by (name withheld by request)

A detained man writes to us about the medical negligence and suffering he endured for months while at the Bristol County House of Corrections.

Photo Credit: Tanner Van Dera on Unsplash

April 30th, 2018

To Whom It May Concern:

While I was detained at the Bristol County House of Corrections facility I experienced a significant medical problem which required immediate treatment. I was neglected and did not receive the care I needed until today (April 30th).

Sometime during the month of October, I had a pimple on my bottom lip. At first, I thought it was just a cold sore, but gradually it started growing bigger and more painful so I put in a medical slip asking to see the doctor. The nurse came to see me and gave me Bacitracin. She said it was a cold sore, and asked me to just apply the ointment and leave it alone. The nurse’s name was Vanessa Delva. I did as she said and despite all the ointment, the symptoms kept getting worse and the bump getting bigger. About 2 weeks later, I was brushing my teeth in the morning, and the bump on my lip started bleeding. It was bleeding through the day, and when the nurse finished her med line she came back with some ice to put on my wound. She then gave me gauze to just press on my lip until it stopped bleeding. On that same night I put in another medical slip telling the medical staff that my situation was getting worse and I was getting really concerned. They still didn’t let me see the doctor.

Then I noticed the infection on my lip was growing bigger day by day. The bump had grown to the size of a pea. Even though I submitted more medical slips, I was still ignored. The nurses kept telling me that I was on the doctor’s list. It was not until approximately December 13th (almost 2 months after my first complaint) that I finally got to see the physician. After he assessed the infection on my lip he said that he was going to put me on the list to see a specialist at the outside hospital. He asked me when I expected to return to my country and I told him it would take about one or two months. Then he said he could get me an appointment at their earliest convenience. Yet, my condition kept getting worse and they still would not bring me to the hospital to have this thing removed. I spoke to all the different nurses that came to the ICE B unit inquiring about my appointment but they would all say that all they could tell me was that I was on a waiting list. I spoke to Tania Cantave, the nurse’s supervisor (John Persico), Vanessa Delvo and Heidi and none of them could tell me when I would go to the hospital. They just told me to wait and if my condition gets worse they would put a dressing on my lip. She gave me extra Band-Aids, so I can change my own dressing if needed. Throughout the day I changed my dressing 4 times due to the amount of blood I was losing.

On January 5th, 2018 I woke around noon and had a lot of pain and my dressing was filled with blood. I jumped out of the bed and ran to the bathroom to change my dressing. I noticed the infection on my lip had grown bigger and changed color to a dark purple. Blood was dripping out of it. I changed my dressing and lay on my bunk, feeling very depressed and weak from not having any food in my stomach for the last couple of days.

Around 1:30 p.m. I woke up from my nap with my last dressing soaked in blood again. I rushed to the bathroom again to clean myself up. When I removed the Band-Aid the blood was squirting and dripping all over the sink. I was in so much pain, frustrated and overwhelmed by this whole situation, I could not take it anymore. In my panic I closed my eyes and literally ripped that ball off my lip. (Just to make a note, the size of the ball I ripped off was the size of an M&M candy and dark purple.) I felt lightheaded and blacked out. Next thing I know I woke up in the hospital. The doctors ran some tests and a few hours later I was discharged from the hospital. On my way out of the hospital I only had my bloody t-shirt and a pair of uniform pants. The Correctional Officers put shackles and handcuffs on me and as we were walking out one of the female nurses came to an officer and offered to give me a blanket since it was freezing cold outside. (Just to make a note, there was a snowstorm on January 4th, 2018.) The officer refused to accept the blanket. They made me walk approximately 50 yards to the cruiser in the freezing cold. The wind was blowing hard and the wind chill factor caused me to shiver. That felt like torture.

When I got back to the facility I was not allowed to return to my unit. Instead I was brought to the medical unit and the nurses told me that I have to see the doctor before they can discharge me and I can return to my unit. They put me in a cold cell with a concrete bed. It felt like I was in solitary confinement. This happened on Friday, January 5th, 2018. I was kept in that tiny cell for the whole weekend and I did not see the doctor until Monday, January 8th, 2018. They were punishing me by holding me for over 64 hours in solitary confinement.

On Monday, January 8th, 2018 the nurse Sara Maltais came outside the cell and instead of showing concern she was furious at me, saying that I should have waited for my appointment to see the specialist, which wasn’t scheduled until March 2018. I told her I would have probably lost my whole lip by that time. Later the officers brought me to see the Nurse Practitioner, Jennifer Reilly. Sara Maltais was in the office with her and when I came Sara Maltais kept complaining about why I had removed “the thing” from my lip. I told her that because of my depression and being overwhelmed by all the blood I just did it on impulse. If I was to wait until March 2018 only God knows what would have happened. I asked them if they did a culture of my lip and of the piece that came off my lip. But Sara Maltais said, “No, they probably threw ‘that thing’ away.” When Sara Maltais left the office the Nurse Practitioner, Jennifer Reilly, looked at my lip and said it was scabbing. Then after that she cleared me to return to my unit.

Two days after returning to my unit I submitted a medical request form, asking for my medical record from the facility, my report from the hospital and the copies of all the medical slips I have submitted. When the nurse Tania Cantave came to the unit she told me that they are not allowed to give me the medical records that I requested. They can only give them to a lawyer. I told her that I don’t have a lawyer. I asked her if I could speak to the person who is in charge of medical. She said the only way I could speak to the person in charge of medical is by phone.

To this day I haven’t seen anyone who could tell me how I can access my medical record. The medical department still cannot tell me what it was that was growing on my lip or what caused it. Again, I haven’t seen anyone from the mental health department yet.

Around the end of January I put in a medical slip saying that the bump on my lip is growing back again. Nurse Helena Almeida told me that I am on the list to see the doctor. I put in another medical slip on February 22, 2018 saying that it started to hurt like before, and once again my complaint has been ignored. I just don’t know what to do, I am so helpless. I don’t want to go through this again.

Finally they took me to see a specialist on March 2nd, 2018. The specialist only inspected my lip, and told me that they are going to cut open the bump and get the root out so that it doesn’t grow back again, and I will end up having a scar on my lip for the rest of my life, and since he did not have the proper equipment to perform a successful procedure, he was going to reschedule me for another date. And now I am going to have a scar on my lip for the rest of my life just because of lack of proper medical attention at Bristol County H.O.C., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security.

I was later told by the medical staff at Bristol County Jail (CPS) that my appointment will be set in the next couple months, which is too far, because I found out from the ICE agent Larry Downs that ICE obtained my travel documents to facilitate my removal from the United States, which means that I could be back in my country before they perform the surgery that was supposed to be performed a long time ago. It has been a total of 6 months since this medical problem I have been suffering from without any proper effort from the responsible entities to resolve it.

This whole ordeal has brought me a lot of depression, anxiety and physical pain, and suffering. As a Detainee, my life and my health are in the hands of the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, ICE, the Department of Homeland Security and the Correctional Psychiatric Services (CPS) at Bristol County. And for the last six months, they all have neglected my medical condition and my physical and mental wellbeing.

I called the Department of Homeland Security (Office of the Inspector General) a total of 5 times. Each time I made a report. I also called the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility at Joint Intake Center (JIC). And now I have received a letter from the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security saying that they have closed my complaint.

Since I have been suffering from this condition, the health staff and Correctional Psychiatric Services (CPS) at Bristol County only gave me Tylenol and some ointment and told me that’s all I was going to get until I see the specialist to remove the bump on my lip. And for the second time the bump on my lip has started to grow back again to the size of a pea filled with blood, red in color and painful. Despite the medical slips I submitted, I was still not being brought out to surgically remove this bump from my lip. Once again, I remind you that I’ve been dealing with this condition since October 2017.

I am still dealing with this same infection on my lip till today and how can it be possible that ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) has said that I have been getting proper treatment when I’m not?? All I was asking for was to receive the proper medical care before it gets worse.

I am writing this account of my ordeal hoping that Freedom for Immigrants could help me. Another reason why I am giving you this account is to inform you of the lack of respect and proper medical attention we ICE Detainees experience while in detention at the Bristol County House of Corrections. Nobody should endure the negligence that I experienced. I do not want this to happen to anyone else. So I am asking you to take the proper steps to make sure that we get the appropriate treatment that we deserve as human beings.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


(Name withheld by request)

Update: As of May 31, 2018, the writer of this letter remains in detention; the surgery was eventually performed. His lip is scarred.