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Book Review: Nonfiction Memoir

Posted on Jan 2, 2018 |

Maximum Insecurity: A Doctor in Supermax


Nonfiction > Autobiography > Memoir

I’ve read several books about the prison system in America from the perspective of inmates or former inmates. Reading from the perspective of a civilian who works in the prison system was an interesting point of view.

In real-world private practice, patients generally try to be as truthful as possible about their medical history and whatever pain they’re experiencing so they can be treated properly for whatever problem brought them to a doctor. Dr. Wright was an ear doctor performing surgeries and helping people who experience dizziness. He’d gotten tired of the endless paperwork hoops of private practice, but retirement didn’t suit him either. When he saw the opening at the Colorado State Penitentiary, he took the job, though his wife was dubious.

CSP isn’t like other prisons in that it houses the worst of the worst—men who couldn’t follow the rules of other prisons. For example, “don’t murder the correctional officers.” The inmates are locked up twenty-three hours a day and they don’t get contact visits with friends and relatives, which means it’s harder for them to attain drugs, although C.O.’s who want to boost their salaries can be counted on to bring in drugs. The inmates also do their best to trick Dr. Wright to give them drugs. Percocet is a favorite.

Many of the men complain of “excruciating” shoulder pain. Dr. Wright then asks how many push-ups they do a day. A typical answer might be, “Nine hundred, twice a day.” His prescription is not the Percocet they beg for, but maybe to do a few hundred less push-ups a day.

The book starts to get repetitive and there doesn’t seem to be a discernable arc. There are lots of funny asides and anecdotes, but it mostly read like I was reading Dr. Wright’s diary. Though he was dealing with pedophiles and rapists and murderers, he seems remarkably calm about it, so there wasn’t tension that he’d get seriously hurt by any of the bad guys, who he examined while they were shackled with two C.O.s hovering nearby, ready to pounce if the inmate got any sketchy ideas.

In Colorado where I live, Wright writes that many of the major Colorado highways were built by prison labor, as well as the route to the scenic Royal Gorge. He writes that homosexual inmates were forced to wear dresses, even on work detail.

Getting the proper medication for prisoners isn’t always easy. If drug A doesn’t work, a doctor on the outside can prescribe drug B. On the inside, s/he needs permission from administrators, which s/he almost never gets, meaning inmates’ care can become exorbitant when emergency room visits come about. This is especially true for mentally ill inmates, a huge percentage of our prison population.

This was an interesting, enjoyable read.


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