visiting Center.