As I write this legal battles are ongoing to compel the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ( PADOC) to provide needed medical treatment to political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, and some 8,000 other PA prisoners, for the highly contagious and deadly but curable hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis C, which can destroy the liver, is not treated by the PADOC until it reaches critical stages. Because of its destructive effect on major organs, delayed care for the virus will often still prove fatal. The denied treatment is allowed and based largely on the medication’s expense, which has a 95% cure rate, but costs $1000 per pill and consists of a 12 week regimen totalling $84,000.
Because of this the virus is allowed to go untreated and to spread amongst the prisoners and of course to infect those with whom they will have contact upon release. But here in Texas, something even more sinister is afoot.
Not only is hepatitis C also being allowed to fester and spread in the Texas Department of Criminal (In)Justice (TDCJ), but so too is another and far more contagious disease, despite that treatment is available and required under TDCJ rules and medical protocol. That disease is tuberculosis, and the situation has a marked resemblance to germ warfare.
It’s presently unknown how many TDCJ prisoners (and others who’ve been infected by them) have suffered and died from TB. But a recent federal lawsuit has revealed that Alton Rodgers not only died from active and untreated TB while in TDCJ custody, but prison officials fed lies to and concealed his medical history and records from caregivers (at Northwest Texas Hospital, where he was taken when discovered neglected and in critical condition and later died), pathologists (who tried to determine his cause of death), and the media (that reported his death and surrounding circumstances). The lawsuit charged, and it is evidenced, that the TDCJ is allowing TB and other contagious diseases to go untreated and spread, especially among prisoners of color at the William P. Clements Unit where I am confined. It is unknown, but likely that a similar situation exists at other TDCJ prisons.
To get a sense of how sinister the situation is, we need to look at TB itself and the treatment protocol the TDCJ is supposed to follow, then examine the facts that show how it’s being allowed to spread untreated by officials.
TB – The Problem
Active TB is a particularly deadly disease when left untreated. It is caused by the bacteria mycobacterium tubercle. Worldwide it was once common and was the leading cause of death (causing ¼ of deaths) in mid-19th century Europe. Its incidence fell and continues to fall in “developed” countries, but remains a major problem in “developing” countries.
TB is transmitted by airborne droplets from an infected person’s respiratory tract. In most cases the immune system contains the disease causing it to remain latent. But in many cases it becomes active spontaneously when the immune system becomes compromised by other health problems or upon reexposure to the disease.
High risk groups in “developed” countries include the poor, prisoners, urban people, the elderly and people with health conditions that compromise the immune system.
In such groups, TB can be prevented with vaccines, which aren’t provided in the TDCJ. It is diagnosed by a skin test, chest x-rays, and sputum tests. The latter determines when active TB bacteria are present and transmittable in the lungs. TB is treated with several antibiotic drugs, but can become resistant to them if the medications are not properly administered or taken.
TDCJ’s Treatment Protocols
Monitoring, testing, and treatment protocol exist within the TDCJ for TB, which I will outline.
Upon entering the TDCJ each prisoner is to be offered a TB skin test with followup skin tests offered annually thereafter. A skin test is mandatory whenever signs or symptoms of TB are observed or when a prisoner is identified as coming into contact with known or suspected TB cases. Prisoners with past TB history will receive chest x-rays instead of skin tests.
Under TDCJ policy, “the diagnostic process for tuberculosis comprises history and physical examination, tuberculosis skin testing, chest x-rays, and sputum examination for mycobacteria.”
When given, the sputum test is done three times by smear and culture taken over a two day period. When a positive reading is given the test must be repeated in seven days.
Any prisoner suspected of or diagnosed with TB is to be placed in medical isolation (quarantined in special cells), until TB is either ruled out, or s/he’s been on antituberculosis treatment for at least two weeks, and three consecutive sputum tests read negative. Any prisoner removed from respiratory isolation must be housed in a cell alone and specially transported until TB is ruled out or sputum tests for two months read negative.
In suspected or positive TB cases, the prisoner and all staff who share her/his air space will wear face masks during transporting to prevent particles from her/his respiratory tract from entering shared air.
A prisoner who has been diagnosed with and is undergoing treatment for TB must be seen by a doctor monthly, until sputum tests read negative for two consecutive months.
At Clements Unit these protocols are outright ignored.
Alton Rodgers’ Death
I was imprisoned at Clements Unit in the pod directly across the hall from Alton Rodgers’ pod when he was taken to the hospital on January 18, 2016, where he died the following day. I am still housed in the same pod at the time of this writing. I was therefore able to follow a lot of what transpired with guards, many of whom feared losing their jobs because they had not been performing mandatory counts and security checks of prisoners and cells at the Unit, including Rodgers’. If they had been doing this, he would have been discovered in his distressed state long before it became critical.
When Rodgers died he weighed only 148 pounds (he was 6 feet, 7 inches tall), and had a 16.7 body mass index.
Several guards were suspended, a major was fired, and the wardens retired. All because of obvious falsifications of security records that resulted in Rodgers being left undiscovered in clear distress in his cell for so long that his body was covered in bedsores. But the TB issue never arose and no medical staff were implicated in any wrongdoing. Instead officials tried to blame Rodgers’ death on his cellmate.
I became aware of TB in connection with his death because I was met with by his family’s attorney, who was investigating his death and conditions at the prison. Suddenly things fell together and a vile picture emerged. Not just because Rodgers had been deliberately left to die from untreated TB, but because his was not the only case of this sort at the prison. In fact, there was a prisoner in my own pod named Abram Gamboa, who had tested positive for active TB and had been seeking my help getting needed medical care and attention brought to his situation. I had also sent the attorney an outline of Gamboa’s situation.
Gamboa Goes Viral
I first discovered that Gamboa had active TB during May 2016. He’d been in the pod with me for about a year and ½. He’d tested positive for it during a routine annual skin test, and medical staff were trying to deter him from accepting care for it. He was never quarantined, never given a sputum test, and no efforts were made to test any others to determine whether he’d contracted or spread the disease from or to others in the pod.
Medical staff tried to keep his condition hidden and weren’t going to inform him that he’d tested positive for TB.
When he observed the large swelling, hardened and reddened area on his arm where he received the skin test, indicating a positive read, he began telling others, including me and another prisoner Jason Walker #1532092. Walker was housed in the cell across from Gamboa and had a great deal of time to talk with and learn all the facts from Gamboa about his situation. Walker in turn shared what he learned with me.
I’d been outside to recreation with Gamboa many times while he was in the pod with me and often worked out with him; I was therefore exposed to his respiration. Gamboa never wore any mask when outside his cell.
The TB nurses told him repeatedly when he persisted in seeking TB care, that the medication would make him, “feel like shit,” for months and he might not want to take it. He remained adamant about wanting the treatment. Despite his positive reading he was left in the pod to contaminate others. Indeed, no one would have ever known he had TB if he hadn’t publicized it himself, which a lot of other prisoners would likely not have done, or even known that they had TB.
His positive reading was medically confirmed through a guard named Lauren Griego, who overheard him telling other prisoners he believed his skin test was positive. Griego, concerned that she might contract TB from him, asked him directly if he in fact had TB. He said he believed so, but medical staff wouldn’t confirm it. Griego then went directly to the medical department and asked whether Gamboa had active TB. She was told, “yes,” but that it was contained, which was a lie told to get her to drop the issue.
Griego returned and told Gamboa that he did indeed have TB according to medical staff, which prompted him to press complaints and get his family involved in trying to get him care. Again he only learned that he had TB because medical staff illegally conveyed this information to non-medical staff (in violation of his medical privacy which can only be waived by him) who in turn told him.
Gamboa than filed several grievances about testing positive for TB and medical staff’s not giving him timely treatment. In response to his grievances – which he shared with me – he was told by the Unit’s medical administrator, Ric Vogelgesang, that he’d indeed tested positive twice (in two separate skin tests taken days apart) and was, as of the time of receiving replies to his grievances, receiving the antibiotic medication to treat his active TB; but the medications had been delayed because initially out of stock.
Again, he was firstly, never placed in medical quarantine even after testing positive for TB and being ordered the medication treatment, so he was left at all times to infect others; secondly, no mandatory TB tests were given to others of us who’d been exposed to him prior and subsequent to his testing positive; thirdly, medical staff didn’t initially tell him he’d tested positive, but rather a guard concerned herself with becoming infected inquired of medical staff and reported to him their admission that he had active TB; and fourthly, they tried repeatedly to discourage him from accepting medical care for his active TB.
Based on Gamboa’s disclosures to me and others about his active TB, I and Walker filed our own grievances about being exposed to TB and cited his own grievances where Vogelgesang admitted he had active TB. We both requested mandatory testing. In response to our grievances Vogelgesang lied stating that we had never been exposed to TB. I was further told that I’d refused a TB test on June 3, 2016 which was in fact never offered to me.
I attempted to grieve Vogelgesang’s blatant falsification of his reply to my grievance, pointing out his own admission that Gamboa had active TB and was being treated for it, that I’d been outside to recreation with Gamboa numerous times and therefore shared his airspace exposing me to his TB, and that noone had confronted me for any TB test on June 3rd and I was positive that pod logs would show no TB nurse had ever entered the pod on that day for any such testing. Vogelgesang and grievance staff jointly refused to accept or process my grievance. I also appealed his response setting out the same matter in the appeal. The appeal upheld what he stated in his reply to my initial grievance. As a result I was given no TB tests, nor was anyone else who’d been exposed to Gamboa before or after his positive TB tests.
On October 9, 2016 a reporter with the Amarillo Globe-News wrote a front page article about Alton Rodgers’ death and the planned filing of a federal lawsuit about his death from untreated TB. The article said the suit was to be filed on October 11th. Curiously, Gamboa was transferred away from Clements Unit the very day the lawsuit was filed. Certainly no coincidence.
After learning that Gamboa had active TB, I asked several guards working the pod whether they knew there was an active TB case in the pod. Each one outright admitted knowing about it; although I never identified Gamboa as the infected person. Several guards went further to admit there are several active TB cases housed around the prison like Gamboa, but guards weren’t allowed to say or do anything because they, as non-medical staff, aren’t supposed to know about prisoners’ medical statuses and conditions without their consent.
I have no way of knowing how many Clements Unit or other TDCJ prisoners have active TB and are being housed where they can readily infect others, as Rodgers (also his cellmate Joe Greggs, according to Rodgers’ family’s lawyer) and Gamboa were. What is clear, however, is medical staff have been and are deliberately refusing to test, diagnose, and treat prisoners for active TB, and when they are compelled to admit that active TB cases exist they try to discourage their receiving treatment, all the while leaving them housed so they can freely infect others.
As Santayana once observed, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” So what does history teach us?
2016 is the 70th anniversary of the Nuremburg Trials, where German Nazi leaders were tried by Amerikan and other Western powers for war crimes committed during World War II. Some were hanged and others imprisoned as a result. Among the categories of such crimes were: “genocide,” and “crimes against humanity”.
One specific set of actions which constituted crimes against humanity, was the Nazis imprisoning minority groups and others under conditions where contagious diseases were allowed to spread and left untreated – the very thing the TDCJ is doing as described above. In fact in the lawsuit filed by Alton Rodgers’ family, what’s going on at Clements Unit and was done to him is aptly described as a “crime against humanity.”
More telling is that every crime for which the Nazis were punished and ridiculed, the U.S. had itself committed with far greater ferocity and expressly stated genocidal purposes against people of color here in North Amerika. Indeed, it was from these historical practices that the Nazis and Adolf Hitler himself learned the methods and aims of their policies in Europe.
The U.S. and its European allies had a problem with what the Nazis did, because they’d sat by and permitted them to carry out their genocidal programs, denied their victims passage into other European countries and Amerika for asylum, and because the Nazis’ victims were seen by many as White peoples. This is why there has never been any accounting for the tens of millions of Native peoples that Amerika exterminated in its successful quest to steal their land, whereas the Nazis only imitated the Amerikans, and failed in their aims of territorial conquest.
But one method by which the Amerikans achieved their ends and which the Nazis imitated was deliberately causing deadly contagious diseases to spread untreated among the targeted peoples. It was openly practiced as germ warfare, and bears a marked resemblance to the situation at Clements Unit.
Take for example the concentration camp at Bosque Redondo, where the U.S. confined the entire Navajo nation from 1864 to 1868. There the Natives died at rates much higher than those killed at those Nazi concentration camps where deaths from disease and abuse were amongst the highest, like Dachau and Buchenwald. In fact during that four years, about half of the Navajos interned at Bosque Redondo died and most of those deaths were caused by disease.
And before that, what about what the U S. Army did to the Mandan Indians? In that case, in 1836, the commandant at Fort Clark on the Missouri River had a boatload of blankets from a smallpox infirmary distributed to a delegation of Mandans at a “friendship” meeting. As the disease began to spread they advised the fearstruck Natives that the cure was to flee to far away villages of relatives, with the intent of seeing the disease spread, which it did for 15 years. It decimated the Mandans and spread to Blackfeet tribes from southern Canada to Texas. Just as TB is being allowed to infect TDCJ prisoners who will predictably spread it widely to the various already vulnerable urban communities to which they will return upon release. As the Rodgers lawsuit points out, it is primarily prisoners of color who are being infected with TB and left untreated at Clements Unit.
The implications here are of something far more vile than the Tuskegee syphilis experiments of last century. During which 600 poor Black men in Macon County, Alabama were deliberately infected with syphilis by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute. The men were given no treatment in order that the experimentors could study the effects of syphilis when allowed to progress without treatment.
In those experiments officials didn’t know the results of leaving syphilis untreated. However, in the case of TB they know all too well the results of leaving active TB untreated within already vulnerable groups like prisoners and urban peoples. Namely, widescale infection rates and torturous deaths. Such practices cannot be seen as anything but germ warfare and genocide; not to mention crimes against humanity. While this is not all to say there is some elaborate conspiracy to deliberately infect masses of peoples of color and poor people in U.S. prisons with highly contagious diseases and “allow” them to die off, this is the outcome. The cause may be simple indifference to the medical needs of those imprisoned in Amerika, who are in fact deliberately targeted based on race and class, and the overall refusal of the capitalist system to willingly expend money and lose profits in the interest of serving the needs of the poor, people of color, and workers. In many instances pure “meanness” is also a factor, directed against villainized groups, as it was in the case of the Nazis and the popular support and indifference they received for their programs. Whatever the cause, the result is much the same as what the Nazis did that were denounced as crimes against humanity. This is but one of many examples of the hypocrisy and inhumanity of imprisonment in Amerika.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
 Gamboa filed two grievances, both of which he sent to me to read the responses. Those grievance record numbers are: 2016115898 and 2016126156. They can be obtained from the TDCJ by the public through an open records request. Both grievances are responded to by the medical administrator at Clements Unit and the Step 2 medical staff from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Correctional Managed Health Care, which oversees health care for TDCJ prisoners. Both grievances admit that Gamboa tested positive twice for active TB during early 2016 and was thereupon placed on medication, Isoniazid 330 mg, as treatment. He was also given chest x-rays which confirmed his active TB.
 My grievance, which can also be obtained by open records request, is record number 2016144080.
 Creede Newton, “Family of Clements Inmate Who Died in Custody to Sue TDCJ,” Amarillo Globe-News, Oct. 9 2016. http://amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2016-10-08/family-clements-inmate-who-died-custody-sue-tdcj
 See John Toland, Adolf Hitler (New York: Doubleday, 1976), n 702 (“Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the Wild West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination – by starvation and uneven combat – of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”); Joachim C. Fest, Hitler (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1973), p. 214 (Hitler’s “continental war of conquest” was modeled “with explicit reference to the United States.”); Richard Rubenstein “Afterword: Genocide and Civilization,” Isidor Wallimann, eds. et al. Genocide and the Modern Age: Etiology and Case Studies of Mass Death (Westport. CT: Greenwood, 1987), p. 288 (“Hitler saw the settlement of the New World and the concomitant elimination of North America’s Indian population by white European settlers as a model to be followed by Germany on the European continent.”)
 See Roberto Mario Salmon, “The Disease Complaint at Bosque Redondo (1864-1868),” Indian Historian, No. 9. 1976; Gerald Thompson, The Army and the Navajo: The Bosque Redondo Reservation Experiment; 1863-1868 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1982). The fatality rates were 36% at Dachau and 19% at Buchenwald. See, Michael Burleigh, Ethics and Extermination: Reflections on the Nazi Genocide (Cambridge UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997) pp. 210-211.
 See E. Wagner Stearn and Allen E. Stearn, The Effects of Smallpox on the Destiny of the American Indian (Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1945), pp. 89-94.
 See, James Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (Simon and Schuster, 1993)
 It’s important to note that before information surfaced that TB played a role in Alton Rodgers’ death, Jason Walker wrote an article about officials at Clements Unit acting to allow a TB outbreak to occur; indeed, he was talking about the situation with Gamboa. See, Jason Walker, ”Medical Staff Passively Watch Potential Tuberculosis Outbreak: Healthcare in Prison Couldn’t be More Indifferent,” http://rashidmod.com/?p=2154. He also filed a grievance about the active TB case on the pod and the matter not being addressed by officials at the prison. The grievance was refused for processing. The record# was 2017012121.