30 Years Behind Bars: Review

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30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor
by Karen Gedney, MD
DRG Consulting LLC

Reviewed by John Francis Leonard

It’s 1987 and in this gripping, true-life account of life as a prison doctor, Karen Gedney writes of the almost insurmountable challenges she faces from day one. Dr. Gedney received a medical school scholarship from the National Health Corps contingent on her serving a four-year period in an underserved area of their choosing. A local medium security prison is the last place she expected, but, glad to not have to relocate, she is determined to give it her all and remains long beyond the required four years. The medical department she finds is woefully understaffed and underbudgeted and she is soon left with a recalcitrant staff and without a supervising doctor. Whatever she faces, however, she does with her humanity and integrity intact.

Being 1987, AIDS is coming to the forefront as a major issue for the penal system. Two years previously, in her facility alone, all patients were tested for HIV and 120 out of 4,500 inmates tested positive for HIV. At a time when AZT was the only known treatment, the prison is at the cusp of a major health crisis and a public relations nightmare. Dr. Gedney finds no viable plans in place, however. Her direct medical supervisor is facing a cancer diagnosis and despite a valiant effort to continue his work, soon succumbs to his own illness. Facing an uphill battle under some of the toughest conditions imaginable, she manages to push forward. One of the biggest problems she faces in this fight against HIV/AIDS is the fearful and prejudiced prison staff. With no protocol in place, their fears get the best of them and even her nursing staff see an HIV diagnosis as fodder for gossip and fear mongering.

This fascinating book gives yet another perspective in the early fight against HIV/AIDS and is written by a talented medical professional who brings us a compelling narrative written in a clear voice and with a compassionate heart. From her battles dealing with the most serious health problems to actually being taken hostage, this is a fascinating read written by a physician who served an under-served prison population that any layperson will find entertaining and informative.


John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.