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  • L.A. McCrae

Remember My Chains

“Please! Don’t crush up my medications!” I begged and pleaded with the Correctional Officer (CO) and Nurse that were administering medications on unit 4T of the Baltimore County Detention Center. Michele, another inmate, had been caught “cheeking” her medications. You know, hiding the medication between the gum, her tongue, and the inside of her mouth. When she opened her mouth, the CO wasn’t supposed to see the pills. But… “she’s an old addict”, as she said. She too makes mistakes. And, well, everyone else would pay the price. Therefore, everyone on the tier had to have their medications crushed up. But, here’s the thing: I suffer from irreparable heart damage. In May of 2016, I attempted to take my life (again). The doctors and medical team had to revive me four (4) times. I have to take medication to regulate my heart and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my medications should not be crushed up and administered that way. It even says not to do so on the prescription bottle.


Nevertheless, I had to comply or be put on cell restriction. I took the small, paper medication cup in my right hand. I grabbed the paper cup holding water, in the CO’s left hand, and swished back the medicine in my mouth. It tasted horrible. Immediately, I felt “off.”


Tink and Uche were waiting for me at the top of the tier. We all sat down, with Tara, to play our last round of Spades for the night. Pennington was downstairs, negotiating her way into the microwave line, attempting to make me, Suga Bear, coffee. She came up the stairs with a big smile. This was going to be a GREAT coffee! Someone had extra Twinks (sugar packets) and… a candy and latte packet. This. Was. Epic. Jail Coffee. I knocked it back. Picked up my cards. And began organizing my cards in my hand and counted possible books.


Then it hit me.


My heart started racing. I felt pressure in my chest. My arms were heavy. My hands clammy. “Uche, I don’t feel so well.” I tried to get Uche and… she and Tink mocked me. They thought Suga was just having a rough time. Then, my breathing became labored. Tara realized something serious was going on. Pennington was alarmed and yelled for the CO. I was grabbing my chest. I could not breathe well. I felt overwhelmed. Hot. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. The damn medicine!


The CO thought I was just kidding then realized my skin was turning red and I couldn’t breathe. This was serious! She called in the Goon squad. The Goon squad are a special force in the jail that is somewhat like SWAT. They have special gear and are a tactical unit. When they are deployed, the entire jail has to be under a security lock. The entire jail went on lock… Was I dying?


My blood pressure and heart rate were out of this world. “Cardiac Emergency” is what they were saying. They called for medical backup from outside the jail. The Goon Squad, medical team, and COs could not get me safely down the tier from the top floor. I could not slide. I was beginning to lose faith. I looked up at the “jail sky.” I could see “the birds” watching me… the security cameras. I began gasping for breath. I was afraid. This would be my end. Finally, the jail administration called for outside backup. They had to transport me to the hospital immediately. A “cardiac emergency.” As I looked at the birds, and the birds glared back at me… all I could think about was my mother. She would have to watch me die on jail surveillance… the fucking birds!

As I was starting to get loopier and loopier, I saw the jail move at speeds that were confusing. In some instances, things moved so quickly: Everyone in the jail on lock NOW. And in other ways, their slow movements could have cost my life.


After the Goon Squad got me out of the tier, they rushed me to the elevator door. After we went down a few floors, we arrived at the doors of “Medical.” As soon as I got in, the on-staff jail folks inquired: WHY HAVE I NOT BEEN TRANSFERRED TO THE HOSPITAL! I WAS IN “CARDIAC EMERGENCY.” The jailers responded: “we have to process her out first.” What they meant was, even though I was having a medical emergency, I had to wait to be fully processed out of the jail. They had to find two COs who could go with me, in a jail van, to the hospital. The EMTs were losing their patience as I was losing time.


Before I left medical, they made sure to bring me “Inmate” clothes. I had a jacket that said INMATE, in bright white letters on a blue background. The paramedics were anxiously saying: “She needs to get to the hospital NOW.” As they were calling around, I realized the moments that were passing could lead to my passing. “St. Joe’s has a bed.” And, the State was sending me, potentially to die, to the hospital where I was born. My end would be just as my beginning. My brother’s name is Joe.


The paramedics began to yell at the COs and jail staff and there was confusion and hysteria. I lay there, barely able to speak… terrified. Finally, they put my body on a gurney, so we could head to the hospital. Both the ambulance and jail van were ready for transport. The State had its knee on my neck.


But as we neared that last door, that last sallyport, in processing. They stopped us in our tracks. Not only did I needed to be cuffed…. I had to put on 30 pounds of chains… during a cardiac emergency. I need to have on regular cuffs and those cuffs were attached to my waist, the waist chains were attached to cuffs/shackles that were around my feet. Chains were put over my head, landing on my shoulders, down my back, and another rest of chains connecting to waist, ankles, wrists. As I sat there, fighting for my life because Michele got caught cheeking her medications, they first had to put me in chains.


In that moment, I prayed that my mother would not have to remember my chains.



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