Disabled in Prison


In 2017 I tore my Achilles and was wheelchair bound for months. The Department of Corrections refused to treat my condition save for handing me a bag of ice and an ace bandage. On the day of my injury I asked for a wheel chair but was denied one, this despite I literally couldn’t walk. Out of desperation I ended up pleading my case to one of the unit managers of a unit I did not live in. When he saw my condition he immediately loaned me the unit’s one and only emergency wheel chair.

It took me 6 months to “heal” from my injury, 3 of them I spent in a wheel chair and then the final 3 I moved about on crutches. During this time I pleaded to be seen by a department specialist but was steadfastly refused.

To this day my leg gives me pain if I exert it in any way, walking for long periods, running, jumping etc. What was a serious injury that may have healed properly had I received the care I needed, has become a lifelong problem.

Being disabled made me aware of the plight so many inmates face every day, but few think anything of. Worse, these same inmates face adversity from their peers and from the very medical departments tasked with their care.

My experience is a male perspective in a male facility. Dorothiean’s story brings you another perspective, a female perspective from a female facility.

My and her stories are but two and are not unique. The same happens at facilities across the country.


What It’s Like to be Disabled While Incarcerated

By Dorothieann Werstler
Ohio Reformatory For Women (ORW)

My name is Dorothieann Werstler. In June of 2018 I fainted and was rushed to the hospital. My condition was very severe. When I passed out, I passed out on my leg for so long that the doctors had to perform a fasciotomy — cutting open both sides of my leg. I’m still undergoing treatment due to ongoing complications.

Now I have what they call drop foot.

In January 2020 I came to ORW (Ohio Reformatory for Women). My foot was still healing from a bone removal. Now that my foot is healed, I need ankle surgery in order to fix my foot and ankle. I am completely wheelchair bound. I can’t walk without crutches. ORW approved the wheelchair and crutches but steadfastly refused surgical care.

For the last 9 months I’ve fought to get the surgery so that I’ll be able to walk again. I’ve pleaded with the doctors, filed complaints about the pain in my ankle and foot, but am ignored. I was also denied for the surgery. Instead, it was suggested that I wear a walking boot. Out of despair I accepted.

I was sent to FMC (Franklin Medical Center [This is the Department of Correction’s medical hospital—Christopher] to get fitted for the boot. The FMC doctor wrote in my file that I needed surgery and that a boot was useless and therefore wouldn’t be provided. Because of this doctor’s recommendation I’m finally going to get the surgery I need. Without his intervention, I would’ve had to wait another 2 years for surgery.

Since ORW is so big, it’s hard to get around in a wheel chair. Inside the dorms it’s not so bad, but outside is another story. When I have to go anywhere, such as to the school, infirmary, church, and even chow I have to rely upon others. There are even inmates whose jobs are solely to push the wheelchairs, but they do it on their own time. So that leaves me having to look for someone who doesn’t mind having to haul me around to where I need to go.

The pathways are not wheelchair friendly. Between potholes, broken sidewalks, and incompatible doorway widths it’s a struggle. Prisons need to consider all varieties of inmates, from the blind to the hearing impaired, and the disabled.

Along with those issues, it shouldn’t have taken someone from outside the facility to request my surgery. The nurse practitioner here should have been able to see that my condition was serious and surgery was needed. I also believe that those inmates whose jobs are to help those in wheelchairs should be made to do their jobs and that there should be more than one person assigned the task.

These aren’t even half the issues I’ve faced being disabled behind these walls, but I hope what I’ve shared helps to give you an idea of what being in a wheelchair is like in prison.

D. Werstler

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