The paper is out of Denton, Texas. They did a nice job showing this guy's humanity.
As his body succumbs to hepatitis C, inmate spends last days trying to warn others
11:33 PM CDT on Saturday, August 14, 2010
This is a cautionary tale from a dead man walking.
Michael Mabry doesn’t have a lot to be proud of.
He’s been in and out of prison all his adult life. He’s been a speed fiend and a cokehead most of that time.
He’s been busted for drugs and burglarizing buildings and tried two jailbreaks, and he has a criminal record in three states. He has eight children “scattered around,” he says, but he’s mostly alone now.
He’s a dead man, he says.
He won’t leave the infirmary at the Denton County Jail alive. Hepatitis C attacked his liver before he knew anything was wrong. By the time it was diagnosed, he was in the final stages of cirrhosis of the liver, and there’s nothing anyone can do for him, in jail or not.
So the 49-year-old Denton man sits on his cot in a medical cell, with a commode in the open a couple of feet away and the only decoration a roll of toilet paper and some graffiti scratched on the wall, and he thinks about his life and what he’s done wrong. He wonders what he could do to maybe get one small mark on the right side of his sheet.
He doesn’t have much time. He’s a con man, he admits. But he can’t con his way out of the trouble he’s in.
The only thing Mabry can offer is his life experience and its consequences as a warning to others. He got hepatitis C from jailhouse tattoos, he says. Everybody in prison gets tats; many contract hepatitis C from the methods they use.
But it’s the youngsters he’d like to help now, he said. Tattoos also are popular with the general population. Most adults go to tattoo parlors that are licensed by the state and have strict guidelines to hold down the chance of contracting a disease from infected implements. But those younger than 18 must have parental permission to legally obtain a tattoo. Many young people turn to more informal — and more dangerous — methods of inking up.
Gang wannabes use homemade devices to ink in their gang affiliations. Other kids get a friend to help them render forever their girlfriends’ names or symbols that have meaning to them. If they knew, Mabry says, if they understood that dirty needles, shared tattoo devices made of paper clips, safety pins — the myriad other unhealthy, sharp things — can kill them, maybe they wouldn’t get started down that road.
According to medical information provided by a website devoted to hepatitis, 4 million Americans now have hepatitis C.
It is more prevalent in Europe, but it emerged in the U.S. in the 1960s, related to blood transfusions and intravenous drug use. A reliable test for it was developed in the 1990s, and it was revealed to be a much larger problem than anyone knew. It causes cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
When casual users share a needle to inject drugs or an instrument to inject ink under the skin, blood can be transmitted from one person to another. Hepatitis C is one of the diseases that can be transmitted in blood. It attacks the liver — and left untreated, destroys it.
The liver has many functions, including filtering harmful substances from the blood, breaking down fats, storing vitamins and producing urea. The body cannot survive without it. Cirrhosis inflames the liver and ultimately causes it to fail. Caught early, the symptoms can be treated. But it is incurable.
Doug Sanders supervises the medical staff at the jail. He believes that Mabry is within weeks of death. Since Mabry’s disease is only communicable by bodily fluid exchange, there’s no reason to isolate him, he said. The staff manages his medication to try to keep him comfortable.
Since Mabry also injected drugs, he could have contracted hepatitis from a dirty needle. But he is convinced it was a tattoo needle, and since he has so many tattoos, it is reasonable to think that he is right, Sanders said.
“It’s alarming. It’s extremely prevalent in jail populations. You might think the HIV virus would be more prevalent, but the greatest risk exposure in jails and prisons nationwide is hepatitis C.”
Jail administrators try hard to keep inmates from finding ways to make jailhouse tattoos, Sanders said. Guards seize anything that could be used to make them.
“We are absolutely discouraging it. We confiscate it. But they have so many ways of engineering a machine. They find ways around it,” he said.
Mabry’s isn’t the first advanced case that the jail medical staff have treated. They are preparing him as best they can for the suffering he’s about to endure, Sanders said. “He has some very difficult days ahead.”
Death is becoming real for Mabry. He spends a lot of time talking to chaplain Bobby Ayers. He’s working on a bill he’d like to become a law. He knows he’s not going to finish it, so he offers advice.
Perched on his cot, his longish black hair slicked down, his orange jumpsuit covering the numerous tats on his back, chest and legs, he thinks about that for a minute.
“It ain’t just the needle you get it from. It’s the ink they reuse,” he said. “You know, I studied the law and I beat it one time. I slicked out of a charge I did on a technicality. They wrote on my paperwork that I’m a master manipulator of the law. I studied this disease. I’m not stupid. I studied to find a way to beat it, but you can’t.”
He pulls up his shirt to display drug- and gang-related tattoos. He has a bandito tat on his chest, a large dagger with a snake wrapped around it — he says it’s related to Rex Cauble and the Cowboy Mafia — on one leg, and a fairly good rendering of the Grim Reaper on his back.
“He’s coming for me, by God,” he said. “It’s day by day now.”
Mabry demonstrates how a tattoo machine can be made with things not considered contraband in the jail and some that are. A decent jailhouse tattoo machine can be constructed with a ballpoint pen, a paper clip, some string and the tiny motor from a Walkman, he says. Ashes and shampoo can be combined to make ink.
Walkman tape players are no longer available at the county jail. Mabry said an inmate can always figure out another way.
“We say you can put one prisoner on one roof with a match and another one on another roof a mile away with a cigarette, and before you know it both of them have half a match and half a cigarette and they’re both smoking,” he said.
Mabry says his liver no longer functions. It swelled, he said, until it broke his ribs. He said he’s had eight heart attacks since he was diagnosed less than a year ago, and his aorta burst because his veins and arteries thinned out. He also has diabetes. He’s in pain, which the medical personnel in the infirmary try to lessen with drugs.
He’s a poster boy for staying away from casual tattoos. If you have to get them, go to a licensed tattoo shop, he says. They have rules to keep things clean.
Mabry often loses his train of thought. He rambles and forgets.
“The worst part of this disease is your brain goes,” he said. “They tell me that when it gets that far, it’s the best thing for me. But I don’t want my brain to go and just be lying here.”
He thinks a minute and then laughs.
“I have a million dollars worth of medical bills right now. But they ain’t never gonna get it. Maybe somebody will read this story and it will save them. It’d be good if I could at least do that.”
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885.
Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.