We’re sent to the courthouse where a marshal takes us back to a holding cell. A thin, bearded man with cuffs around his wrists and his legs chained is bent over in the bare cell, grimacing.
“Guess he got nervous about seeing the judge,” the marshal says to us, “Developed himself some back pain.”
“I’ve had back pain all day,” the man says. “And I’m not ducking anything. I’m in here for panhandling for Christ sakes! I can’t fucking sit up.”
“You didn’t tell that to the officer who brought you here?”
“He knew I had pain. I was sitting on the side of the road, holding my sign. I couldn’t even stand up. He had to help me into the god damned squad car. He brought me right here. I’ve got a warrant for failure to appear for another panhandling charge. Big bad criminal, that’s me.”
There is a term called “jailitis” that implies that prisoners are faking sickness to get out of jail, knowing they have to be brought to the hospital, and even though they know they will be returned to their cell eventually, the trip breaks up the monotony of their time. It is so common that jailors tend to lose the belief that anyone in their cells could ever really be sincere about their conditions. They call us per policy only to avoid liability should anyone truly be sick and not get care.
“I’m in terrible pain right now,” the man says to the marshal. “I’m always in pain, but not this bad. Plus in another hour, I’m going to puking and shitting myself.”
We transport the man with one hand cuffed to the stretcher railing and a police officer following us in a squad car. The prisoner tells me his tale. He is from a town in eastern Connecticut and he comes to Hartford to buy fentanyl. He says he hurt his back in a construction accident ten years ago. He went to a pain doctor who overtime increased his pain prescription to three 80 milligram oxycodones a day.
“Then one day I go in and his receptionist tells me he got arrested. No other doctor would take me. I’m on three 80 milligram oxycodones, for Christ’s sake! What choice did I have then? Just stop taking it?” He shakes his head. “Let me tell you. You don’t ever want to go through withdrawal. I’ll do anything to avoid it.”
He is only forty-two, but he looks like he is in his late fifties. His face is hard, deeply lined. His tortured blue eyes look like he knows what it is like to be chained in a dungeon. He reminds me of the character in the old Far Side cartoons who is, in fact, always chained to a wall. The only difference is this man is real and nothing about his condition is funny. “Withdrawal — it’s fucking hell,” he says.