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.
|Leg with necrotizing fasciitis. |
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.
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.
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
“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
“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
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
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
“So they are going to drive all the way up
here to find out I’m not here? Please
“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
“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
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
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
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:
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.
I would hear something from you. I can’t
concentrate at work – this is just inhumane.
attorney is trying to get you transferred – will talk about it whenever I hear
from you again.
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
“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
“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
If there was nirvana in hell, I was
there. My throat felt normal. The madman who was trying to suffocate me was
“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.