A Nevada inmate languished in solitary confinement for eight months while prison staff ignored pleas for medical help. His bottom teeth were moving around “like piano keys” and he could barely eat or sleep. Eventually, the pain became so bad that he had to remove the teeth himself.
According to a civil rights settlement announced this week, Michael Sanzo, 47, will receive $60,000 from the state for the “unbearable pain” that forced him to take drastic measures during his stint at High Desert State Prison in 2012.
“Due to the unbearable pain that the plaintiff endured, despite his repeated and desperate cries for help, the plaintiff was forced to smash out his teeth by punching himself in the face, other macabre means, and pulling the teeth out,” the official court complaint reads.
Sanzo repeatedly begged for treatment for his infected teeth and gums, and penned several letters to staff about the pain.
“4 of my bottom teeth are ready to fall out — they are like ‘weeble wobbles’ I can’t eat bareLy (sic) — and I’m in bad pain — please hurry I need them pulled,” he wrote the first time. His sixth letter, written three months later, said, “I have had to cry myself to sleep in such pain! I have had to pull 6 of my own teeth cause the pain is sooooo unbearable — It’s been 3 months now — please help me.”
Instead of offering assistance, the prison kept him locked away in isolation for a courtyard fight and told him over and over that he had to wait his turn for treatment.
The prison’s dental assistance responded, “As I have explained before Mr. Sanzo you are in a lockdown unit. You are seen 1 at a time and share you (sic) time slot with 3 other lockdown units. We see everyone by order of their kite this being firm, fair, and consistant (sic).” She also wrote, “You need to look at the big picture. A lot of inmates here.”
Witness accounts corroborated Sanzo’s claims that he was neglected and denied pain medicine. Another inmate said he was “haunted” by Sanzo’s “ghostly moans” and screams.
Sanzo was transferred to Ely State Prison and treated three months after his first written complaint. He was ultimately given false teeth.