By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Months went by, and nothing happened. At another training meeting, Matthews met HCA inspector Sam Love. “He said he was very interested in keeping the place a safe place, and if we had an issue that wasn’t being taken care of by our supervisors, to contact him,” she says.
She wrote to him repeatedly until he finally responded and agreed to come for a visit. On the day he came, in November 2001, medical director Williams was seeing patients, so Love was given a short tour by Matthews and supervisor Brecker. “Three or four patients were screaming. [Love’s] eyes were absolutely huge, like a deer caught in headlights,” Matthews says. She then took him to the glass-protected psychiatric unit in the men’s jail and the quiet men’s infirmary in the separate building.
“He saw a big difference and definitely agreed that it needed to be changed and brought to the same standards as the men’s jail,” she says. Love helped Matthews craft a memo in early 2002, which Matthews then, per Love’s direction, directly delivered it to the sheriff’s lieutenant overseeing the women’s jail at that time, Deana Bergquist. Matthews says she told her supervisors about the memo. Love is no longer an HCA employee; attempts to reach him for this story were unsuccessful.
Matthews says supervisor Vainas told her that the sheriff’s captain overseeing the entire jail complex at that time was furious about Love’s visit.
Not long after, Matthews met with Lieutenant Bergquist. “She seemed to agree with the concerns I had,” she says. Matthews says, however, that she felt pressured by her supervisors to tell Bergquist that everything had been fixed, but she refused to do so.
Vainas, who was the nurse manager at the time and is now retired, says he was familiar with Matthews, but had little direct contact with her. He doesn’t remember her raising any concerns about the women’s facilities. “I really don’t want to comment on any of that,” he says.
OCSD did not approve repeated requests by the Weekly to speak with Bergquist. Requests for comment on whether the jail would consider a new redistribution plan were not responded to by the sheriff’s department. Captain Tim Board, who now oversees the central jail, said that any future facilities changes would need to be approved and most likely paid for by OCSD.
During her tenure, Matthews continued to send letters. One day, she says, she was approached by a deputy who asked if she would be available to help the sheriff’s department out with the female redistribution plan they were working on. “I was shocked,” she says. “I had no idea this was going on; my bosses had never told me.” For months, Matthews worked during her days off, after work and during her vacation on different layouts, plans and schedules for the moving of patients and modifications to their housing areas.
Then, in an abrupt memo sent by a supervisor in October 2002, she was notified that OCSD had put the redistribution plan “on the back burner” because of budgetary constraints. The department had to complete the remodeling of a building at the men’s Theo Lacy Jail in Orange, the e-mail said. The redistribution proposal would be revisited, it said, in three to five years.
“We sometimes say that if you’re a type-A personality and you work hard, then you are not rewarded,” says jail nurse “Karyn.” “That’s the type of people they don’t want around, and Teresa was exactly what they don’t want: someone who wanted to change, who wanted to makes things better.”
Soon after that news, Matthews says, a pregnant inmate who was having early contractions came up to the window and held up a tiny sac of tissue. “‘Nurse,’ she said, ‘I think I just miscarried,’” Matthews recalls. “It was extremely loud in there, the staff nurse had her hands tied, and it made me feel horrible. I often felt very concerned that patients were not going to make it through their pregnancies, and I left a lot of times feeling worthless because I couldn’t do anything about it.”
The usually healthy Matthews was then hit with a series of flu-like bouts she couldn’t shake for months.
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In March 2003, Matthews remembers, her request for a small refrigerator to store diabetic patients’ insulin had been rejected once again. “I was so tired of asking and asking for one that I just went out and bought a used one,” she says. She later learned that the men’s jail would be receiving five new refrigerators. “I was so sick of it.”
One spring morning not long after that, Matthews came in at 4 a.m. for her shift and heard screaming. She went to the infirmary and saw the patient in the window. “I saw that her face was just swollen from having cried and cried so much. She looked at me through the glass and said, ‘I have a migraine headache, and I can’t take it anymore.’” The banging and screeching spilling from the cells on either side of her had kept her up all night.