In an exclusive first-person story written for the Florida Courier, former State Representative Dwayne Taylor describes his experience as a prisoner in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary’s minimum security prison camp.
Editor’s note: After a four-day jury trial in Orlando in August 2017, Dwayne Taylor was convicted of eight counts of wire fraud in connection with alleged misuse of campaign funds. A federal appeals court denied his appeal in August 2018. He completed his prison sentence in December 2018, but is still on federal probation.
BY DWAYNE L. TAYLOR
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
I have an autoimmune disease that was not discovered and diagnosed until I was in my early 40s. For the last five years or so, I had been receiving injections weekly with a very expensive and important biologic to prevent my body, including my organs, from attacking itself. This disease is deadly and causes me a lot of pain when left untreated. So it was vital that I receive this medication while in prison. If left untreated, the effects are irreversible.
The first time I told the medical staff how much I needed my medication, they both smirked as if they knew I would not be getting anything. A prisoner is given only what the prison medical staff wants to give you. In my case, that was mostly nothing.
I was told by the medical staff that people die in prison all the time and they would watch me medical services. I am a former fireman, was a paramedic, and taught at my local college. When it comes to being able to recognize the cardiac signs and symptoms I was experiencing, I knew this protocol and treatment quite well.
Because I wasn’t receiving the proper medication or medical care, my body began to ache. I would become stiff with chronic chest pain and breathing difficulty. When coupled with the intense cold weather storms we experienced in Atlanta at the time and with no warm blankets or clothing, my illness got worse.
Right now, my joints are inflamed and it’s hard for me to sign my name and type on the computer.
Help from within
Other inmates noticed how much pain I was in and tried to help me. They would say, “OG, we got you when you need help.” “OG” is prison talk and means “Original Gangster” (or in my case, “Old Geezer”). It shows respect for the person doing the time.
I really didn’t know them, but they were helpful to me and appreciated their acts of kindness. Folks, please don’t think that everyone in prison is a threat to our community. Many of them came from all different backgrounds such as CEOs of companies, doctors and lawyers.
This agony went on for weeks before I was finally taken on an emergency basis to a prison doctor who couldn’t relieve my pain, so I was transported by ambulance to Atlanta General Hospital. While there, they did a few tests and sent me back to prison. They treated inmates like dirt because they feel inmates are lying about their conditions, so they perform the bare minimum and they discharge you.
Inmates are not lying about Atlanta General Hospital. They are still a terrible hospital. Patients beware. Remember, I warned you.
Two weeks went by and my condition got even worse. I could barely move, and it was noticeable around the inmates. I was losing weight and my skin was changing.
The last thing you want to show in prison is being weak. However, more inmates were protecting me and made sure I could get some of the things I needed. Despite my constant complaints, very little was done by the prison medical staff. I was still not receiving the injections and I continue to have the chest pains and the difficulty breathing and it really became unbearable.
When I had enough and was unable to move, the prison medical staff would again try and treat my pain and then sent me back to Atlanta General Hospital.
This time when I was seen by the ER staff, they didn’t even bother taking off my clothes. They just ran some bloodwork and discharged me even though I was still complaining of chest pain. They said there was nothing they could do for me and were extremely rude.
They also said, “And by the way, you have pneumonia and anemia. Here is a prescription. Goodbye and good night.” I was never treated by the prison for either of those new conditions, and I know had to suffer in a cold jail cell with all these new medical issues.
Is it too late?
Almost two months would pass before I would finally receive my first important injection. By this time, it may have been too late for me. I was still having major chest pains and complained every day to the medical staff. I was never taken to a cardiologist to follow up on my chest pains and cardiac-related complaints.
The prison medical staff would say, “Your EKG (the test that measures heart activity) was fine, so you are okay. Go and take some aspirin.” I would snipe back, “If I am okay, why am I still having this pain?”
Most of the time I spent there at the camp was on official (or unofficial lockdown). They never really sent out a memo or anything explaining why lockdowns occurred or how long one would last. They just told us we were on lockdown.
I know the game
I believe they did this so they-could deny a lockdown ever occurred. Having worked in government for more than 25 years, I know the tactic. If it is not on paper, it never happened. Inmates are just lying. I get it.
“Lockdown” meant prisoners were not allowed visitation or to use the phone or computer. We were not allowed to purchase items from the commissary, including personal hygiene. So it was difficult for me to purchase any type of pain medicine or communicate with my family and friends.
The medical staff told me I had to get my medicine from the commissary. I told them I don’t have access to the commissary. They said, “Not my problem.” The games prisons play.
Occasionally they would allow us to have access to write emails, to make telephone calls, or both. I contacted my family and friends about my condition and asked them to contact an attorney in Atlanta who could help. The attorney repeatedly was denied access to contact me.
No ‘country club’
Please understand that I was not expecting a five-star quality lodging or full-course meals, or the best health care system. However I didn’t expect this deplorable, sickening, roach and rat-infested place feeding the inmates food that said on the boxes, “Not fit for human consumption,” in MINIMAL SECURITY.
It was and still is amazing to me that a prison system exists like this here in the United States of America. Atlanta Federal Prison Camp is a foreign prison. The prisoners in the camp were not the hardcore criminals communities should be afraid of. After all, there were only two guards for more than 300 inmates. These were all nonviolent inmates, and some were serving only three-month sentences.
I understand I must pay for my ‘vicious’ crimes and that the people in my community are a lot safer with me locked up. I know that with my incarceration, crime will decline in the United States. Sure, I get it.
But one of the most important things I learned in prison was that it makes prisoners bitter, not better. If you treat them like animals, when they are released back into the community, what do you have?
America, you are better than this!