Interferon Therapy and Beyond.
Author Archives: ednamerle
There has been a huge delay in updating this blog. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back here. But the fact is my life has been completely transformed, once again, by the interferon and a new job and direction for my life which I will never cease praising God for. In […]
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Shower Time! By Edna Merle.
I have Hepatitis C. My genotype is 3 a. I was informed of this in prison. After diagnostics, where officials decide where you will spend your time, I was sent to Washington State Prison in Davisboro, Georgia. It is called Washington because that is the name of the county where the prison is located. When I’ve told people about that prison they think I was in Washington, D.C., and thus a career criminal. I am not.
Hep C, as it is referred to, is a disease that affects the liver and causes eventual scarring that can lead to cirrhosis and death if not stopped in time. In 1996 I was officially diagnosed and told what not to do: drink alcohol, take drugs, smoke cigarettes. But the worst thing the doc said was definitely not take Tylenol and other over-the-counter medicines. I did my research and discovered a few more bad things that can affect Hep C. The main one is sodium benzoate, a preservative in soft drinks and other foods. And salt. Yes, salt. Salt removes all the water around the cells of the liver causing them to dry up and die. The liver cells should be recovering and preparing for the next day of antagonists. The water keeps the cells moist and happy. Salt could be the worst antagonist of the Hep C virus because it is in almost everything we eat and drink. It’s very subtle and hides itself. Salt is sometimes even undetected by taste. Watch out for salt if you have Hep C.
While I was in prison I had two liver biopsies that determined my liver is as healthy as a baby’s. I was told “you won’t die from this disease. It’ll be something else that takes you out.” What will that be? I asked the doctor. She didn’t know what would be the cause of my demise. She simply said, “It won’t be hepatitis that kills you.” What a relief.
I am one of the lucky ones. In prison I knew a lady who had two life sentences without parole. She had been a prostitute. One of her customers was a guy who hired a taxi. They got in the back seat and the guy leaned over the seat and demanded all the driver’s money. The driver was foreign and new to this country. His English wasn’t too good. The driver didn’t have a chance when the guy in the back pulled out a screwdriver as thin as an ice pick and stabbed him in the back of his brain.
His fingerprints were on the weapon. He had the cash in his pocket. He was caught. Wanda was there so she was a co-conspirator. He got the death penalty. She got life times two, without parole.
Wanda had Hep C. She and I worked together and I liked her. She seemed genuine, a good girl. I had told her that I had Hep C and she told me that she’d had it since before she’d been locked up. She told me she had the disease for years. But when she started to become real sick with inflammation of her legs and abdomen, nausea and feeling exhausted all the time, she said it was too late for her because by the time the prison doctors admitted to her that she had Hep C, the disease was too far gone. When she asked them why they didn’t tell her in the beginning as soon as they knew, their reply was that since she had two life sentences without parole it was in the better interest of society that she not be treated. Nor would a liver transplant ever be permitted. So, she developed cirrhosis. Finally, Wanda couldn’t work anymore. I’d see her from time to time wandering around outside of her building. I’d take her arm and ask where she was going. She would say she was running to the store to get something for dinner or some cigarettes but she would be going in the wrong direction. It was plain that the ammonia, which had built up in her system because her liver wasn’t working any more, had gone to her brain. It can make you say wild things, even hallucinate. She started hemorrhaging and bled internally because her blood vessels were exploding; the blood would be thrown up or come out the other end. Her roommates were terrified of catching the disease and were grossed out by not only blood but other body fluids as well. No one that lived near wanted to touch Wanda to help or even comfort her, except one person. You’ll be surprised to discover that person was Big Bird. She offered to be Wanda’s roommate so she could take care of her. The prison officials agreed that Big Bird could live with Wanda. So she moved into Wanda’s room. And they say she really did do a wonderful job caring for her. Big Bird did everything for Wanda. She helped her bathe, clothed her and cleaned up all her bodily disturbances from the disease, kept their room inspection ready and so on. Amazing, that was the Big Bird I knew when I wanted her for my roommate. But then that was before Big Bird quit taking her own medication.
Wanda let me know who to contact for help with Hep C in prison. I am grateful for her advice because I could have ended up like her.
Wanda knew she was dying and told me about a visit she’d had from an angel. One night it appeared on the wall of her room. Her roommates were surprised when they found Wanda smiling as if she were in perfect health. She seemed to be talking with someone, although no one was there. Wanda came to church and told this story. We were amazed because prior to this Wanda had been out of her mind with the toxins in her brain. Then, after her vision, she suddenly became lucid just like the old Wanda we all knew and loved. We thought she was back. Two days later she died in the hospital.
As I was leaving prison the doctor told me my next liver biopsy would be due in 2010. After my release in 2009 I went to the liver doctor and told him everything I knew. I fully expected to be prescribed Interferon therapy, an injection taken once a week for six months that, when used in combination with other drugs, is supposed to cure hepatitis. The doctor took blood, lots of blood. He told me we’d wait for those results before deciding on a plan. I told him I wanted to start Humira for treatment of the scalp psoriasis that I had developed. He said I needed to take that up with my other doctor, but that it shouldn’t interfere with the Hep C.
I was feeling very bad one day and proceeded to get worse. I stayed home from work and went to my regular internist. I thought I had strep throat and the flu. The strep culture was negative and I didn’t have a fever. I just felt really bad. A couple of days later I received a phone call from my doctor who said I needed to see the liver doctor ASAP because my liver enzymes were up to 122 – 200 range, which is extremely high for me since for years it had been in the 40’s range. I suspected I needed Interferon Therapy immediately if I didn’t want to get cirrhosis. I made the appointment and was seen in another couple of days. They weren’t surprised or alarmed like I was. They told me I could wait to do the treatment because my last Fibrosure test, a blood test that determines the state of your liver, showed no scaring or inflammation.
They assured me that the scaring can take many years to develop and that I was overreacting. We determined that because the Humira slows down the immune response the liver takes even longer to recover from its daily onslaught, which results in higher enzymes.
The Humira has gotten rid of 80% of the scalp psoriasis. Now my hair looks really healthy. I don’t have to use the smelly dog shampoo that I used to apply every night. Now I only need it maybe once or twice a month. What a huge difference this has been for me, not to mention a great time saver.
Now I just have to deal with the decision on when to start the Hep C treatment with Interferon. Once this is done, I’ll never have to worry about the Hep C again. It will be cleared from my blood once and for all. I’m thinking of waiting until the first of next year. Then I’ll have gotten my yearly salary adjustment and hopefully other things will have conspired so that I can afford to stay home for six months on disability and get through the treatment without going bankrupt. I’m hoping to win the lottery or at least a small portion of it so I can afford the treatment before I get too old. But I wouldn’t have made it this far without the guidance of a former prostitute who had visions of a guardian angel.
Thank you, Wanda. I hope you and your angel are happy.
This is the art that I did while in prison. It reflects my emotional state at the time. These art pieces express so much of my desire for change in the world and myself. Through this art I became transformed into the object of my desire and could, in a way, fly above my miserable circumstances.
I recently sold The Sleeping Lady for $300. On the following pages you can see each piece individually. Along with a brief description of the art, there is a price attached. However, if you really like the piece the price is always negotiable.
C lick on the links below to see individual art pages.
Taking showers in prison was something I always dreaded. It was probably one of the most stressful parts of each day. Having to shower at Metro State Prison in Atlanta meant showering with two other women. The shower curtains had been removed, allegedly so you couldn’t hang yourself with one of the curtains. Yet the rod remained firmly in place, which provided the perfect place to hang, say, your nylon net bag, sheet or other article of clothing. But I always believed the removal of the shower curtains was to promote homosexual activity in a state facility where homosexual activity is most seriously prohibited. Confused? Well, don’t worry, it didn’t make sense to the prisoners either. But then I came up with some very good, weird Al Yankavic type of songs about it which made me feel better about the agony of enduring shower time. If you can be sicker in a sick world, well, that was helpful as well as entertaining too!
Usually it’s a good idea to plan your shower time with two others you know and trust, which are few and far between in prison. But there are some who, like me, didn’t want to be abused while cleaning my body parts. So we’d plan out the shower time most strategically. When our time came to shower we’d all three go in and do our business without a hitch. But on most occasions this was not entirely possible. Someone would take longer to come out of the shower so only two of us could go in. The third had to suffer her shower with whoever would come next. That’s when problems occurred.
On more than one occasion I was the third. One night two girls I thought I knew very well and who were friends to me came into the shower. To my surprise they were obsessed with staring at my breasts. Then they came closer. I was very upset but laughed it off and pretended to be unaffected by them and told them to get away from me. They didn’t. “You have such perfect tits,” one of them said. “We just want to touch them,” said the other. I got mad and left the shower quickly.
My room-mate wrote a letter to the Warden about my shower episode and the Warden called for me. She said, “I’m tired of all this foolishness. Do you want to be like these people?” I was shocked at her question. She must have thought I wanted to be with them. I said “No, I don’t want to be like them. They have life sentences and should have already gone home a long time ago”. The warden asked me if I knew these girls’ story and what they really did. I said yes, they told me. So the warden asked me what I was told.
Well, one of the girls was a tall slim red-head and a very good graphic design artist who was a very charismatic sort of person. Now that I think about her from this distance, she was very powerful in the prison world. She was a real convict, which is a complement in the prison world. If she was your friend no one bothered you. She was very pretty and was known for never taking any crap from anyone. But prison takes its toll no matter how attractive you are. After several years the time just changes your face. Anyway, she took the rap for her mother. Her mother had a mean boyfriend who was beating the mother. One day the daughter came home and found the boyfriend had been stabbed to death by the mother. The good daughter didn’t want her mother to go to prison for this awful crime because she had suffered enough in her life. So the daughter took the body, cut it up and packaged it like butcher meat and stored it in their garage freezer. Months went by and everything was fine. Until one day an insurance adjuster checking on a claim discovered body parts at the bottom of the freezer under the frozen vegetables and venison. The suspicious adjuster took a package and had it thawed and tested. Then came the search and arrest warrants. Thus, life in prison for the daughter that said she did it. But it was really her mother who killed the guy.
Now as I write this I must have been crazy to think that the daughter was at all innocent when she, in fact, cut up the body! Dead or not, how could one cut up a body and put it in a freezer where you keep food that you will one day eat? But, at the time, I didn’t flinch. She was OK by me until that shower day. Then she took on a new meaning when the warden asked me if I wanted to be like them. Wow, what a revelation! I guess the warden had thought she was one of my regular shower partners and I failed to clarify that.
Never would I be like them. Never could I do that, I said to the warden. She said, stop hanging around them, they are not your friends.
The other girl in the shower had another whammy of a story. She’s also a very good artist and poet, was petite and very soft-spoken. In fact, she used to stutter from nerves or maybe fear, I not sure which. She had dark hair and eyes. She was built almost like a young boy. She always stayed alone in her room and read or wrote in her journal. She spent all the years I knew her writing to appeal her case. I was attracted by her intelligence. And she was always kind to me and helpful.
She said she was the high princess of the KKK in Georgia. She had been present at a murder. At least that’s what she told me. Some thought she ordered it. I don’t know. She had stated to me that she had believed segregation was noble and in fact Holy, ordained by God. But, that she was mentally ill to have believed that. So she blames her participation in the KKK as one under the influence of a serious mental illness. She had also said that if she left or gave up her place she would have been killed as well.
She was very smart, quiet and extremely shy in prison. Of course, her crime was on the down low because there were more African Americans in prison at that time than Caucasians.
I wouldn’t be like her either.
These women have already served over 20 years for whatever they did. And they are still there.
But getting back to the showers – One day I was in the shower alone. It was right after 9/11 and I had quit smoking for about two months. I was feeling so relaxed and peaceful. I had washed my hair and dried it off. I was drying off my body leaning over to dry my legs when I felt something plop down on my head above my right ear. It was a just a drop of water from the ceiling. Yet it was so much more than that. The ceiling had horrible stuff growing on it, fungus and bacteria that even applications of bleach and paint never got rid of. But when I felt that drop land on my head I felt the heaviest weirdest feeling of doom I’d ever felt. It jolted my spirit inside me as that little water droplet touched my scalp and sent a wave of fear throughout my being. I didn’t understand it at all. It’s only water, I thought. A couple of days later an itchy spot developed on my scalp at the place of the water drop. I went to the doctor and got fungal cream for it. It only grew larger. Nothing would stop the growth of whatever this was. It covered my entire scalp and then traveled into my ears.
Finally after filing many grievances about this strange condition I was taken to a dermatologist who diagnosed me with psoriasis. He prescribed some expensive shampoos and ointments that kept it under control. It was strange, the doctor had said because I had told him that no one in my family ever had psoriasis and I was 41 years old and had just now gotten it.
Well stress and bad diet can kill you, so I’m sure it can also turn on the gene that causes psoriasis.
From then on I lived with chronic scalp psoriasis that required washing my hair every day. Conditioners could not be used because they made the psoriasis worse. The prescription conditioner recommended for me was too expensive and the state wouldn’t pay for it nor allow my family to mail it in. So I began a regimen of topical steroid treatments and anti fungal shampoos along with the old standard tar shampoo. When I took a shower I smelled like a dog that had just gotten a flea dip. I had to take a full arm’s load of different hair products to the shower. When people saw me coming down the hall with all those stinky hair products in my arms, they got out-of-the-way. No one wanted to shower with me anymore. I thought, “Praise the Lord!”
If you need more information about psoriasis and its treatment contact: http://www.national psoriasis.org.
Food can be orgasmic. It had been that way for me before in my life. When I saw the movie 9 and a half weeks it became even more so. Food was a way of life that encompassed the emotional and sexual and even the deviant side of the way I lived. I overdid everything, including drugs, which for me food had become.
My mother has always been a great cook who created Italian and French cuisines to present to her unaware family. Oh, we knew the food tasted great. And we always came home for dinner but we didn’t know what went into the creation and we certainly didn’t know about the desire that stimulated the creation in the first place. But we very rarely missed dinner. That was actually like ritual to my family; dinner was eaten together.
When I was sentenced to do 17 years in prison in May of 1996 I couldn’t fathom the fact that food would most certainly not be a highlight of my existence there. I remember when my dad died in November 1997; one of my first thoughts was that he would not be able to enjoy his corned beef sandwich or his eggplant anymore. And, oh, I cried when I knew he wouldn’t make chicken soup again. But the thing that really upset me was the fact that I would never make him chocolate chip cookies and give him one hot from the oven. That broke my heart because I had told my dad that I would make him cookies when I came home. Now it was never to be.
Food is a very important part of most people’s everyday life. They live their life around food. They live to eat. But when I went to prison I very consciously made up my mind to change my emotional brain into thinking: I eat to live, not live to eat, as I had done in my past life and was how I did everything else too. It was live to get high, live to have sex, live to make money, live to become something special. I never thought I was special and that maybe was why I needed to live in the first place.
As I said before in an earlier blog post, I was reborn through the love of Christ. And so I was able without too much pain, to change my thinking into eat to live, instead of live to eat. Frankly the food in prison sucked. Prison food is unhealthy and barely sustains life (all that is required). So it would be difficult to enjoy it or consider eating in prison as a highlight to one’s day. It was just something to get through, get over with so that you might be able to enjoy the next hour or so allotted for “free time”.
The dining hall wasn’t without excitement. One day I decided I needed to try to eat breakfast, so I went to the dining hall. The Correctional officer was watching the serving window to ensure everyone got their required amount. Standing at the service line looking through the service window the trays were lined up when I noticed one looked different. It was two trays ahead of mine. It had something black sticking out of the grits which was the main food on the tray. The tray came through the window and the receiver grabbed the tray and proceeded to move when suddenly she screamed and threw the tray on the floor.
What we saw was a rat-tail that had been strategically placed under her grits with the ends sticking out ever so cleanly on the edges. The officer said nothing. In fact, kept the line moving. The episode was as if it never happened. We who saw it left in disgust and anger. That was the kind of thing that happened every day, every meal, but was kept quiet, like nothing ever happened. You’d almost think you could have imagined it or maybe dreamed it. Because in the real world something would most certainly have been said, or made of that. It would have been on TV in the news. Not simply overlooked, hushed and kept seriously on the down low. Everything was kept on the down low in prison. That’s one reason why prison felt like living in an alternate reality of the olden days, say in the 1950’s. Really, prison hasn’t progressed much since then. They haven’t been able to. They can’t afford to progress. Progressing would entail better jobs in prison, more higher educational opportunities, equal rights between races, preventative healthcare and much more, an impossibility because no one agency can afford it. The system as it is provides what is called adequate healthcare. The system does nothing to promote health, only sustains life. So, what the prisoner is provided to subsist on after many years may very well promote illness and death. This is a huge problem.
In the early years of my prison eating experience I discovered a food supplement for farm animals was being served to us. It was called VitaPro. The container it came in clearly said on the side, “Not for human consumption”. Yet, this is what we were given until people started getting sick and the words on the packaging leaked out. That was a dirty business. But just one example of how the system tried to cut food cost regardless of the consequences. I guess that’s an easy thing to do because most people that aren’t in prison or have family members in prison do not know about the food problems or if they did, don’t really care. It’s not their problem.
Here is an example of a salad: two pieces of the palest lettuce leafs that you could see through if you held them up to the light. That’s it, salad for you. Not even worth the energy it takes to place them in your mouth.
The very last Thanksgiving I spent in prison was the worst of my whole incarceration. Usually, Thanksgiving is awesomely wonderful and a true reminder of home. This last one the free world food service workers stole the turkeys and lettuce. So the inmates had shredded turkey and lettuce cores for their salad. It was such a disappointment I wanted to cry. I was so mad. Yet there was nothing we could do, and then the holiday was over. I attributed it to my one more final thrust of being F—–d before my release, to ensure I’d never be back.
And that is also a good point. The food in prison can’t be good, really. If it was, more people would commit crimes to be sentenced to prison. So honestly they can’t make the eating an enjoyable experience. But, damn it didn’t have to been an unhealthy one as well.
So many prisoners end up with hypothyroidism because of the lack of fresh vegetables and the fact that they are served too many items made with soy. Even the items sold at the prison commissary have soy added as a major ingredient or by-product. Soy interferes with the thyroid hormone which is the motor of the body. So, after many years of bad diet and stress one may end up with more illnesses than they came in with. Then the cost of healthcare eventually rises and that prisoner has cost the state even more money than the crime itself has warranted. But alas, what can one do?
We can only ask our congressmen, I’m told. But I don’t have one as I’m not allowed the right to vote, yet.
2 Responses to To Eat or Not to Eat in Prison (18) By Edna Merle
- Kirk DuVall says:
I’ve never had such an inside look into a system of our government that you provide for us. I hope you can understand my position here, that the priority of the penal system is not to keep the inmates healthy, it’s to keep society healthy from crime. With that said, I would vote today to bring back prison farms, where the inmates would work a row crop type of farm, and even raise and butcher livestock, for there meals. That would provide good food, and good exercise for the inmates, at a low cost to society. I cringe every time I see these huge convicts in prison that are working out with weights, getting stronger and stronger, so when they reenter the real world, the look like bodybuilders !!! ( that scares me !!! ) I’d rather them look kinda scrawny and weak, ( like me !!! ) Plus the farm and ranch idea, would build job skills, give much needed exercise, and knowledge, that might help them when and if they are released. I don’t have cattle anymore, but when I did. It took a lot of effort to raise and keep these animals. I see it as a win win situation. Also I think more effort should be put into education. If I was on a parole board, I would require a ( GED ) before release of any inmate. Just my thoughts !!!
- ednamerle says:
There are a lot of working prison farms in Georgia. Where I was in the North Georgia Mountains there was a pig farm and a cow farm. Trustee status inmates worked on those farms because they were located outside of the prison on the surrounding land. They didn’t do any slaughtering there. They artificially inseminated the pigs at the Alto location. The women that worked there loved the job. They loved the little pigs and felt comfortable doing the job. It was a job I couldn’t have done.
There are dairy farms in prison that the men work at as well as vegetable farms. That is where most of the food for the inmates in Georgia’s prisons comes from. On one occasion that I know of at Alto opening a huge can of “greens” produced a nice leather glove. Then opening another found its match. It was kind of funny and gross too.
Around 1995 the work out equipment was removed from most of the prisons in Georgia. So to work out the prisoners would fill net bags with plastic bottles filled with water and hoist those things up and down. They would also participate in aerobics, yoga and a host of other exercise programs available without machines that included basketball, volleyball, baseball and touch football. But that was not a routine that could be relied upon. One day didn’t have to be like the one before it or after. The officers, if there were enough of them would have a “yard call” or “gym call”. But on many occasions there simply weren’t enough officers to facilitate any recreation.
You are also correct that a GED should be a prerequisite of parole. It actually is in most cases. There are a few who seem to get around it though. But for the most part if someone is sentenced to prison and doesn’t have a high school diploma or a GED they are most of the time required to “go to school” until that is achieved before they can have a job in the prison and/or come up for parole. Remember that parole is an early release from prison. So, if someone doesn’t want to go to school they can opt out of an early release and do all their time (max out). I knew too many that chose that route. It baffled me. But when an inmate could work in the kitchen they usually would make arrangements to take items and sell them to other inmates by way of trading for things bought from the commissary. That way they could get cigarettes and coffee and other things they wanted if they didn’t have money sent into them from a family member or friends. So sometimes these people would prefer smoking and drinking coffee over getting a free GED. The people who did acquire their GED in prison also received a HOPE grant to go towards furthering their education either while still in prison or after release.
I only knew one body builder in prison. Mostly body builders are in the men’s prisons where they better be fit or suffer indignities you can imagine I’m sure being a guy.