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An Overhaul of Prison Health Care Is Long Overdue

Medical is a joke,” said Davide Coggins, currently imprisoned at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in New York’s Washington County. “Unless you have diabetic issues or something simply attended to, you will suffer and decay before you get some type of treatment, if any.”

The 42-year-old has Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, blood clots, colon cancer, and, if left untreated, fatal complications. Three intestinal resections have left Coggins without parts of his colon. He attributes the severity of the ailment to prison conditions. “I’ve had issues in and out of prison,” he told The Nation and New York Focus. “But the vast majority of my complications came while incarcerated.”

Coggins has little control over the food he can access. “I have found, after dealing with this for over 20 years, that the best (and cheapest) way to deal with my condition is to eat five or six times a day and keep things flowing through my digestive tract,” he said. “Things like rice, hot dogs, bread, fish, etc., cause me little to no issues. The right diet could solve nearly all my issues and cost the prison system virtually nothing.”

State prison policy allows for medically modified meals, such as a short-term soft diet for people with gastrointestinal issues, if requested by prison health staff. But Coggins says he is given the same food as everyone else—meals that consist largely of soy-based products and dairy, neither of which he can digest.

Coggins has been scheduled to see gastrointestinal specialists multiple times—often, he adds, months after he requested the appointment. But because of his missing colon, he cannot handle being transported for eight to 12 hours while handcuffed and shackled without reprieve, and has only been able to see specialists twice. At both visits, he said, the doctors had the same recommendation: Transfer him to a medical unit. Nonetheless, he remains at Great Meadow.

Last year, Coggins’s condition worsened, necessitating four different stints in the prison’s infirmary as well as several days at the Albany Medical Center.

“People who need specialized care, individuals who have unique needs or unusual needs, are suppressed and ignored until they learn to live with the regular routine, or just die off,” he said. “Complain, and you are a ‘troublemaker’ and are made even more miserable and are harassed on all levels. That’s just the way it is. And there’s no one to complain to who cares.”