Victim to Victor

Disability and Aging in Prison

Participants described witnessing neglectful conditions for elderly individuals.

Participants described witnessing neglectful conditions for elderly individuals. Many feared how they would be treated in their old age. As Maria Spencer summarized it, “LWOP means you will die in a dirty diaper, begging for someone to come help you and be abused for losing your memory”

“It is shameful and there will be little support as any of us age. Surgeries take many years before they are approved and the medical care provider denies basic needs which, if preventive measures were taken, medical costs could be significantly reduced. Medical, like every department in this facility, is reactionary.”

Sheená King

The disabled and mentally ill have a lot of difficulty in prison. The activities building and gym is not handicap accessible. The kitchen refuses to meet dietary restrictions. Those that are having mental health issues as they are ignored until it’s an emergency. But, my heart goes out to the inmates with dementia or mental illness. One inmate named [name redacted] is 90 years old. She has been here 40 years. She NEVER gets out of her cell. She can’t walk and she has dementia. She often cried out for someone to come and talk to her. Another lifer named [name redacted] had a stroke. She has beginning stage dementia. She rarely gets out of her cell. The officers tell me they don’t have the time to watch her. There are so many others. The real tragedy is these women will get lonely and frustrated and start screaming. The COs will give them a misconduct, the women will be taken to the RHU for 30-90 days and then brought back.”

Maria Spencer

The staff look at the elderly as a burden. The elderly are treated horrific…One thing about Muncy they deliver the meals to the elderly here never. There was a woman partly paralyzed who went without meals for 30 days… I am scared to be a senior here! I would rather be in heaven than live here as a senior.”

Elizabeth Collazo

Sarita Miller wrote that most of the elderly women in prison are serving death by incarceration sentences and have spent well over 20 years in prison. She asks, “Why must they die like this? Who are they going to hurt?”

  • Inside prison, medical care is as lacking as punishment is plentiful. She explains that the COs determine who receives medical care. “If you are sick to the point of death they would rather death than place a call to medical.” If an incarcerated individual is refused care, their only recourse is to wait for someone from the psychology department to see them, which could be a minimum of three days. In that interim, Elizabeth has witnessed individuals self-harm, commit suicide, harm others, or die from lack of medical care.
  • Elizabeth has experienced the same battle for mental health care. She was diagnosed with PTSD in her late 40s, but was repeatedly denied mental health treatment when she was at SCI Muncy. It wasn’t until she was transferred to SCI Cambridge Springs that Eilzabeth finally received care. It was in the course of the aforementioned drug test debacle that Elizabeth met a staff psychologist. She says, “she took interest in me and provided me with information and tools I still use 5 years later to maintain stability.”
Elizabeth Collazo

“She also talks about the lack of support for the mentally ill and physically disabled, and how the prison is not the right environment for care. She writes, “Prison is no place to house those with physical and mental issues…In both cases the origin of the problem is not investigated, pills are remedy.” She thinks that if prisons are meant to be rehabilitative, they need more educational and vocational opportunities that do not have barriers based on sentence minimums. She recommends more trauma counselors so all incarcerated people can have access to therapy.

Michelle Hetzel