Guest Commentary: Jaspar’s Hospital Trauma

By Kevin D. Sawyer

One prisoner who fell ill during the coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin was treated with disdain and neglect for his medical condition; not by a doctor, but by a correctional officer who almost killed him at an outside hospital, in August.

Two months later, an appeals court ruled that San Quentin showed deliberate indifference towards thousands of its wards when the virus besieged the prison. United, what corona did not bring about, a “green” poltroon acted as its surrogate.

Lee Jaspar, 64, was imprisoned at San Quentin when all hell broke loose and COVID-19 killed 26 prisoners and a correctional sergeant, His chance encounter with the virus, combined with HIV from a 1986 blood transfusion and helio bacter pylori (H-pylori) infection was the least of his worries after he was taken to Marin General Hospital.

Once admitted, Jaspar said he experienced chills and kept complaining to the correctional officers guarding him, to no avail. He said an African American RN, “who wore a badge,” looked at him with disgust, and when the officers were not watching he turned the thermostat up as high as it would go and walked out of the room,

Shackled to the hospital bed in four-point mechanical restraints with the room temperature sweltering, suffering for four hours, Jaspar said he could not use the bathroom and had no access to drinking water. That’s when he decided to yell for help and an angry officer rushed into the room to confront him.

“I’m not the one,” Jaspar said the officer told him, in a hostile voice. “I’m not going for this shit.” As he shouted, he bumped up hard against the bed Jaspar was chained to in an effort to evoke fear and intimidation.

“He was looking to do something,” said Jaspar who described his assailant as a 30-something, Hispanic-looking correctional officer, donning sleeves of “colored tattoos” on both his arms. He said the officer had an unusually spelled name, “with an X and a Qin it.” Said fast enough, “XQ” can sound like the word execute. “It looked like a Spanish name, but I’m not sure.”

Towering over the elderly patient already put in irons, standing at least six feet tall, weighing about 230 pounds, to show he meant business, Jaspar said his tormentor restrained him tighter with an additional set of handcuffs that violently ripped the intravenous needle and tube out of his hand, causing blood to splatter.

“I’ve never seen, in 24 years, a bunch of cops doing medical escorts with that much anger,” said Jaspar. “He was a knee-on-your-neck cop.”

The RN with the badge “aided and abetted the officer” and was no better, said Jaspar. “He had an attitude like he didn’t want to be there.” Jaspar scoffed at use of the term medical practitioner.

Thinking only about imminent death, time moved slowly for Jaspar. “I could see the clock,” he said. “I looked over at the vital monitor that I was hooked up to.” He said the ordeal made his blood pressure reach 150/110. “My blood pressure has never been that high.”

Jaspar suffered from an untreated diagnosis of H-pylori infection, a parasite in the body that attacks a valve in the stomach’s small intestine, causing it to stay open. When the valve is infected, Jaspar explained, waste can backup in the stomach which tries to re-digest it. He said it tends to effect people who have ulcers, stomach cancer or compromised immune systems, such as with HIV. “As soon as I was diagnosed with it, I started reading on it,” he said.

If Jaspar’s illness wasn’t going to kill him, he said cops stepping up their aggression could have. “They think they’re the righteous fixers of society,” he said. “They’re out there mad. It would be naïve to believe that it’s not connected to the Black Lives Matter awakening.”

After returning to San Quentin, still in bad shape, Jaspar called “man down” and went to the prison’s hospital, still reflecting on his unmitigated trauma experienced at Marin General. The last thing he wanted was a police escort from the Big House to a house of pain, because, as he stated, “(Police) are riding around with this seething anger.”

More than two months after suffering from a medical emergency and physical assault, scenes from his traumatic near-death experience are as vivid as if they happened to him yesterday.

“I thought (that) was my day,” said Jaspar. “I thought I was gone. You can’t even imagine how that feels.”

Source: Interview and personal observation (reporter is Jaspar’s cellmate at San Quentin State Prison).

Photo Credit: Peter Mertz

Kevin D. Sawyer is the associate editor for San Quentin News and a member of the Society of the Professional Journalists (SPJ) whose work has appeared in the Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle and numerous other publications.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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