Friday, July 1, 2011

Want Affordable Health Care? Take Cue from Man Who Robbed Bank to Get Free Medical Care in Jail

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 8:30 AM


Affordable health care is more elusive than the Loch Ness Monster. At least we know for a fact good ol’ Nessie exists.

Health care plans, especially for the self-employed or unemployed, can only be had for some ridiculous monthly fee or containing ridiculous coverage — like only being covered for emergency care if you’re dragged 52 miles by a rambling bus.

Arizona may be getting an even harsher dose of the health-care-free environment with a proposed enrollment freeze on state-funded Medicaid, although folks are not eligible in the first place if they make more than about 20 cents every other Tuesday.

While crossing your fingers and avoiding bus stops might at a glance seem like the only remedy, one guy in North Carolina found another one: He’s accused of robbing a bank just so he could go to jail and receive free medical care, according to Associated Press and Orange News reports.

James Verone, a 59-year-old unemployed guy with serious health care issues, reportedly walked into a Gastonia, N.C., bank on June 9 and handed the teller a note demanding a single $1. He then had a seat and waited for police to come arrest him. He was charged with one count of larceny and held in lieu of a $2,000 bond. Not surprisingly, he did not want to pay the bond and instead stayed put in Gaston County jail so he could receive his needed medical treatment.

It really has come down to this.

We hope he got more than free cough syrup, even if it did happen to come with codeine.

While free medical care in jail might sound like a good deal on the surface, it does have its drawbacks. Pasty food and a lack of sunlight could lead to health ailments you’re likely not to suffer outside of the pen, unless, of course, you make a habit of eating pasty foods and sitting around in the dark.

You also face the hazard of those shower scenes that result in violent or even permanent bodily damage. Or death. At least you’ll get a free coffin and burial, too.

While jails might have sufficient medical facilities to offer you a patch of gauze, a pair of crutches or that aforementioned free cough syrup, they can be seriously lacking in specific treatments — especially those for mental health issues.

A case in point is Ron Williamson, whose tragic story was outlined in one of John Grisham’s non-fiction books, The Innocent Man. Williamson was wrongly convicted and sent to Oklahoma’s death row for a 1982 murder he did not commit. Although he was eventually set free, his freedom came with neither apology nor monetary restitution, and the 12 years he did spend in prison spiraled him further into the abyss of insanity.

Since not even the defense bothered to note Williamson was mentally incompetent to stand trial, you can bet your stolen $1 that he did not receive mental-health treatment, but rather a dank cell on death row. While such a scenario is bad enough for killers who are mentally coherent, the environment was much worse for an innocent man already suffering from mental health issues.

They only got worse, thanks to things like poor diet, a sordid environment and guards teasing him over the intercom system pretending to be the voice of God or the murder victim asking Ron why he killed her. In a final, ironic twist, Williamson died not long after his release without benefit of the prison system’s free medical care for his cancer.

Accused bank robber Verone suffers from two ruptured vertebrae, a growth in his chest and an undisclosed issue with his foot. At least his problems are not mental-health concerns, although that could become the case after spending some time in jail.

While Verone’s alleged robbery certainly makes a sad yet accurate statement on the state of the nation’s health-care system, his move is not really something most of us would want to emulate. We’d at least ask for more than $1 during the robbery, and perhaps demand enough cash to cover a health care plan so we could avoid the jail step altogether. Or we can just continue to cross our fingers, refrain from eating pasty foods in the dark and steer clear of rambling bus stops.
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Ryn Gargulinski, aka Rynski, is a writer, artist, performer and poet. Her radio show airs every Wednesday and her column appears every Friday. See more writing and art from RYNdustries at ryngargulinski.com and rynski.etsy.com.

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