By Brandon Roberts, D.C.
On Saturday August, 18 about a dozen other chiropractors and I went to San Quentin State Prison to adjust inmates. It was the 9th annual San Quentin TRUST Health Fair (TRUST stands for Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training).
The event was sponsored by Centerforce, Bay Area Black Nurses Association, and the Alameda County Public Health Department. There were many other health care workers there including dentists, mental health, as well as cholesterol and blood pressure screens.
I wanted to get involved after hearing about it and talking to some of the chiropractors who went last year. One of the core principles of my chiropractic college (Life West) is Lasting Purpose: Give, Love, and Serve out of abundance. I thought this would be a great way to live that principle.
My thinking was only of maybe helping one person realize some people on the outside do care enough to donate their time and because of that, it might keep my family and community safer when these inmates get released. But after talking to a friend, who is a Sheriff, and hearing her thoughts on it, I had serious doubts if I wanted to be involved in helping these people who have done some very terrible, violent things to innocent people. Was it something cool to check off a list of things I’ve done in my life? Was it just about me?
I spoke with a friend who has participated for a couple of years and he told me he knows some guards who want us there. He said “after you chiropractors come we have a couple of the most peaceful days of the year.” I figured if the guards want us there then I wanted to be there.
We walked through the front gates of the prison and we searched and had out ID’s checked a couple times then had an orientation by some guards and TRUST fellows.
Then we walked out onto The Yard and were out there with the inmates working out, jogging, playing tennis and handball. It was scary and surreal. The inmates had an award ceremony and a keynote speaker. I couldn’t stop moving around I was too afraid to get comfortable listening to the speakers, I wanted to be totally aware of my surroundings at all times.
We then went to the gym and got to work. The inmates were let in about 100 at a time. The line was from one side of the yard to the other. The line to see us was probably the longest except for the dentist (they were giving out toothbrushes). There wasn’t much small talk and I didn’t even get most guys names. Usually a fist bump or maybe a hand shake. I told them “you experience your life through your nerve system, every human action or experience is through your nerve system. If you experience more stress than your body can handle it is like blowing a fuse and your body can’t work properly and you experience less life, if this happens in the spine it is called a subluxation. Chiropractors detect and correct these problems so you are more able to adapt to your environment and can have a better life experience” It doesn’t matter if they had pain or not, all I was doing was finding that stress and removing it.
It was much more calm, orderly and quite than I thought it would be, I kept having to say aloud “We’re inside San Quentin!” to my colleagues to remind myself where I was. The normalcy is what actually bothered me the most I think.
I checked some shoulders and knees from playing football and tennis on the yard. I saw some old bullet wounds that definitely reminded me were I was.
One thing I’ll never forget is a very buffed man probably in his fifties with 3 really long braids in his beard that had no expression, had his ‘Game Face’ on, looked tough as hell and was one of the only men that made me feel uncomfortable get a big grin on his face and giggle after I adjusted him.
I think I saw 45-50 inmates in the few hours we were adjusting.
We got our things together and were leaving walking back across the yard and many of the men were shouting thanks. The last man I talked to I told, I’ll see you next year he said” I hope not.” I smiled and said I hope I never see you ever again then.
There is an inmate newspaper and I adjusted the editor and he said friend me on Facebook. That’s something else I won’t forget.
There was a film crew, the guys were learning filming, editing, directing and they did a couple interviews with us.
The inmates were low to medium security and couldn’t have had any violations for at least a year to be involved in this event.
We are going to try and get chiropractic as a regular part of the inmate’s health care. Some might think, and I heard people say, “Great my tax dollars at work, what next, private chefs?” Chiropractic isn’t a luxury like a massage or a Mani Pedi. It can save the state a lot of money. Many of these inmates were saying they take Motrin, naprosyn or other NSAIDS every day.
These can cause ulcers and are one of the primary reasons for people having kidney failure and being on dialysis. If chiropractic can keep these guys off drugs and prevent these very serious, expensive side effects a lot of money will be saved. I adjusted more than one guy that had shoulder or knee surgery while in prison.
We’re also thinking about doing some kind of event for the guards also.