Living and Dying on Florida’s Death Row

UPDATE: I’ve been advised by a reader who was visiting FSP and heard people discussing the incident that the “Tom” described by Mr. Van Poyck is 48-year-old Thomas A. Wyatt

EDITOR’S NOTE: This posting originally appeared on William Van Poyck’s own blog, at http://www.deathrowdiary.blogspot.com. I cannot comment on the accuracy of what Poyck details here, and there are few who can besides those who live or work on Florida’s death row. (I tried finding the “Tom” Mr. Van Poyck is discussing, but there are currently 5 people named Tom, Tommy or Thomas on the inmate roster at Florida State Prison, where Van Poyck is. The roster also doesn’t include those who go by their middle name, so there could be more.) However, I thought it was worth reposting, as it parallels many accounts I’ve come across of the living conditions on death row in Florida. I recommend you post any comments you have on the original post, as Mr. Van Poyck will not see them here. I haven’t changed any of the original post other than to break it up into smaller paragraphs for easier reading.

Florida State Prison

Entrance to Florida State Prison, from the DOC website

Dear Sis~

Here’s a snapshot of the type of medical care we get here. In the early morning hours of August 30, my friend Tom, who lived 2 cells down from me groggily awoke to find his face and pillow covered in blood and his tongue bitten about half off. He had no memory of what occurred.

That morning his speech was slurred (over and above his extreme difficulty in speaking with a then-swollen, bloody tongue) and I noticed his thinking was confused. I told him he’d most likely had a seizure in his sleep (he has no history of seizures) and that because he was on high cholesterol medication he may have had a small stroke. Over the following days Tom suffered progressively severe headaches almost constantly and began sleeping excessively. His speech became increasingly slurred and his mental faculties were clearly compromised.

I, and others, constantly urged Tom to try to get up to the clinic to see a doctor (even though the two doctors here are notorious quacks) and so he began trying to stop any passing nurses (who go down our row to deliver medications to some) to explain his situation, but none of them were interested. Most just said “put in a sick call slip.” At my urging Tom declared a “medical emergency” which is supposed to get you right up to the clinic. But instead, a nurse came to the wing, briefly examined Tom’s swollen (and now infected) tongue, gave him two Tylenol and told him he was just “out of luck” since no doctor was on duty on a Saturday night.

Most just said “put in a sick call slip.” At my urging Tom declared a “medical emergency” which is supposed to get you right up to the clinic. But instead, a nurse came to the wing, briefly examined Tom’s swollen (and now infected) tongue, gave him two Tylenol and told him he was just “out of luck” since no doctor was on duty on a Saturday night.

Meanwhile, day by day, Tom got worse. He knew something was wrong with him but seemed unable to figure out what to do. I wrote up a sick call slip for him (by this time his handwriting was illegible and he could not put his thoughts together) and the next day a “nurse” or M.T. (medical technician) came to “examine” him. He listened as Tom labored to explain what happened, starting with the seizure, then told Tom “Well, some people do this [bite their tongues almost in half] to get attention.” The M.T. then walked away. By this time about 8-9 days had gone by.

On Sept 6 Tom went to the clinic for his “dental request” because he’d also broken some teeth. Pursuant to this prison’s recently enacted policy he was forced to lay on his back, reclined, in the dentist’s chair for two hours with his hands handcuffed behind his back with the “black box” on (a very painful device which locks your hands rigidly in place in the handcuffs). The dentist fixed one of his 6 broken teeth and prescribed a “rinse twice-a-day for his lacerated, infected tongue, but refused to help him see a doctor (who was just 20 feet away) to treat the real problem, the symptoms following his unexplained seizure.

prison cells

photo by Jon Wiley

When Tom returned to his cell his extreme distress was evident and when the ‘cuffs were removed and he tried to move his arms in front of him he found one of his shoulders was dislocated. His wrists were red, swollen and completely numb. Somehow he managed to pop his shoulder back in place.

At this point I began writing grievances for him, grieving the medical department’s refusal to let him see a doctor. I submitted another sick call form for him, and when the nurse or M.T. (we don’t know who is a nurse and who is an M.T.) came to see him the next day he told Tom he had to submit a third sick call form before he could see a doctor (this is the medical department’s recently enacted policy, requiring all prisoners to submit three (3) separate sick call forms (costing us $5.00 each time; we must pay a $5.00 co-payment every time we submit a sick call form) before we can actually see a doctor (this effectively triples the mandatory co-payment, from $5.00 to $15.00).

By this time all of us prisoners knew Tom was seriously messed up and was deteriorating daily; the headaches were driving him nuts and his thinking was labored and scattered. His speech was almost unintelligible. I felt that he was dying. All the wing officers knew he was messed up, and Tom desperately tried to explain his situation to any passing nurse or M.T., begging for help, to no avail. Everyone just ignored his pleas for help. It was painful for me to watch this unfold.

Finally, two nights ago, on Tuesday September 11 at 7:40pm I heard Tom collapse in his cell.  Tom called out to me, very weakly, for help.

Finally, two nights ago, on Tuesday September 11 at 7:40pm I heard Tom collapse in his cell. Tom called out to me, very weakly, for help. I immediately began yelling and banging for the wing sergeant, screaming “man down” and “medical emergency.” When the sergeant came he immediately saw how serious it was and he called the clinic to bring a wheelchair. After 20 minutes of trying to coax a disabled Tom into stripping (for the obligatory strip search) and to climb on his bunk, face the wall, and put his hands behind his back, the officers finally entered his cell and handcuffed and shackled him. They put Tom in a wheelchair and took him to the clinic. By this time it was past 8:00.

Around 10:15 a freeworld ambulance came through the back gate, then departed, lights flashing, taking Tom to a hospital in Gainesville or Jacksonville (we heard differing reports). I sat down and wrote to Tom’s people, and one of his lawyers, telling them what had happened. The next day (yesterday) I was reliably informed that Tom was at that moment undergoing brain surgery. Clearly, he’d had a stroke or aneurysm of some sort, perhaps a series of them, and his life was hanging in the balance.

What I know for certain was that he spent 13 days in his cell begging everyone in the medical department for help, a man clearly in need of immediate medical attention, and nobody would give him the time of day. Had he simply been able to see a doctor after his initial seizure (which was a classic warning sign) all the rest could have been avoided. As it is I don’t know if Tom is alive, or will survive, or will ever be the person he once was, physically or mentally. He may be a vegetable for all I know.

This type of treatment is typical here at F.S.P and this is why I always tell you how thankful I am for my good health, because if you get seriously sick in a Florida prison, and especially this one, you will probably just die. Nobody here gives a damn, especially those working in the medical department.  (It takes awhile to stop being shocked at seeing doctors and nurses who are absolutely indifferent to a prisoner’s serious medical problems. I stopped being shocked decades ago after seeing too many friends left to die alone in their cells)…
Light & Love,
Bill

 

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3 thoughts on “Living and Dying on Florida’s Death Row

  1. Thank you for re-posting my brother’s blog entry about the deplorable conditions on FSP’s Death Row. William has posted subsequent entries about Tom Wyatt you may want to re-post as well. Again, thanks!
    Lisa Van Poyck

  2. Helen Pajama says:

    Lisa, Hi! I’ve known your brother for 23 years. Pajama Lady

  3. Casey Jimenez says:

    I just read that william was murdered by the state of florida. Im british and used to have no problem with executions i often wished the uk would bring executions back. But in july 2011 when texas murdered humberto leal i got to thinking why is it ok for a state to murder on of their people and by all accounts texas lied and didnt inform mexico about humberto. Now murder is a wicked crime and i belive a life sentence is fair. Executions dont deter crime they dont stop crime so why are blood thirst states so eager to murder a murderer. 2 people were jurdered last night william van poyck and elroy chester in texas. Now texas is a state that i find disgusting especially the murderer rick perry he will surely burn in hell. The us needs to get that executions dont work and stop being blood thirsty and whats with this you have to fight for dna? Robert pruett is fighting to have dna that may prove his innocence another thing whay texas is a evil state a person who may be innocent has to fight for dna thats disgusting. If i lived in the usa i would pay for it i really do belive he is innocent. States need to stop this murder spree especially texas florida ohio and oklahoma get with times and abloish the death penalty its broken expensive and doesnt work.

    Lisa i have read your posts and i am very sorry for your loss of your brother just goes to show what a blood thirsty state florida is

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