State refuses to give diabetic inmate shoes, gets plea to avoid lawsuit

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This prison is in Pikeville, Tenn., and is called Bledsoe County Correctional Complex. (Photo Flintco.com)

Dear Commissioner Parker, I am writing to ask your help in obtaining medically prescribed shoes and to help the state and its medical provider, Centurion, avoid costly litigation.

I know that the department and the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex administration are frustrated over my various complaints and lawsuits, but most of them would be a necessary if the state and/or its private contractors would simply obey the law.

By Robert Z. Whipple III, No. 399615

In this case, state officials are being deliberately indifferent to my serious medical needs, a violation of my right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. constitution. Regardless of whether or not you or the department agree with me, another federal lawsuit will cost the state tens of thousands of dollars, while my requested solution will cost the state nothing. I ask only to be allowed to order a pair of shoes in my size to alleviate my pain.

I have been borderline diabetic, or pre-diabetic, for several years now. I also have a very wide foot, and the state-provided boots do not fit properly. I wear a size 12-EEE, but state boots are only available in D-widths. For most of the time I’ve been incarcerated, I have worn shoes purchased from Union Supply that are either EE or EEEE width, but the last several times I’ve tried to order, Union Supply has been out of stock in my size. I still have a pair of New Balance shoes, but they are so worn that there is a hole all the way through the sole, allowing water to soak into them.

Because of this, I have had to wear the D width boots, which are very painful. This has led me to stop walking for exercise which has, in turn, leads to weight gain. This weight gain has caused my A1C [indicator of how well blood sugar is under control in a diabetic. — ed] to increase, and as of my most recent chronic care visit, I was diagnosed as full-blown diabetic.

Centurion’s physician assigned to BCCX, Dr. Belknap, diagnosed my diabetes on October 25, 2017, and wrote me a medical order for shoes in my size on that same day. Because I thought I would  receive medical shoes, I did not try to order shoes from Union Supply in my package month (November), though chances are good they would have been out of stock again.

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Sometime after my package order, I learned that a nurse and a clerk parentheses are in Katherine Campbell and clerk Courtney Dempsey) had overridden Dr. Campbell’s order for shoes. It is shocking that in prison a nurse or clerk has more authority regarding medical care than a duly licensed physician.

I also learned that it is Centurion’s policy not to provide shoes unless one is insulin-dependent — a policy not based on providing proper medical care — but rather one to save money.

I do take medication, Metformin, for my diabetes, at least I did until another nurse (Phyllis Sutton) told me to stop taking it, but am fortunate that I do not yet require insulin. Of course, if I continue to gain weight, it seems likely that I will soon be insulin-dependent, especially without my Metformin.

Some time after all this, Centurion tried to cover its tracks telling me through Sergeant Yearwood (grievance chair), that a Dr. Guettner had discontinued my shoes, rather than the nurse and clerk. But that is absurd and clearly a lie, since it wasn’t mentioned until I talked about suing and I have never even met this doctor, let alone been examined by her. In fact, I never thought this doctor was a man until Sgt. Yearwood informed me otherwise. To order the 4E New Balance from Union Supply, overlooks several problems:

➤ That I actually require a 3E width.

➤ That Union Supply is usually out of stock and large sizes.

➤  That I cannot order until February, but am in a lot of pain without properly size footwear now.

➤ That a licensed physician prescribed me shoes.

Federal courts have fouund that when prison officials fail to follow doctor’s orders, as is the case here, it is what is termed “deliberate indifference.” Deliberate indifference violates the Eighth Amendment when the medical need is “serious.” I think we can all agree that diabetes is serious, therefore, there is a great likelihood I will prevail in court. But even if I don’t prevail, nboth Tennessee’s and Centurion’s costs to defend against my lawsuit would run to tens of thousands of dollars. This is needlessly wasteful; let’s instead find a compromise.

All I ask is that I be allowed to order a pair of shoes at my own expense that fit properly. If Union Supply has a pair of size 12 4E in stock, I’ll order those. If not, I ask that I be allowed to order from J.L. Marcus or some other vendor, and of course I want to order now, not in two months.

I think what I propose is fair, ends this dispute at no clock cost to Centurion or the state, and asked only that the state allow me to have what a physician’s prescribed for me.

How ridiculous would it be to spend several years and thousands of dollars litigating, just so the state of Tennessee can deny me a pair of shoes? With everything else that is going on, does it make sense to spend so much time, money, and effort to deliberately cause new pain? Please consider my plea, I just don’t want to be in pain anymore!

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