THE DEATH OF A CUMMINS INMATE
FROM UNTREATED HEPATITIS AND BEATINGS
By Linda Tant Miller
In December, 1984, my brother, Bud Tant, robbed a bank in North Little Rock, Arkansas and compounded the crime by shooting at the police who arrested him. His guilt was plain. I will not excuse his crime nor discount the fact that he had to pay his debt to society for it, behind bars.
But Bud was our family's only son and brother. However shocked and sad we were at what he had done, we loved him. He was handsome, intelligent, charming, funny, kind and so soft-hearted that I still can't get an image of him doing what I know he did. Our dad was in the Navy and raised us to be decent, responsible and patriotic. Bud somehow became addicted to drugs later on. It destroyed his moral standards and in the end, his life.
My mother and step-father hired a high-priced lawyer named John Achor to represent Bud. On this man's advice, Bud pled guilty in a "plea bargain" -- yet received a sentence of life plus 80 years, the maximum sentence possible. It turned out that his attorney and the judge who sentenced him were involved in a "bleed 'em and plead 'em" scam which made a lot of money for the lawyers and judges involved in it, while selling defendants "down the river." Still, Bud had committed the crime and we all agreed that he had to pay the penalty. None of us knew the price we would all have to pay for his crime.
In 1995, after years of health problems, Bud was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and C at a university hospital in Arkansas. He was told that treatment with Interferon was necessary to save his life, and that a shunt would be surgically implanted in his body for administration of the drug. When he learned of his diseases Bud called me, obviously frightened about what lay ahead of him. I was scared too and cried. He had to beg me to stop and "remember where I'm at," because my hysteria was causing him to lose control of his emotions.
Horrified as I was at the prospect of him undergoing such serious health problems and medical treatment, I am grateful that we didn't know the whole truth then: that he would be left to die without any treatment at all. We did not know that he would be routinely beaten and kicked by guards and medical staff while he was dying.
In 1997 Dad and I went to Arkansas to try to get treatment for Bud. John Byus, the Medical Administrator of the Arkansas Department of Correction, told us that Bud had had Hepatitis B and C when he first entered the ADC. I didn't say anything because I knew Byus had just made an appalling admission. During his time at Cummins Prison Farm, Bud had been permitted to donate blood plasma at every draw -- infected plasma. And they knew he was infected.
The "bleeds" were frequent. Unlike whole blood, plasma can be safely drawn once or twice a week. A politically-connected company had for years run a plasma program at Cummins. Prisoners could earn a few dollars in prison commissary scrip for each unit, but the company and the prison system got $50 a unit or more for the plasma, and made millions. Accordingly, officials pushed inmates hard to donate blood plasma. Bud always obliged.
The prison hadn't told Bud or any of us that he had these viruses. This failure placed all of us -- including my grandson whom I took to visit him as an infant -- at risk of infection. I was outraged!
Our whole family managed to visit Bud several times a year as his health continued to decline. He looked like a yellow scarecrow. His stomach bloated as though he was pregnant. His eyes were sunken and ringed with red and black circles. At one time his genitals were so swollen it looked like he had a football in his pants. He said that when he sat on the toilet his testicles touched the water. He was provided Tylenol for his pain.
About three weeks before he died, Bud told Dad during a phone conversation that he had fallen and when he was unable to rise on command a guard had begun to assault him. Dad can't remember if Bud said the guard hit or kicked him in the side, but Bud said he thought some of his ribs were broken.
Two inmates have since told me that the week after this assault Bud was taken to the nurse's station in a wheelchair, in extreme respiratory distress and shaking violently. After a period of time during which he was ignored by the nurses gossiping at the desk, and upon prompting by prisoners, Bud was provided a tank of oxygen. After he had breathed the oxygen for a while, one of the nurses handed him a pill with a glass of juice. While trying to drink the juice he spilled some because he was still shaking violently. The nurse hit him in the head and said, "I wish this one would hurry up and die and get it over with. He's a pain in the ass!"
A week later Bud was taken to Jefferson Regional Hospital to have fluid drained from his lungs. Because of his weak condition, the doctor who cared for him refused to release him back to the prison right away (the usual course of action). Bud had pneumonia, fungus in his branchial tubes, multiple bruises, injuries to the fingers on his left hand and a broken rib! The procedure to remove the fluid from his lungs was done on Wednesday, but there was little more that anyone could do. By Monday Bud was in a coma. On March 14, despite outstanding care by the wonderful staff of that hospital, with our sister Sue and me at his side, Bud died.
Sue and I lived in the ICU waiting room for the last two weeks of Bud's life. The rest of the family was there all day and late into every night, but Sue and I slept on sleeping bags in the corner of the room and left only long enough to shower and change clothes. The staff were wonderfully kind. Two of the nurses who cared for Bud came into the waiting room at the end of their shifts and visited and cried with us. His doctor was obviously angry with the prison, promising that if Bud survived he would keep him in the hospital until an Act 290 release (a procedure to release prisoners with a terminal illness) was completed. We were numbly grateful for their compassion, and so grief-stricken that we didn't at that time comprehend that there was more to their kindness than met the eye. They knew far more than we did about what had happened to Bud.
Recently one of the ICU RNs who had cared for Bud as he was dying found my web site and left me a message. We began a communication which has enlightened me about some of what my brother endured at the hands of the ADC as he was dying.
Here is text from a couple of letters I received from this nurse who witnesses suffering and death as a regular part of her job and yet is haunted by my brother's agony:
"I remember asking Bud about his history (for our admission records) and he kept repeating that those guards are beating him. He had bruises and was crying "please help me." I felt so helpless. I really did. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. There is a thin frail man, bruised, obviously hurting, and I didn't know what to do. I felt so bad because I knew if he got better enough to go back, what else would happen? He also complained of one of his legs hurting."
"I also remember Bud saying they knocked him out of his wheelchair and the guard demanded he get up off the floor and he said he couldn't. The guard began yelling and hitting him and he said his left arm got pinned against the wheelchair somehow. He said the guard started kicking him. He said he kept requesting medical attention, but they did not act very anxious to fulfill his request. I wonder if he was requesting medical attention before that incident took place, or some time after? He had bruises on his left arm and was 'guarding' his trunk area around his chest/abdominal area. Oh, and he had fingers on his left hand that appeared to have been injured. He kept begging for help and repeating that they were beating him. He said he was hurting. I could tell he was very sick. That was what I recall the most about his first few days."
So this is the "medical care" that the state of Arkansas provides for the dying prisoners in its custody, instead of permitting them to go home to their families and die in dignity. I want to know if it can possibly be morally acceptable to anyone in the whole world that "people" who beat and abuse a dying man are paid wages out of taxpayers' funds?
Here is a link to a photo of Bud.
LOOK AT HIM!
Bud's emaciated body weighed 75 lbs when we buried him. Who could beat and kick a defenseless, dying man?
I wrote a letter to Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and all state legislators and enclosed the information provided here. I asked Governor Huckabee for an appointment to speak with him. I've tried on many occasions, only to be told each and every time that he was "unavailable." This time I told him I will be in Arkansas from June 15 until whenever he can see me. I received a reply from Teena Watkins of his office that he is not available to see me in June, July or August. I wrote back and told them that I will make myself available at his convenience, even travel from Washington state to Arkansas for an appointment. I have not received a reply.
I challenge, I IMPLORE every Arkansas State Legislator to go to the Diagnostic Unit. Root out this cancer. Demand an accounting from these "medical professionals" of their criminal actions against a dying man. Somebody, please find out who these guards and "nurses" are who abuse helpless and dying human beings. They belong on the other side of the bars!
Because of the greed and corruption of the Arkansas good ol' boys and politicians, people all over the world will continue to die as Bud did. The state of Arkansas shipped his plasma to be made into medicines, knowing that Bud and other inmates were infected with deadly and incurable viruses. The World Health Organization estimates that one million people worldwide were directly infected due to the prison plasma program. But the true toll will just get higher and higher. Secondary infections will continue until the end of human existence, unless science finds cures or vaccines for the AIDS and hepatitis spread by the Arkansas Department of Correction. People whose grandparents are not yet born will die as a result of this unconscionable and criminal scheme in Arkansas.
This heartbreaking original article is written especially for Free Republic. Linda Miller tells how her brother, Bud Tant, died of neglect and cruelty in Arkansas's infamous Cummins prison farm. Tant had two strains of hepatitis. He didn't know that, but prison officials did -- and they encouraged him to donate infected blood plasma for almost ten years.
More later. Every time I read this I get sick....
LINDA TANT MILLER