The handwritten letter from an inmate in the Bell County Jail begins like a voice reaching up from the bottom of a well, faint yet powerfully insistent: “To Anyone Who is Listening,” it says.
Bobbi Battishia White, 41, has been in the Bell County Jail for nearly five years awaiting trial on three felony charges. White, who has multiple sclerosis, and others reached out to the Herald because they say that White’s civil rights have been violated by the jail-contracted medical services provider, Wellpath.
“My health is not properly being taken care of,” White wrote. “The jail isn’t handicap-accessible. I have to stand to shower and talk on the phone. It’s very hard to do such a simple task.”
MS is a debilitating disease that leaves the brain and spinal cord damaged. There is no cure and it can render a person unable to walk, according to the Mayo Clinic.
‘I just want her to be okay’
White told the Herald that the medical staff is constantly short of her prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins and other items she needs to treat her MS, and that glasses she was prescribed last year still have not arrived.
“The medication is not done at consistent times,” White wrote. “My family and I have inquired numerous times but to no avail. Overall, I’m tired physically and emotionally.”
One woman, who became friends with White when they served together in the military, reached out to the Herald.
“Her basic human needs are not being met there,” said Calandra Stanfield, in a phone interview with the Herald. “Something should be done to make sure anyone receives their medications. She had one prescription run out and no one bothered to refill it. She’s a vet, so it shouldn’t be any trouble to get her medications through the VA.”
Since the Herald began asking questions of jail administration and Wellpath, White was moved out of her cell and into the jail infirmary.
“She’s still in the infirmary and even there, she’s not receiving all of her medications,” Stanfield said in an email to update the Herald last week. “They moved her saying she needed to be monitored for her condition…(but) she feels as though the move is punishment. I feel like they are trying to isolate her as a way to limit her communication with her family and friends.”
Stanfield said she is not asking for special treatment for her battle buddy.
“I just want them to do their job and treat her like a human being,” she said. “I’m concerned about her mental health at this point. I just want her to be OK.”
Years in jail
After being reset three times, a jury trial has been set in White’s three cases for Oct. 25, in the 27th Judicial District Court. She has pleaded not-guilty to charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; injury to a child with bodily injury, a third-degree felony; and interference with child custody, a state jail felony.
White has no criminal history, according to Bell County and Texas Department of Public Safety records.
“I am an honorably discharged combat veteran of Afghanistan,” White, who served in the Army, wrote. “I’ve never broken any laws before my arrest at age 36. I was a law-abiding citizen. It’s been almost five long years from family, friends and loved ones…”
Earlier this year, White’s defense attorney argued at a hearing that she should be released from jail, but the judge denied the motions.
“The length of delay is unduly prejudicial because of her health factors,” said Austin Shell during the April 5 hearing. “She has been in jail all this time on allegations for which she is presumed to be as innocent as I am ... You can’t keep someone in jail without a trial for this many years in the State of Texas.”
White wrote that she is concerned that inadequate medical treatment impacts her ability to be ready for trial.
“I shouldn’t have to worry about my medical issues not being tended to (when) my case and getting home my family are the priority,” she said in her letter. “But how can I handle legal business if my medical care is always off track?”
White was booked into the Bell County Jail on March 14, 2017, but her incarceration began in Alabama on Nov. 13, 2016, prior to her extradition.
She is being held in lieu of bonds totaling $655,000 on felony charges of aggravated kidnapping, injury to a child and interference with child custody.
White’s husband, Tutankhamun Holt, was sentenced to life in prison in 2018 for aggravated kidnapping.
Holt, White and another person accued in the case, Derrick Lamont Bailey, were arrested after Heights police responded to a call on Nov. 12, 2016, at the Cinemark movie theater where a man reported another man assaulted him and kidnapped his daughter.
The man and his 7-year-old daughter were walking to their car after watching a movie, when White and Holt pulled up alongside them in a car, according to the arrest affidavit.
Holt “struck the man in the face, knocked him to the ground, and while he was on the ground, he saw White take his daughter ... and put her in the back seat ... and that ‘Tut’ then ran and got in the front passenger side of the vehicle,” police said.
What does the jail say?
Bell County Jail’s administrator and Wellpath provided written responses to the Herald’s questions but neither addressed White’s case, specifically.
Maj. Shane Sowell said that inmates receive appropriate medical care and there is a written protocol for prescription medications.
“When inmates ask jail staff for a request, the inmate is given a request to fill out accordingly,” Sowell said. “The request is given to a Med-Tech and that specific issue is addressed by medical staff, not jail staff. Individuals inside the Bell County Jail are provided access to medical care, including a physician.”
The jail is run by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department.
A Wellpath representative told the Herald that it works with other medical providers to provide care.
“Wellpath does not restrict or otherwise limit patients’ ability to communicate with their community-based medical providers and welcomes any opportunity to plan and consult with community-based medical providers regarding patient care matters at the jail,” said Wellpath’s Vice President Corporate Communications Judy Q. Lilley. “This is often an important piece of ensuring continuity of care for patients who have had treatments initiated in the community. However, while patients are at the jail, they are under the care of the Wellpath clinical team, and the ultimate authority for all treatment decisions rests with them.”
Lilley said that patients can submit a “sick call” at any time.
“Once received, the paper sick calls are triaged by our medical staff and scanned into a permanent electronic record,” she said. “Any patient or inmates can file a grievance with the custody grievance officer should the need arise.”