Family Medicine Inside Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail
Lauren Wolchok, MD
Article originally posted on Los Angeles Daily News.
On the outside, Richard Brent was a thief and a user.
He stole and used meth and heroin, acted tough and aggressive, all of which got him a 90-day sentence to Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail.
But for Dr. Lauren Wolchok, his physician on the inside, Brent is neither criminal nor inmate.
For her, he is a person in need of medical care like anyone else. Whether to help him monitor the pills he takes to manage HIV, link him to drug treatment or offer a sympathetic ear as he recounts a childhood that included maternal neglect, Wolchok said Brent is her patient, whether she had met him on the inside or outside.
“I love this work. I just love it all,” Wolchok said of her duties inside the massive jail in downtown L.A.’s Chinatown, where an estimated 4,400 inmates are housed each month. “I fall in love with the patients. It’s very meaningful work, as close to social justice as anyone could get.”
Wolchok, 32, is a family doctor who specializes in HIV/AIDS care. She gravitated toward working in the jails, specifically with inmates with HIV, while making the rounds there as a young doctor in residency.
Inside her small office on the 9300 floor, Wolchok listened as Brent, 47, told her about how his mother was a drug user, how he had been in trouble since he was 16 years old, and that he’s been in and out of jails and prison 16 times. He’s done a lot of things to get a hold of heroin, he said, showing her needle scars on his arms.
In all the times he’s been to jail, he said, he’s never met a doctor like Wolchok, or the nurse who comforted him recently when he learned while locked up that he was HIV positive.
“There’s been no one like you,” Brent, a father of five children, said to Wolchok. “No one has taken the time to talk to me like this. You honestly care.”