This week’s blog post is all about prison health care. Specifically, it’s about prescriptions that are available to inmates. We get a lot of questions about this topic here at PrisonInsight, but I didn’t have much experience with mental health care when I was incarcerated.
So, instead of me attempting to recall random anecdotes from my time in prison nearly a decade ago, I decided to reach out to a current prison inmate and let her answer this question.
For this post, our guest blogger is Mistie Vance. She is currently serving a 20-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and armed criminal action at Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Missouri. She’s been in prison for more than a decade, and is not scheduled for parole until 2025.
I became good friends with Mistie when we served time together at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.
She was my personal trainer and my aerobics instructor, and we often spent time together on smoke breaks or in the prison yard. She is an amazing lady, and I’m sure that our readers would love to hear from her. Especially since she has much more up-to-date insider info.
To that end, here is Mistie’s answer to today’s question: can you get prescribed Xanax in prison? In this blog post, Mistie will cover the following topics:
- Prison inmates rarely get prescribed controlled substances
- Non-narcotic mental health drugs are the most common prescribed meds in prison
- How do prison inmates get prescription medications?
- How do prisons deal with inmate self-harm and suicide attempts?
- Dealing with mental health issues without Benzos
Prison inmates rarely get prescribed controlled substances
In my twelve plus years in prison, I have never seen an inmate that was prescribed Xanax. The list of allowable medications that correctional facilities can prescribe is impossibly limited.
Many of the medications that are prescribed in prison are over the counter medications on the street—Ibuprofen, Tylenol ,Claritan, Tums… the list goes on. What you won’t be taking in prison are benzos or opiates.
Due to the ridiculously high number of addicts in prison, only those with terminal illnesses are prescribed opioid medication, and most of those are required to be assigned to the transitional care unit in order to be given such medication.
You wouldn’t believe how many crimes are committed either under the influence of drugs, or in an attempt to obtain drugs. It is truly an epidemic that has reached every gender, class, and nationality.
For this reason, even inmates that need such medication are left to suffer without effective pain medication.
Non-narcotic mental health drugs are the most-prescribed meds in prison
The most widely prescribed medications in prison are mental health drugs. Obviously, you don’t want a bunch of dangerous criminals running around without their psych meds. Of course, many inmates choose to fake symptoms in order to get prescribed meds that will get them high or put them to sleep.
Meds like Remeron, BuSpar, and Seroquel are often cheeked (hidden in the mouth) at Medline (the time in prison when inmates are called to medical to take their meds) and snorted later in order to catch a buzz or pass out.
If you want a high in prison (one that doesn’t consist of paying a small fortune for real drugs smuggled into the prison), mental health medicine can enable this.
How do prison inmates get prescription medications?
In order to be prescribed any medication in prison, there is a long drawn out process. First, you have to get up early in the morning and take a form called an HSR, which explains your problem to the medical staff during the daily sick call movement.
After you submit your form, you wait—sometimes days, sometimes weeks—to be called in to medical and get seen by a nurse who will assess your problem. If you need to see a doctor, you may have to go to sick call several times in an attempt to be scheduled, and will more than likely wait several weeks to be seen. It is far from a simple, easy process.
When it comes to obtaining mental health meds, the process is similar to what’s used to obtain regular medication. The exception is that you see a psychologist several times before getting an appointment with a psychiatrist to be prescribed medications.
There is also a board that decides if they think you actually need medication before it can be prescribed. The process is expedited if you have harmed yourself in some way. Cutting yourself, burning yourself, attempting suicide, or admitting to thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or others is a surefire way to get something done sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, it also comes with an all-expense paid trip to the hole for an unknown amount of time.
How do prisons deal with inmate self-harm and suicide attempts?
Just in case you are curious about how they deal with self harm and suicide attempts, let me fill you in. You are stripped naked and given something we call a turtle suit to wear. It is heavy, like a bulletproof vest with Velcro that hardly ever sticks right, leaving you to try holding it on yourself so that you aren’t running around your cell exposed.
There is no mattress or pillow, no blanket or sheet, only a cold, hard concrete floor to lay on. You are given soft food on a soft tray with a cardboard like spoon. You are given just enough toilet paper to use the toilet once before having to ask for more.
You are not given a toothbrush, pen, paper, books…nothing but your thoughts to occupy your time. You are checked on every fifteen minutes, and have to see a therapist to be assessed before being released. The average stay on suicide watch is three to six days.
Dealing with mental health issues without Benzos
As for benzos like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, you won’t be seeing any of those in prison. Anxiety medication in prison consists of drugs like BuSpar and other mental health medications.
You just learn to deal with your anxiety by facing it head on, as the crowded living area and massive number of people make it the perfect storm for those with anxiety or agoraphobia.
You would be amazed at how adaptable we are as a species though, how well we come out having been pushed to the limits of what we imagined possible.
You will either choose to let this be an opportunity to become better and stronger than you were before, or you will use the system by switching to psych meds in order to feel high. I prefer the former, and sincerely wish that everyone did.
As you can see, medicating in prison is a little different than medicating in the free world. Much more of a pain, way fewer options, and not nearly as effective as drugs you can be prescribed outside of prison.
This is definitely something to consider if you have serious medical or mental health issues and commit a crime. What you may benefit from and what you are going to get on the inside, are two different things, proving my theory to be true. It isn’t the strongest or the smartest that survives this life, it’s the most adaptable.
Would you like to write to Mistie Vance or contribute to her commissary fund? If you would like to deposit funds into her commissary account, you can do so at JPAY.com. Select Missouri—Chillicothe Correctional Center—Inmate #1231904 Mistie Vance.
You can write to her at:
Mistie Vance #1231904
3151 Litton Road
Chillicothe, MO 64601
Sources: Personal Experience Essay by inmate Mistie Vance at CCC in Chillicothe, MO.