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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 26th August 2016 > DOING DOUBLE TIME

DOING DOUBLE TIME

Chronic diseases are a dangerous problem in prison

@jessfirger

GREGORY FINNEY, then 37, felt extremely unlucky but in good physical condition when he arrived at Louisiana State Penitentiary in 2001. He had been shipped to the notorious maximum-security prison in Angola to serve 15 years for drug possession and shoplifting. Up to that point in his life, Finney hadn’t worried much about his health, in part because he was too busy scrambling to hold a job and avoid getting arrested.

It turned out his health should have been a main concern. Not long after he got there, the prison clinic informed Finney he was on a fast track to heart disease that could kill him—he was diabetic and had hypertension. Angola is the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S. and one of the most dangerous, so Finney suddenly realized he would now be fighting for his life in more ways than one. “I didn’t want to die in Angola,” he says.

In the years that followed, Finney struggled to get decent health care. The prison doctors prescribed insulin shots and gave him pills to manage his diabetes and high blood pressure, but two to three months might pass before he was able to see a physician for a follow-up exam. The clinic had too many patients and too many with far more serious illnesses. If Finney’s blood pressure happened to be too high on a day when he finally got an exam, the doctor would simply give him more medications instead of conducting further evaluation to determine how best to adjust his treatment. By the time he was released 15 years later, he was taking 13 different medications, and the treatment plan hadn’t done much to improve his condition.

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