“I had been in there lots of times when people had been screaming and yelling and things had been very bad, but never had a patient that was medical come up to the door and look me in the eyes and say, ‘I can’t take it anymore.’”

Afterward, Matthews broke out in a cold sweat. The chest pressure that had been creeping up on her during her shifts became stronger. A co-worker told her she looked pale, that she should go home. She eventually went to the doctor, who said she likely had a stress-induced ulcer. He gave her medication, and Matthews went back to work.

By now, the nightmares had begun, and she was sleeping only a few hours a night. In April, when she went back for a checkup, she broke down. “I just cried and cried and cried, and I couldn’t stop,” she says. Her doctor referred her to a string of specialists, psychiatrists and psychologists. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on, her doctors concluded, by her work environment.

Aaron McKinney
A nightmare in 2003 triggered the nerve damage in Matthews' right arm
Jeanne Rice
A nightmare in 2003 triggered the nerve damage in Matthews' right arm

The county doctor confirmed that her illness was stress-related, and she was approved for Worker’s Compensation benefits. She left her post for what she hoped would be only a short time. It’s been five years. She hasn’t been paid a dime in Worker’s Compensation in two years and is fighting for disability-insurance payments. She’d like to return to work someday, she says, but more than anything, she’d like to know that something will be done about the women’s jail. “Here were are, five years later, and the women are still in the same [infirmary] area. The only thing they’ve changed is the name.”

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