When you think of a jail, you might be picturing a small building with less than ten cells. You might be thinking of something in New York with thousands of inmates. Truthfully, jails across the nation are varying sizes, shapes, and locations. Some are directly in the city, while others are located in small towns or in the middle of nowhere.
Our jail is on the smaller size and it is located in a pretty small town. I am the nurse that goes to the jail three times a week. I try to do as much as I can to answer any medical issues. If it’s more than I can handle, I call the medical provider who comes from the community to see the patients. He has his own practice in town and heads over to the jail when he’s needed. Some weeks that is every day while other weeks it could be once a week.
We have a small medical room. Often, I spend a lot of my time with the officers as they are always answering questions by the inmates. Often, the medical staff isn’t aware of a problem until it is told to us by the officers. In the control room, they open the doors to the jail. Whether that is the outside doors or the doors to the cell. They also have a bunch of other responsibilities as well.
One night, I was in the control room with a few different officers when one of the inmates, Mr. Smirnoff, hit a button and stated that he needed to go to the hospital. This was the same patient that I had just finished seeing ten minutes ago. I had spent an hour with him going over a bunch of medical issues. Once the officer responded, the patient started saying the same things. He thought he was Jesus. He had already been restricted. He was being called to the hospital to help people pass onto the other side. He really didn’t have any medical problems himself that would require him to go to the hospital, but he wanted to go to help others. He told everyone that it was his duty.
Inmates often hit their buttons for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes they need a shower, or to make a phone call, or to get a book. There are hundreds of buttons pushed every day. Sometimes emergencies do arise. You have to be very careful to manage the buttons. The inmates certainly could spend the entire day hitting the button and reporting some random thing. But, they also could be having an emergency and need to be checked on immediately.
The officer controlling the buttons asked me a few questions and relayed the answers to the patient. It quickly became clear that we couldn’t take him to the hospital nor should we. There was no one at the hospital that was dying and this patient wasn’t experiencing any life-threatening problems himself. He seemed like he wanted a ride out of jail. He screamed into the microphone for us to have a good night.
We spent the next twenty minutes giving report and going over several other patients. There were some basic concerns during the day shift and some of the orders that the doctor had put into place with some of the withdrawals and other patients. This is the process where the officers can ask questions about specific patients or they can ask about other issues that they might have.
I was standing to leave when the same patient as before hit the button. Mr. Smirnoff said, “You guys need to come to my cell. I have something to show you.” His accent was thick and it was hard to understand exactly what he said.
Officer Jenkins asked, “Smirnoff. Are you having a specific problem? If not, we will be stopping by when we do our rounds.”
“Nope. That won’t work. You’ve got to come now.”
Officer Jenkins responded, “Are you having an emergency?”
“I am just about to have a big emergency. I want to see the nurse and the Lieutenant now. If you guys don’t come down here soon, I am going to hurt myself. You’ll have an emergency then, methinks.”
In a jail, this happens all the time. Often a patient will report they are having an emergency, but they are really wanting to shower or to get more food. Sometimes they just need someone to talk with or listen to all of their problems. But, as indicated before, sometimes they are really having a medical emergency and they need help now. I was heading out the door, so I decided to follow the officers to the cell and make sure the patient was doing well.
The officer in control monitored the situation as the Lieutenant and I walked to Smirnoff’s cell.
From the control room, over the radio, Officer Jenkins said, “The room is much darker than usual.”
Lieutenant Nichols asked, “Can you rewind the video to see is something happened?”
As we turned down the corridor of the cells where Mr. Smirnoff was housed, officer Jenkins said, “The picture isn’t really clear, but I think he broke out the lights to his room.”
The Lieutenant grumbled, “Just what we need now.” Into the radio, she said, “Call Davenport and Williams to meet us at the cell. We could have a situation on our hands.”
The situation had just elevated. We weren’t sure if the inmate would be injured or allow us to go into their cell. At a minimum, Smirnoff was going to have to cuff up and be removed from his cell in order for staff to search it and make sure it is safe.
Smirnoff was already on observation for some behavior issues. He was in a cell by himself in our behavior wing. This meant, he was in a cell with a plexiglass window. This allowed the staff to get a good visual every time they walked past the cell. The camera was inside the cell, in a protective case. Those cases are replaced once a year, once a month, or more often, depending on how the inmate behaves in the cell. Smirnoff had been in jail for a few months. He was refusing half his medications.
The Lieutenant and I kept off to the side until officers Davenport and Williams arrived. We decided that the plan was for me to talk with Smirnoff – determine if he was in any danger either from himself of any broken plastic from the light. The officers would be just behind me. If there were no problems, they would determine what their next step was going to be.
I stepped forward but couldn’t see Mr. Smirnoff. The room was pretty dark and it became apparent quickly that Smirnoff had broken all the lights in his cell. I searched the cell and found him standing, huddled against the wall, naked except his underwear.
“Mr. Smirnoff, It’s Nurse Lucy. Are you alright?”
At the sound of my voice, I could see that Mr. Smirnoff was sticking his hand into his underwear. I kept calling to him. After a few minutes, he looked over at me and grinned a smile at me that went from ear to ear.
Mr. Smirnoff said, “Lucy. So good to see you. I was hoping that you would come and see me. Actually, I was praying that you would. The lord answers all my prayers.”
“Are you alright? Are you having a medical emergency?”
“Oh, yes. I am alright. But I think that something is wrong with the jail. I just had blood dripping out of my faucet when I was trying to get a drink.”
“That sounds bad. I bet we can fix that. I just need you to come over to the window so that I can make sure that you are okay.”
Mr. Smirnoff suddenly slammed his head into the wall two times.
I yelled for him to stop and he did. I added, “Come over here and let me see how you are doing.”
“Okay,” he said playfully.
He turned and took two steps towards the window.
“That’s good. Keep on coming.”
Mr. Smirnoff stopped near the center of the room. I couldn’t see him clearly. But, I couldn’t see any blood or anything. He was walking alright. I was worried about his mental health. I asked, “Did you take your meds tonight?”
“Oh. I made them into a stew and snorted them.”
“That would be gross. But did you take them?”
“Maybe. What do you think?”
Changing the subject, I said, “Does anything hurt?”
“Oh, my stomach. Dinner was beyond horrible. I’ve been having diarrhea all night.”
“We can give you something for that. Just come to the door and cuff up and we can make sure you are alright.”
“I am so hungry. It feels like my stomach is withering away.”
“What was for dinner?”
Ignoring the question, Mr. Smirnoff said, “Oh no. More diarrhea.” Both of his hands went behind him into his underwear. He bent over and a loud farting sound burst from Mr. Smirnoff.
Trying not to laugh I said, “Do you need to use the toilet?”
Mr. Smirnoff ‘s shoulders sank. “Too late.” He added, “I need a shower now.”
“Come over to the door and cuff up.”
Standing back up, he said, “So hungry.”
At this point, Mr. Smirnoff removed both hands from his underwear, and to my horror, they were both filled with a liquidy brown substance. I took a step back.
Mr. Smirnoff began moaning, “Soooo hungry.” Taking both hands, full of this brown substance, he began shoving the brown substance into his mouth. One hand full after another. It was dripping off his chin.
I wanted to look away but I couldn’t. It was the worst thing that I had ever seen.
He reached back and took another handful. This time, instead of getting it into his mouth, it hit the side of his face.
I could hear officers Davenport and Williams behind me. One of them was brand new, like his first week, and he was dry-heaving on the floor.
The Lieutenant stepped forward and barked, “Mr. Smirnoff. This is not the time or place for you to be acting like this. I need you to go wash your hands and cuff up. I am giving you a direct order. You need to comply. We need to clean this cell and you need to be checked out. This behavior is unacceptable and gross. Stop eating your poo.”
And just like that, Mr. Smirnoff complied. He turned, having a brown stain in his underwear, and walked to his sink. He washed his hands and face and took a long sip of water. As he walked back towards the front of the cell, both hands were placed on his stomach. He kept groaning, “So, hungry.”
“Keep coming,” demanded the Lieutenant.
Mr. Smirnoff continued walking. As he reached the front window, the Lieutenant said, “You are going to need to cuff up. Do you understand?”
“Of course, no problem.”
I whispered, “Are you going to place your cuffs on his hands?”
“The cuffs can always be washed.”
Mr. Smirnoff began taping the window. He asked, “Can I ask the nurse a question?”
The Lieutenant glanced at me. I said, “I guess.” I stepped two very small steps closer.
Mr. Smirnoff said, “Are there any oatmeal cream pies left on commissary?”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
He pulled back the covers of his bed and revealed four empty plastic wrappers of oatmeal cream pies. He said, “I totally fooled you guys.” He took out another cream pie and unwrapped it. He ran to the faucet and poured water over the cream pie, and smashed it together. He returned to the front of the cell and pretended to eat it. He laughed harder than I’ve ever seen someone laugh. He added, “Did you think that I would really eat my own poop? I’m crazy, but not that crazy.” He took his chair and moved it to the center of the room. He stood on it and reaching up, twisted in the light bulb and the lights reappeared in the room.
The Lieutenant was furious. “Are you telling me that this entire thing was a joke?”
“And a darn good one. You should’ve seen your faces. Especially nurse Lucy. I thought you were going to have a heart attack.”
I still had my hand over my mouth in shock. My mouth was wide open. At first, I wasn’t sure if I believed him.
He finished by saying, “I really do need a shower now.” But this is the best prank in this jail ever.”