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Policing the TB Beat : San Joaquin County Jails Patients Who Refuse or Stop Treatment

December 05, 1994|MARK ARAX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She said she doesn't know when or how she contracted TB, although it may have had something to do with "supercharging" crack--a process by which one user gets another user high by locking lips and blowing the smoke directly into the other's lungs.

She was diagnosed as having TB this year on her last trip to jail for prostitution. She took her medication for a few weeks after her release, but stopped. Health officials tried to entice her with McDonald's Happy Meal certificates and free cookies and punch.

"I was too jacked up and rebellious to care," she said. "I had no excuse. If I couldn't make it to the health clinic, the nurses said they would bring the medicine to my motel."

After she missed a month of treatment, health authorities contacted the district attorney's office and a warrant was issued for her arrest. Sanchez crashed into a van trying to elude local police. The Stockton Record newspaper wrote an account of her disappearance. The story was picked up by the local TV news and newspapers throughout the state.

"They said I had TB and was wanted for contaminating the city of Stockton," she said. "I was ashamed, because I knew my 14-year-old daughter would read it."

She has spent the past two months reading novels and apologizing to her daughter, and is thankful for the arrest. "They probably would have found me dead out there somewhere if I hadn't been brought in," Sanchez said.

Other TB inmates agree. Juanita Luna, recently released from jail after completing her treatment, penned an apology to the people of Stockton titled "My Insanity."

"My cough just got worse and worse. Almost took a ride in a big-black hearse," she wrote. "I thought I put my illness on the shelf. Instead, I almost killed myself."

At a recent statewide conference of health officials in Anaheim, prosecutor Taylor outlined the county's tough approach in his blunt, no-nonsense style. Most in the room applauded, but a few shook their heads in disapproval.

"People are shocked to hear that someone is actually being arrested for this," Taylor said. " 'What's the big deal?' they say. It doesn't seem to register that we're talking about a killer. And if we can help it, that killer's not going to be walking our streets."

Times staff writer Maria La Ganga contributed to this story.

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