Fifty-eight-year old Mark is serving a 15-year sentence for a white-collar crime, felony racketeering. In prison, he tutors inmates in math and reading. His goal is to become a published author and motivational speaker, but most of all he wants to get his story out while helping people avoid the mistakes he made.
Morning came quickly on July 19, 2010. Our cell door opened at 4:30AM, and a female
voice said, “Mr. Jackson, I’m your wake up call. Work starts for you in thirty minutes.” I thanked her and tried to get out of
bed. Much to my horror, I couldn’t stand
on my left leg. My left ankle and
leg were on fire. I felt terrible. I was really scared.
|Leg with necrotizing fasciitis.|
I finally was able to struggle and successfully put my boots on and brush my teeth. As my cell door opened, I spoke to the guard who woke me up.
“I hurt so badly that I can’t even walk,” I said. The guard was actually concerned.
“I suggest you go to work, tell them you’re ill, and lock down in bed for the day.”
Her plan sounded good to me. My body, mind, and soul were ravaged with illness, fear and pain. As awful as it sounds, I didn’t care about my visit today. I had to seek immediate medical attention or I was going to be in major trouble. I literally felt like I was going to die. My body was sweating profusely. I was trembling. I had entered another zone – it was like I was living in another world.
A normal walk from my cell to the kitchen takes about two minutes. It literally took me thirty minutes to report to work from my cell. I somehow managed to limp down two flights of stairs and make my way to the chow hall. Inmates passed me in hall and avoided me like I had the plague – and for all I knew, I did have the plague. Imagine confronting a crazy eyed, limping man taking one small step every 10-15 seconds. Imagine this man talking incoherently to anyone who would listen. Imagine this man asking anyone he came into contact with for help. Imagine that nobody came to the aid of this man. This was no imagination. This man was me.
I finally limped my way into the chow hall. All of the kitchen workers were in the chow hall waiting for their assignments. I made my grand entrance and I immediately felt three dozen sets of eyes staring at me. It was like a monster crashing through a door and entering a quiet room full of people. Instead of the people screaming and scattering, the inmates stopped in their tracks and stared at me. It took me over five minutes to hobble to a table. I noticed a familiar face from our living unit and I sat with him.
“What the hell is wrong with you!” he shouted, probably more scared than concerned.
“I hurt so badly. I’m so sick,” I said, almost in a whisper.
“Let me get you some breakfast,” the concerned inmate said.
“No thanks. Please bring me some water.” I consumed over ten glasses of water in fifteen minutes.
“You can’t work today. I’m gonna tell the cops to send you back to the unit.” The man, whose name I never knew went over and talked to the kitchen guards. He came back in a bad mood.
“These motherfuckers think you’re full of shit. They think you don’t want to work, and that you’re putting on an act. You need to go up and talk to them.”
How dare these morons think I’m faking! I limped over to the cops and explained my situation. The cops could see that I was in distress, but they clearly were not interested in helping me.
“Go to work, Jackson. Medical won’t open until 9:00AM anyway. Check with us later.”
“Guys, I really need immediate medical attention. I’m afraid I’m becoming critically ill.”
“Get to work, Jackson!” the cop shouted. “Don’t piss me off this early in the morning! I’ll have you sit and fold napkins. At least you’ll be off your feet. Go!”
I was placed in the back near the freezer and told to sit on a plastic milk box. It was almost as if they stuck the sick guy out of the way of everyone in the back – away from contaminating anybody. I was so close to the freezer that every time the freezer door was opened, a chill would rattle my body. I was moving in slow motion. I was so pissed that the cops stuck me in the back of the kitchen that I didn’t care if I folded one napkin, let alone hundreds of napkins. Cops walked by me and screamed at me. “You’re sitting here doing nothing! Get busy or I’ll write you up!”
I didn’t care what he did. “I’m really sick. I’ve got to go talk to the main kitchen guards. I’m going to see them now.”
“Don’t go anywhere. I’ll try to find them. Meanwhile, do some work!”
Thirty minutes passed and nobody came to help me. I really think that the bastard cop was taunting me. He kept going to the freezer with other personnel, passing in front of me every time he opened the freezer door. He totally ignored me. I finally had enough. I struggled to get up off of the milk crate and limped my way out of the chow hall. The kitchen cops were sitting in the chow hall.
“I really need help. I feel horrible. I feel like I’m about to pass out. My left leg and ankle hurts me beyond belief. I can’t take it.” The cop may have finally gotten the message.
“Go sit at that table over there. I’ll try to get you to medical.”
“Thank God he’s finally listened to me,” I said. I sat at the table and my buddy from the pod came out and sat with me. He was practically speechless after getting a clear look at me. He brought me several cups of water which I quickly drank. The only substance that seemed agreeable to me was ice cold water. It tasted so good. I waited for another thirty minutes. It was well past 9:00AM; medical had been open for quite some time. My buddy went over to the kitchen cops.
“This man is extremely sick! Please get him to medical immediately!!” The cop who agreed to take me to medical woke up from a stupor and said, “Oh yeah, I completely forgot about you, Jackson. We got cleared to medical 20 minutes ago. Let’s go.”
“You bastard!!” I screamed under my breath. “You don’t care if I live or die! You’re going to kill me! I got news for you, brother, I’m going to be just fine and I will come back here and kick your ass!!” I was clearly delirious. The cop had to literally hold me up as I stumbled my way to medical. He had become noticeably quiet. Maybe Jackson is really sick after all, huh?
I was placed on a bed in the exam room. My memory became fuzzy, so I’m not exactly sure what happened in the exam room. I do know that my green prison uniform was cut off of my body as I didn’t have the strength to maneuver out of the uniform on my own. My boots were taken off and decontaminated. I think my uniform was decontaminated also. The nurses and physician assistants studied my left leg and it looked horrible. My left ankle had turned purple and red streaks were shooting up my left leg. The cop became somber and said, “You weren’t bullshitting. You are really fucked up. Better you than me.” Gee, thanks.
I believe that I was attached to an I.V. and I started to calm down. The medical personnel made some phone calls and returned to my room and said, “You will be transported immediately to a hospital. We are not equipped to handle this here.”
Why didn’t I notice my leg turning purple days ago? Today was my shower day as three days had passed since my last shower. I hadn’t bothered to look at my legs in three days. The visible damage to my legs all occurred in the last three days.
After resting for awhile, I was ready to be transported to the hospital. I needed to wear an orange jumpsuit for transport. I was in total agony as I tried to maneuver into the one-piece jumpsuit. I wore a special pair of boots as my own boots were decontaminated and destroyed. I was then handcuffed and placed in a wheelchair. By chance, I ran into the Sergeant from visiting. He looked at me with concern.
“Mr. Jackson, what’s going on with you?”
“I’m really sick, sir. I’m going to the hospital. My wife and children are supposed to visit me today. Could you please call my wife on her cell phone and tell her not to drive up here from Denver. Even if she’s already begun the drive, she will be able to turn around and go home.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Jackson, I’m not allowed to do that.”
“So they are going to drive all the way up here to find out I’m not here? Please Sergeant.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Jackson. The best we can do is tell your family that you won’t be visiting with them today. I’m not even sure I’m going to tell them you’re in the hospital. Protocol says no.”
I was heartbroken. My poor wife. I love her so much. She’s going to freak out when she’s told I won’t be visiting today. I’ve already caused such damage and turmoil to my family – now this.
All of these thoughts were racing throughout my mind. I realized, however, that I couldn’t control anything. I couldn’t afford to stress out about this predicament. I had to focus on one thing – my health and ultimately my life.
I was wheeled to a prison van. I was told to crawl into the back seat of the van. There were no seat belts and there was only a sliver of space between the back seat and the back of the front seat – virtually no leg room. I pleaded with the cops to un-cuff me so I could navigate myself into the back seat with the least of amount of pain. Their smart-ass reply was, “Be thankful that we didn’t cuff your ankles. Quit bitching and get in the van.”
It literally took me 5-10 minutes to maneuver myself into the backseat of the van. I was screaming in pain and the cops didn’t assist me at all – they stood back and laughed at me as I struggled.
Nestled in the cramped quarters in the back seat of the van, I tried to calm myself down. I didn’t care if the hospital was five minutes away or five hours away, the important thing is that I was going to a hospital. I had no idea what fate awaited me, but at least I was going to receive professional medical care; at least I hoped and prayed that would be the case.
I thought about my ankle, imagining it would eventually loosen up and heal itself. Ironically, my only goal thus far in prison was to survive without being killed by another inmate. I never gave it a thought that I was potentially going to be killed by my own bodily toxins.
My thoughts turned to my family. How dare these people not contact them about my health! I can handle the sub-human treatment, but how can you subject my loved ones to this inhumane treatment? They are not prisoners; don’t treat them as such! My family is now on their way to visit me, but they are about to be confronted by a horrific experience… learning upon arrival that they cannot see me. Who knows what the prison will or will not tell them. So they are just supposed to turn around and drive home with a clear mind after that? I am not an animal, but my family is now being treated like they are animals – like they are the prisoners!
It was time to refocus. I must mentally prepare for what diagnosis awaits me. We finally arrived at the hospital in Salida, Colorado about one hour after we began our journey. We parked outside of the emergency room entrance. I was un-cuffed and I entered the emergency room accompanied by ‘bodyguards.’
A nurse greeted us at the door and guided us into a room right off of the main hallway. The nurse instructed me to remove my orange prison jumpsuit in exchange for a hospital gown. I carefully maneuvered my body on to the hospital bed. My left ankle area remained unbearably painful, reminding me that just because I entered the hospital didn’t mean that my pain would miraculously disappear. The nurse took my vitals and left the room. Shortly thereafter, a tall slender young man introduced himself as a physician’s assistant. He asked me to explain the circumstances of my illness. As he examined my leg he became visibly concerned and upset. He was especially concerned at the red streaks that were starting to shoot up my left leg.
“I’m concerned that whatever it is you’ve got going on is starting to spread. This is a very potentially dangerous situation,” he said.
The P.A. left the room and promised he would return with other medical personnel. I became extremely scared. This overwhelming feeling was much different than the overwhelming feelings I had about my survival in prison. In prison, a fear of my potential destruction was overtaking my body. In the hospital, my fear was that the damage already done to my body, and my imminent destruction was only a matter of time, unless I received expert medical care. I started praying for my life. I noticed that even the cops who were laughing at my struggles just a few short hours ago now looked concerned.
The tall physician’s assistant re-entered the room accompanied by several other medical personnel. They all studied my overall condition and conversed in hushed tones. My body temperature had shot up to 101.5 degrees. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that I was an extremely sick man.
One of them said, “We are going to admit you into the hospital immediately. You have an infection that has compromised your body. It is advancing rapidly. We can’t afford to waste any time.”
I was then taken to a single hospital room since first and foremost I was a prisoner. I was a patient second, at least in the Department of Correction’s eyes. As a result, I needed my own room to accommodate my “entourage” of security. I was to be watched 24 hours per day, with at least one limb cuffed to the bed railing.
I was put on an IV, and was somewhat comforted to know that powerful antibiotics were about to be pumped into my body. I felt sure I was being flooded with valium or a narcotic, as a sense of well-being enveloped me. I knew what was going on around me, but I didn’t feel the stress of my deteriorating condition. I asked one of the nurses how long I was going to be in the hospital and she was very non-committal with her answer.
My thoughts again turned to my family and their impending arrival at the prison. I kept an eye on the clock. 10:30… 11:00… 11:30. I knew they would arrive at noon. They were within 30 minutes of heartache and heartbreak. I remained extremely upset about this, but the hard edge was gone – valium or whatever they gave me was a powerful and effective drug. As usual, I had to pee in the worst way. A heavily tattooed nurse who cussed like a sailor handed me a pee bottle.
“How am I supposed to pee in this bottle, cuffed to the bed the way I am?” I asked.
“Figure it out, it’s not that tough,” she replied.
Was she speaking from experience? I was pleased that the cops un-cuffed my right arm but unfortunately my leg remained cuffed to the bed rail. I tried to maneuver my way into a pee position before pissing like a race horse. The moment I started urinating I knew that I was in trouble. I felt a wet, warm sensation on myself. I had no confidence that any of my urine entered the bottle. I thought about stopping mid-stream, but the damage had already been done. What was the use? Not one drop made it into the bottle. I completely soaked through my hospital gown and the bed. I pressed the call button and the nurse returned into the room.
“I think I peed all over myself,” I said while not terribly upset due to the magical powers of the drug that I was on.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Shit!” she said. Several other nurses then assisted in rolling me onto another bed, then completely changed and cleaned the first bed. My gown was replaced but not before I received a bed bath to clean me off.
Unfortunately for everyone involved we would repeat this procedure many times during my stay at the Salida hospital. Periodically I was able to successfully accomplish my mission, much to the delight of everyone. Why not put a catheter in me, I wondered. I’m not sure the nurses weren’t wondering the same thing. Regardless, the medical staff clearly was none too happy with me and the cops were awfully amused at my expense.
I kept glancing at the clock. 12:00… 12:30… 1:00. I knew that my family by now was informed that I was not at Buena Vista, but that didn’t calm me in the slightest. I kept picturing them heartbroken driving all the way back to Denver, having no idea where I was and having no idea about the severity of my medical condition.
I quickly learned that my prisoner status completely super ceded my family’s heartbreak and desperation. I was the property of the state, and my family be damned.
It was a treat eating hospital food. Eating hospital food was akin to eating the canteen food at Visitation – gourmet! I watched television as well. It was a real thrill catching up on the news and my beloved Denver sports teams.
I waited for what seemed like hours for a doctor to examine me, and he made his appearance late that afternoon. I was taken aback by his appearance. He was a slightly built man, extremely tanned, with long sandy hair. His shirt was un-buttoned. His appearance did not inspire confidence that I was about to receive competent medical care. He looked just as likely to sell me a surfboard as helping me navigate through my serious medical problem. He examined my leg and was startled by what he saw. I was startled as well. The cops who were guarding me stood around my bed in stunned silence. My lower left leg had literally turned purple, and it was clear that my skin was being eaten away. It was as if an explosion had occurred on my leg.
He was almost more concerned about the vicious red streaks that were inching up my leg. I was devastated, although my narcotic ridden body really took the edge off of my despair.
The doctor said to me in a sharp tone, “You have got to get out of bed and try to walk. It will be extremely painful for you but you have got to do it. It’s vitally important.”
Not once did he explain to me what illness had invaded my body. Obviously I had a major medical issue. The cops un-cuffed me and I clumsily maneuvered my way out of bed. I tried to take an unassisted step and collapsed in a heap. Despite my medication the pain in my left leg was intense. The cops helped me to my feet and I tried to take another step with my arms wrapped around their shoulders. The pain was unbearable. My legs collapsed again and I would have hit the floor if the cops hadn’t been assisting me. I became nauseous.
“I can’t do this. Please put me back in bed.”
It took all three of the cops to hoist me back into bed. I didn’t care what the doctor said. I definitely did not want to try that again. I would find out shortly thereafter however that I would be attempting to walk again soon.
I spent the rest of the day watching TV, visiting with the cops, and pissing on myself. Our conversations ultimately turned to my case. “What are you in prison for, Mr. Jackson?” I told them a synopsis of my crime. I wanted these cops to know that I was not a chomo (child molester). I had a feeling that they thought I was a chomo and were pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t one.
I looked at the clock in my hospital room. It was 7:00 P.M. My family would surely be home by now. What were they doing? Were they paralyzed with fear? Had they located me? They may have located me but they would never know it because the hospital personnel were instructed to deny my existence should there be an inquiry. Would my family be able to sleep tonight or any night? How will this affect their everyday life? The more that I thought about this, the more upset I became. Thank God for my narcotics, as they were able to take the edge off of my despair.
Little did I know that immediately after my wife returned home, she composed and sent me a J-Pay (paid email from the outside that guards print out for inmates) expressing her concern. I didn’t physically receive this email until seven months after the fact! I was housed at the Sterling Correctional Facility when I received all of my mail that had been held up during my illness. My wife’s email hit me square between the eyes. I could just feel the helplessness and despair that my family was feeling at that time. This is a copy of her message:
What is going on? We drove up there on Sunday and we were told that you were in the hospital – something about your leg. No one can or will give us any information. I spoke to your attorney and he is trying to find out what is going on with you. We are total wrecks since we know nothing and drove over 6 hours without seeing you. Can you see if someone can get us a message? Hopefully you at least get this email. I carry the phone with me everywhere.
Wish I would hear something from you. I can’t concentrate at work – this is just inhumane.
The attorney is trying to get you transferred – will talk about it whenever I hear from you again.
Love and worried,
I woke up the next morning still consumed by my thoughts about the well-being of my family. I asked the cops that were guarding me if they could contact my wife by phone and inform her about my situation. I already knew the answer, but I erroneously thought that I might catch them at a weak moment. No such luck. As usual, I was given the familiar speech:
“If we contact your wife, you will cop new charges of escape. DOC doesn’t care how sick you are. Attempted escape is a serious charge. They’ll add years to your sentence. Besides, our asses are on the line too. We could get fired and who knows, we could cop our own charges of aiding and abetting an escape. Don’t ask us again to call your family. It ain’t happening.”
My day was once again interrupted by my inability to pee in a bottle with my leg handcuffed to the bed. Same result, same drill. I had to be hoisted out of bed and plopped on to a chair. My bed had to be stripped and I needed to be cleaned. What a joke. The nurses were so upset that you could see their faces turning red with anger. It was hard to tell who they were “pissed” at – me, the “surfer” doctor who gave the orders to not use a catheter, the cops, or themselves. I was extremely upset as well but as usual the narcotics took the edge off of my emotions.
The surfer doctor came to visit me later in the day. He immediately examined my leg and was not pleased. I will never forget the look of fear on his face. It caused me great discomfort.
“The infection is clearly spreading. I’m very concerned,” he said.
My leg was clearly deteriorating. It was a darker shade of purple than before, and the skin destruction looked like a giant sinkhole. The doctor never once gave me a diagnosis, nor did I ask.
“We’re going to perform major surgery on your leg tomorrow. We’re going to clean out the infected area and attempt to stop the spread of infection. We should know a lot more after surgery. You need to help me out by walking. I know it’s painful but you’ve got to do it. It will improve your chances of successful surgery,” he said.
I tried to take a few steps, but I was in sheer agony. I hobbled to the door but that was as far as I could go. I needed to be helped back to bed where I collapsed and went to sleep.
My dinner was interrupted by an elderly nurse who looked and acted like somebody who takes no crap from anyone. “You better rest up because you’re going to sit in the whirlpool tonight,” she said.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! I can barely move!!”
“I’m gonna have you walk to the whirlpool by yourself – no assistance from the staff.”
“Why do I need to do that? I’m having surgery tomorrow,” I pleaded.
“I’m aware of that – that’s why you’re going to do as I say. The whirlpool will relax you and the water will be good for your leg.”
“Are we going to bandage my leg,” I asked.
“No, the hot water will be good for your leg. The doctor really wants to see that you move around before surgery.”
I couldn’t believe this. I’ve taken no more than five unassisted, painful steps in three days. How was I going to walk to the whirlpool which was located at the far end of the hall? I hoisted myself out of bed and began my long, extremely painful journey. My mind immediately flashed back to my excruciating walk from the east unit at Buena Vista to the chow hall just a few days ago. The only noticeable difference was that my leg had gotten progressively worse. The pain was beyond belief. I was also weak from being confined to a bed for three days. My difficulties, however were just beginning.
I struggled mightily as I entered the whirlpool. Climbing over the side of the whirlpool seemed to me as daunting as climbing over the Great Wall of China. Somehow I navigated the wall and entered water. The only thing that the whirlpool accomplished was it made me dizzy and nauseous.
After what seemed like hours, the nurse peeked her head into the room and told me to get out, dry off, and walk back to my bed. “I’ll see you in roughly twelve hours,” I thought to myself. I eventually shuffled back to my room and into bed. At least I was un-cuffed for a few hours, even though I had a guard practically attached to me at the hip. Where was I going to go? It would take me a month just to walk to the entrance of the hospital. My total exhaustion completely overwhelmed my fear of my upcoming surgery, making sleep a clear priority.
The whirlpool ordeal really took its toll on me as I still remained tired after breakfast the next morning. I spent most of the day sleeping, watching television, and visiting with the guards. I was running out of topics to discuss with my protectors. We had solved most of the world’s problems, so there was not much else to accomplish. I think the cops were beginning to tire of watching me and I was certainly tiring of their constant surveillance.
Maybe after my surgery things will be different, I thought. Little did I know how different things were about to become.
It was mid afternoon, and preparations for my surgery were beginning. I was inundated with paperwork, signing consent forms and other necessary documentation. A small procession entered my room one-by-one and introduced themselves to me as my anesthesiologist, my surgical nurses, and more. Lastly, the surfer doctor entered my room. He attempted to describe what he hoped to accomplish during my surgery. He told me that he wanted to “clean up” my wound and debride the area – in other words, he wanted to try to stop the progression of my infection.
He said my surgery was of the utmost importance and that it needed to be performed immediately. The doctor did not assure me that my surgery would ultimately be successful. In fact, I had an uneasy feeling that he wasn’t really sure what he was dealing with, and that he might be in over his head. Never once were the words “necrotizing fasciitis” ever mentioned to me.
The moment of truth finally arrived. It was late afternoon, and I remember thinking that dinner would have to wait. I was wheeled into surgery, and I was physically transferred from the hospital gurney onto the operating table. I looked around the room and saw three cops. Unfortunately, they were going to be a part of my surgical entourage. I was nervous but hopeful of a successful result. I stared up at the bright lights, waiting for the anesthesia to do its magic. I waited and waited and …
Is this what death feels like? Is this what dying feels like? My world seemed like it was crumbling all around me. I was terrified. What was happening to me? I tried to speak but I immediately realized that I had a tube down my throat. Where was I? Wasn’t it just minutes ago that I was waiting for the anesthetic to work at Salida? I tried to open my eyes but was unsuccessful. My ears were working just fine though.
“How are you doing, Mark? You are at St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver.”
“St. Anthony’s!?” I thought. “What am I doing here? How did I get here? Why am I here?”
“Mark, you must listen to us. We know that you’re scared, but we need you to help us.”
An involuntary cough turned into several coughs. The tubes in my throat practically suffocated me as my throat spasmed. I could feel and hear fluid in my throat and lungs maneuvering as I coughed.
“Keep coughing, Mark. It’s very important.”
I coughed for what seemed like hours. The pain in my throat and lungs was intense. I was so scared! I felt again like I was suffocating. “I don’t want to die!” I screamed to myself. “Live, Mark, Live! Live!”
“We’re going to take the tube out now, Mark. You are attached to a respirator. You’re able to breathe on your own now. Are you ready for us to take out the tube?”
I was so ready! I gave the medical personnel a thumbs-up sign. I could feel the tube being removed from my throat. The tube seemed eight miles long. “Pull these things out already!” I yelled silently to the nurses.
“How are you feeling now, Mark?” they asked.
If there was nirvana in hell, I was there. My throat felt normal. The madman who was trying to suffocate me was defeated.
“Man, I feel so much better. Where am I? How did I get here? What’s wrong with me?” I had a million questions for my nurses. I was still unable (or was it unwilling?) to open my eyes.
A nurse named Linda started to engage me in conversation. She put all her cards on the table. “Mark, you are a very sick man. You arrived at St. Anthony’s hospital several hours ago. You were flown on a flight for life helicopter from Salida hospital to St. Anthony’s. You went into septic shock during your surgery in Salida. You are a very fortunate man, fortunate to be alive.”
The surgery was successful. After spending several weeks in the ICU (while cuffed to a hospital bed), I made a full recovery and thankfully did not lose my leg.