Ken McGill left jail behind, but he can't escape the stroke he suffered there

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Jefferson County has also been sued multiple times over CHC's services at its jail. According to Techmeyer, the amount the county has spent on these lawsuits should be addressed by CHC's in-house legal department.

Bradley Brockmann, executive director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University Medical School, notes that private companies like CHC, which are paid a lump sum up front for their services, have a profit incentive to keep inmate medical services as basic and cheap as possible. For example, according to its contract with Jefferson County, Correctional Healthcare Companies is responsible for covering the first $50,000 of all costs incurred by transferring an inmate to an offsite facility. That means sending Ken to a hospital, as he requested repeatedly in the midst of his stroke, would cost the company up to $50,000. "Giving contracts to the lowest bidder to provide the cheapest services might save some money to the correctional institution, but in the long term it's destroying people's lives," says Brockmann. "More transparency is desperately needed, with some accountability beyond the institution's bottom line. Any light that can be shined into these areas can be helpful."

Ken is trying to fight for that accountability and transparency. "Maybe the reason you are living is the Lord wants to use you to open their eyes," Mike, the former EMT turned inmate, told Ken a few months after his stroke. "They need a wake-up call in there."

Ken hopes his lawsuit will be that wake-up call. But even if he wins, a victory won't give him his life back. It won't stop the nightmares that plague him at night, the ones illuminated by the horrible blue light from his time in the SHU.

"I am just trying to find a switch to turn off that light," he says.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner