Book Review: “Jailhouse Doc”

Everyone who has worked in corrections for any length of time accumulates a litany of anecdotes about the funny and crazy things that go on. These tend to get passed around whenever correctional personnel get together at parties or conferences. Invariably, someone eventually says, “You know, someone should write these stories down.” Well, finally someone has.

Dr. William Wright has published a sparkling and humorous memoir of his time working in a county jail entitled “Jailhouse Doc.” This book is well worth reading. In fact, it is almost a “must read” for those of us who work in correctional medicine. Not only is it the only book I am aware of about jail medicine, it is well written, funny and informative.jpeg

Dr. Wright got into correctional medicine after he retired from a career as a subspecialized ENT surgeon. Bored with retirement, he accepted a position as a doctor in the Colorado prison system. Dr. Wright’s first book about his adventures in correctional medicine was entitled “Maximum Insecurity” and dealt with his years working in Colorado’s supermax prison. (I reviewed that book here).

Eventually, he was offered a position as Medical Director at the El Paso County jail in Colorado Springs. “I figured,” he writes “that after the supermax, taking care of a county jail would be a piece of cake.” However, those of us who have worked in both settings know that prisons and jails are two very different dogs. Dr. Wright found this out too: “I quickly discovered that I needed a whole new set of skills . . . It was like running a third-world emergency room.”

“Jailhouse Doc” does a wonderful job of describing what medicine in a county jail is like. “My patients at CJC were incredible reservoirs of chronic neglect.” Dr. Wright relates many stories about the patients he sees at the county jail whose assorted and severe medical problems received no attention outside of jail. Since most patients in county jails stay for less than a month, there is only a short window of opportunity to make any difference in their lives. “Edward,” for example, had uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension—and alcoholism.

“If Edward stayed under my care for long enough, I’d get his blood sugar regulated . . . but I had no illusions about my effectiveness.  In all probability, Edward would be back on the streets in a short time and regress into the alcohol again.  At best I’d put a temporary band-aid on his diabetes, which would soon slough off and be forgotten.  I’d referred Edward back to an outside homeless clinic (but) for the clinic to work. Edward first had to show up, something that was unlikely to happen.”

Being a long-time practitioner in county jails, I can tell you that Dr. Wright is dead-on in his analysis of these social problems.

But “Jailhouse Doc,” like Dr. Wright’s first book, contains many laugh-out-loud moments, as well. For example, this about the accuracy of medical histories provided by inmates:

“For the most part, my jail patients don’t know their medical histories. They’re not even sure what substances they shot into their veins last night.”

Or this, about one particular patient:

“I can see the problem sitting here in front of me whistling Dixie through his meth-ravaged teeth.”

Most of the chapters deal with a specific topic relating to jail medicine. There are chapters on the art of smuggling contraband, suicide, infamous Inmates, and personality disorders. One particularly useful chapter on “Verbal Aikido” discusses effective techniques for diffusing inmate manipulations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) merits its own chapter, as well, which is good, since all of us who work in jails must deal with the ICE detainees and the infamous ICE bureaucracy.

I was particularly interested in the “Detox Center” that was attached to the jail but not formally part of the jail. As part of his contract, Dr. Wright had to provide medical care for the patients in this “detox center.” However, since he could not dispense any drugs, no actual detox took place. The “Detox Center” was simply a place where alcoholics and addicts could go to stay a night or two and maybe get referred out to a rehab clinic. I found this strange, since real detox using medications is an everyday concern at my jails–and an interesting process.  I hope that Dr. Wright will deal with this in a future book!

I was also interested in the chapter in which Dr. Wright relates his experience being accused by an inmate of inappropriately touching him. As part of the investigation into this allegation, Dr. Wright had to submit to a lie detector test. He passed, but since lie detector tests are not perfect, this could potentially have gone very badly. This chapter underscores a basic rule of correctional medicine that I teach all my new employees: Never, ever be alone with an inmate! In fact, I think this chapter is going to be required reading as part of my company’s orientation.

Unfortunately, “Jailhouse Doc” does not end on a positive note. Dr. Wright had serious conflicts with his Sheriff and Undersheriff, who demanded special and often inappropriate medical treatment for some inmates. I myself have also butted heads with jail administrators and Sheriffs over jail medical care, but never to the degree has that Dr. Wright describes. In the end, the company that hired him did not have his back and he left the jail to return to prison medicine.

“Jailhouse Doc” is a great book, a fun read and a worthy successor to “Maximum Insecurity.”

Dr. Bill Wright

Dr. Bill Wright

As before, Dr. Wright will send a PDF of the book free to readers of JailMedicine. All you have to do is indicate in comments below that you would like to receive the book this way.

For those of you who would rather have a bound copy (I prefer this, myself), here is the link to purchase the book at

Have you read “Jailhouse Doc” yourself?  What did you think?  Please comment!

84 thoughts on “Book Review: “Jailhouse Doc”

  1. After reading Maximum Insecurity, I would also like to get a PDF copy of Jailhouse Doc.
    Thanks to you and Dr. Wright for sharing your knowledge with Correctional Medicine.
    Have a Happy Holidays, too!

  2. Dr. Wright:

    I would like to receive PDF or hard copies if possible of both “Jailhouse Doc” and “Maximum Insecurity”


    (A long standing correctional doc)

  3. I would like a PDF copy of this book. I have often said to my peers that we need to write this stuff down, truth is stranger than fiction. I’m glad some one finally has and thanks!

  4. I would like a PDF copy, and I intend to purchase a bound copy from Amazon to keep at work. Is Maximum Insecurity still available in the same way? Both books sound entertaining and informative. Most days we could all use a good laugh to put things in perspective. I wish someone would take a shot at mental health in the same way. I work with our psychiatrist and he is a cartoonist on the side. Hmmm…maybe there’s a book in that…

  5. I would enjoy a copy of each book. I enjoy reading in my spare time, and this being my “First Nursing job” I have had a lot of hands on learning to learn, always entertaining non-the less!
    Thank you,

  6. Email copies of both, please! These I will share with my colleagues as mandatory training lol however, I believe that anyone giving their time in this way to help others in their field, deserve to be paid for their efforts. I will be purchasing copies of both from Amazon and I am grateful for the shared information!
    Thank you again!

  7. I’d love for you to email me copies of both please. I’m an NP working in corrections. I have been following your blog and appreciate you sharing your insights and knowledge.

  8. Ejoyed the article. Would really enjoy reading your books. I belong to a book club – 30 women are in my club and when I do become the next person to choose a book, I think this wil be the one. It will help my neighbors and friends understand WHY I would work as a NP in the jail setting. Thanks!
    NP Suffolk County Correctional Facility.

  9. I would like a copy of both as well and appreciate the information you have compiled.
    I too feel like we are running a mini ER full of inmates who chronically neglect themselves.

  10. Please send me a pdf copy of both Dr Wright’s books…I am thinking of going into correctional medicine and would like to read it!

  11. Could you send a pdf copy of both. I believe we met briefly at a provider meeting about a year ago in the Springs when cmo was here.

  12. Thank you for reviewing this book, as well as for keeping this website up and running. The information posted here is precious to me in many ways!

    If it is not too late, I also would like to receive the pdf copy.

    Thank you!

  13. I would like to receive PDF or hard copies if possible of both “Jailhouse Doc” and “Maximum Insecurity”. Thank you.

  14. I have read both books via Amazon. I would like to get copies for a friend of mine who works with the juvenile justice system of Alameda Country. Many of the juveniles she works with have had jailhouse experiences.
    Thanks for your frankness in unveiling the lamentable politics that resulted in your termination under Sheriff Maketa.

  15. This is a request to receive a copy of Dr. Wright’s book. I serve as medical director for a correctional center in northeast Ohio and we have 2200 inmates. And yes, we have drama also.

  16. I would love to receive a copy of “Jailhouse Doc” in PDF. I worked as an RN at CJC for a short period of time and would definitely be interested in the book. Thank you.

  17. I would like to receive a PDF of “Jailhouse Doc” as well as “Maximum Insecurity” if possible. Thank you so much!

  18. Howdy, Are ya’ll still providing a PDF of “Jailhouse Doc” ? Any other helpful cheat sheets on the articles would be appreciated as well

  19. I would love to receive a copy of both books on pdf. I am a new nurse practitioner starting in a local county jail with a background of years in ER nursing.
    Thank you.

  20. I bought both of my copies on Amazon – glad to give Dr. Wright some small donation via his well-earned royalty. Amazing books. Really enjoyed them.
    I have been in Corrections medicine for 10 years. That is why I probably enjoyed them so much, just as I did with Joseph Keller’s Cathc 22 after I had been in the Army for a few years.

  21. I’d love a copy of jailhouse doc. I’m just going to be starting working in a jail for the first time and trying to find out what it will be like.

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