Rising from a Fall: Keen Mountain Inmate Takes Bunk Bed Negligence to Federal Court
Written by: Sam Orlando
ROANOKE, VA - Falling off a top bunk might not sound like a courtroom thriller. Yet for Eric Howard, a state prisoner in Virginia's Keen Mountain Correctional Center (K.M.C.C.), it became the springboard for a federal lawsuit that highlights the sometimes tragicomic nature of prison life.
A Medical File and a Bunk Bed Walk Into a Bar...
Upon Howard's transfer to K.M.C.C. in March 2022, he arrived, medical profile in hand, clearly indicating a bottom bunk mandate for medical reasons. You would think this would be straightforward: person has paper, person gets bottom bunk, end of story. But that’s not how this tale unfolds.
After his relocation in May to a top bunk in a different building, Howard took a proactive approach, presenting his medical documentation to Lt. Horne, hoping to avoid an uphill (literally) battle. The policy at K.M.C.C., however, required new medical profiles, even if they echoed previous documents from another facility. Yes, bureaucracy does have a sense of humor.
A Tumble, a Sling, and a "Told You So!"
Before this Kafkaesque rigmarole could be resolved, and about 2-3 weeks later, Howard had a gravity-induced run-in with the prison floor, falling off his top bunk due to his aforementioned medical issues. As a result, he ended up in the medical department sporting a fetching shoulder sling and nursing a mild concussion. You might call it a very painful lesson in redundancy.
Now, with the visible proof hanging from his arm, Unit Manager Collins conceded to give Howard a bottom bunk.
From Shoulder Slings to Legal Zingers
Unsurprisingly, Howard isn’t merely nursing his physical wounds; he's taking his grievances to court. In a lawsuit filed this week, he alleges that prison officials, including Warden Hamilton, Unit Manager Collins, and medical personnel Whitted and Ball, showed deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and personal safety, violating his 8th Amendment Constitutional Rights.
The narrative is clear: Howard’s efforts to communicate and provide evidence of his medical needs were met with a blend of indifference and bureaucracy that would make any absurdist playwright proud. The lawsuit asserts that this "policy" or practice not only led to his injury but constitutes a systemic indifference to prisoners’ health and safety.
While the ordeal may sound like a skit straight out of a dark comedy show, it underscores a serious issue: the challenge inmates face when advocating for their rights, especially when their voices often go unheard or are muffled by layers of bureaucratic tape.
Eric Howard's lawsuit serves as a stark reminder: even behind bars, the need for basic safety and medical attention isn’t a punchline – it's a right.
As of now, the named defendants have yet to release an official statement regarding the allegations. The case continues in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, and Breaking Through will update this story when the Defendants file their responses.