Crime & Justice

Prisoner has trouble getting protection from recurring skin cancer

It sounds like a small thing to a free person, but merely getting a hat and the permission to wear it to protect his scalp from recurring skin cancer is an ongoing issue for Jon Andreas, who transferred to Avenal State Prison in March 2009.

Andreas shared his medical journal, including the struggle to get and wear a hat outdoors. He went for more than a month without head protection, and when he got his wide-brimmed straw hat he was not allowed to wear it in an area of the prison yard where he had to wait 45 minutes per day in the sun. It took until May 1 for him to get permission to wear it in all outdoor areas.

The hat got crushed twice while hanging on a hook, as required, during visiting hours in late 2009. By April of this year, it was falling to pieces, he wrote. He got a new hat in May, although his hat permit — known as a chrono — had expired.

“He has now been two months begging again for a chrono,” wrote his mother Kay Pech, of Cerritos. “Without the chrono he doesn't have permission to wear a hat. Meanwhile, he has not been seen by a competent dermatologist except via [a remote video exam called] Telemed. He has had a festering wound on the top of his head for more than a year now.

“I am frightened for my son's life. I write letters to the chief medical officer, the warden, the assistant warden, and the Prison Law Office. I appeal to anyone I can to try to find help for my son.

"I have never received a letter back from the chief medical officer or any of his underlings. Is my son's skin cancer a serious problem? Yes, my own personal dermatologist says 'if that divot in his scalp is getting close to the bone, he will need radiation or this is fatal.'"

Because an inmate can hide things in hats, inmates are required to get special permission to own and wear one in prison, says Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

A permit for a medically-necessary hat is like a prescription for drugs or other medical supplies that expire and need to be re-evaluated over time, says Joyce Hayhoe, spokeswoman for California Prison Health Care Services, the federally-appointed receiver that oversees prison medicine.

Neither Thornton nor Hayhoe could directly address Andreas' medical issues, citing his privacy rights.