North Carolina Department of Correction News - October 1999

Doctor brightens the lives of many

MARION — Dr. James Turpin is a man on a mission – a mission to help his fellow man in any way he can. Throughout his entire career whether it be fighting disease and poverty in the guerilla-ridden jungles of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War or organizing a symphony performance for residents of a drug and crime-infested neighborhood in Asheville, Dr. Turpin is a man who truly cares about people.

A contract doctor with the Department since 1989, Dr. Turpin recently came on board as a full-time employee bringing his medical expertise and caring touch to sick inmates in the western part of the state. Based out of Marion Correctional

docphoto.tif (621894 bytes) Dr. Jim Turpin listens to an inmate at Marion Correctional Institution. Institution, Dr. Turpin also attends to the medical needs of inmates at Craggy, Buncombe, Haywood, Avery, Blue Ridge and Henderson correctional centers and Marion’s minimum custody unit.

Prior to becoming a full-time doctor with the Department, Dr. Turpin was a doctor with St. Joseph’s Urgent Care Center where he provided medical support for business and industry including DOC. He said he got involved in correctional medicine quite by accident while doing some contract work at Buncombe and Craggy correctional centers.

"Something happened that I didn’t expect," he said. "I got to liking it. I’m a person who does best with a cause, and I saw in the men that I was treating the potential for a real cause."

Early on in his career, Dr. Turpin was a champion for several causes including bringing quality medical care to disease-ridden refugees of a festering slum inside Hong Kong’s Walled City and treating sick and wounded South Vietnamese and Viet Cong men, women and children during the Vietnam War. Through his medical mission, Project Concern, Dr. Turpin spent years bringing medical aid to the world’s destitute people

Now as he enters the later stages of his career, he has turned his attention to a new cause closer to home – this time caring for the inmates in our prisons.

Dr. Turpin said, early on, he was determined to provide the inmates with care comparable to the medical care provided to individuals in the private sector. However, he said when he came on board, the Department was already doing that, so that was not his "cause".

"My cause, without agreeing to every little request made by an inmate for special shoes or requiring that they sleep on the bottom bunk, is to treat them with respect," he said. "When inmates are in the medical department, they are patients. They have to earn my disrespect, because I always start out respecting them."

Dr. Turpin said when an inmate enters one of his examining rooms, the first thing he does is ask the inmate where he is from and tries to get the inmate to open up.

"The main thing I do is sit and listen to them," he said. "Then suddenly we become something different than just doctor and patient. I find out about their humanness. The inmates respond well to sitting and talking about their problems. Sometimes that does more for them than any medication I could prescribe. The patients come to me for healing, but in the process, I find myself healed – it’s a give and take relationship."

Along with helping inmates, Dr. Turpin is also dedicated to helping the less fortunate in the community where he works and lives. A volunteer doctor at the New Hope Community Health Center located in an area of Asheville known as "The Block", Dr. Turpin witnesses the realities of life in this drug- and crime-infested neighborhood on a regular basis. Not one to sit back and do nothing, Dr. Turpin decided to organize a symphony performance for the residents of "The Block" as a way to bring some joy and a sense of community and pride back to the neighborhood.

"I woke up in the middle of the night one night dreaming that I heard symphony music coming from ‘The Block’," he said. "I thought, that’s ridiculous. But the more I talked about it with my wife and friends, I decided that it was so crazy, it might work."

So with the help of Virgil Smith, the publisher of The Asheville Citizen Times, Dr. Turpin arranged for the Jr. Symphony Orchestra to put on a performance within "The Block." Dr. Turpin got the endorsement of the city which built a stage for the performance and area business owners who donated food and drink for the event.

"We had a beautiful day," he said. "More than 700 people showed up for the event. It was so successful that the Parks and Recreation Department has added it to their regular calendar of events."

Whether it is caring for the sick and wounded, brightening the lives of the less fortunate with beautiful music or simply warming the hearts of others with a kind word and a smile, Dr. Turpin is constantly in search of ways to help his fellow man. In his latest position as an inmate doctor, he gets that opportunity on a daily basis.

"The way I look at it, they are going to pay me regardless of whether I take the time to really sit and listen to my patients or not," he said. "But by taking the time to get to know them and treating them with respect, I go home feeling a little better about myself and, hopefully, they go away feeling better about themselves, too." u

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