Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Support Sean Pelzer

Come to Dorchester Court

Help ensure a fair hearing for Sean Pelzer

Sean Pelzer’s case:

Dorchester Municipal District Court

510 Washington St. – Dorchester, MA

(4-Corners Neighborhood)

Injustice In Boston

Brother Sean Pelzer is a 39 year old African American male who is currently employed as the Lead Organizer for the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, a local Social Justice Agency with offices in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.

Presently Brother Pelzer is facing probation surrender, hearing on November 29, 2007, at 2:00 pm, in Dorchester District Court. Being falsely accused we request the community’s support in the form of presence in the courtroom on November 29th.

Understanding the nature of today’s criminal justice system we do not feel Brother Pelzer will receive a fair hearing without the community’s support.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Calendar of Events

There are at least 4 events this weekend at which you can feel 'nourished', validated, connected and rejuvenated. The first is the Saturday rededication
of the Sacco and Vanzetti Plaque in the North End. Second, this Sunday at noon, Community Church presents its 31st Sacco and Vanzetti Award to City Councillor Chuck Turner. On Saturday and Sunday Jericho Boston commemorates International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners. See below -- and see you there!


Boston, November 21, 2007.- On Saturday, December 1st, at 11:30, the Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society will rededicate a historical marker outside the entrance to 256 Hanover Street, the site of the Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Committee’s headquarters from 1925-1927.

In 1976 the City of Boston placed a plaque on the building, located along the city’s Freedom Trail in the North End, in recognition of the historical impact the men’s trial and subsequent execution had on both the nation and much of the world. Sometime in the early 1980’s the original plaque disappeared. Today the Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society is proud to announce the upcoming unveiling and
rededication of a new plaque.

Speakers will include Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo (confirmed), Former Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis (tentative), and others. There will also be readings from the writings of Sacco and Vanzetti.

256 Hanover Street is located a short distance from the Haymarket T stop.


Sergio Reyes
Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society


Community Church of Boston
565 Boylston Street
Lothrup Auditorium
Colpley Square, Boston
Sunday, December 2, 2007 - NOON

31st Annual Sacco-Vanzetti Award for Social Justice
“Where Do We Go From Here?: Strategies for the 21st Century”

Come celebrate activism, community and our struggles for justice as the Community Church of Boston presents the 2007 Sacco & Vanzetti award to Chuck Turner. Councilor Turner will be honored for his decades-long service to the community and ongoing activism, and will present a talk to help us answer the question, 'Where do we go from here? Strategies for the 21st Century.'

Special guests will include Mel King, Felix Arroyo, Jean McGuire, Kerrick Johnson, and others.

(Move's Pam Africa may attend along with Jerich Boston Members-- see below) Music by Danielle Scott and da Family. A delicious buffet luncheon will be served following the program. $20 donation requested at the door or in advance; $5 students/seniors; all are welcome regardless of ability to pay.

Sponsorships are greatly appreciated.


Jericho Boston has been working on events to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (December 3rd).


1. The Shootout

Performance artist, Jihad Abdul-Mumit will present The Shootout, a two-person theater performance and workshop. The Shootout is a two-man dramatization depicting the spiritual and psychological divisions that have historically ripped apart just about every semblance of unity amongst African Americans. The Shootout starts right from the beginning when Africans were snatched so violently and decisively from Mother Africa. The play speaks to the many problems people are confronted with. Among the root causes of violence in oppressed communities are economic exploitation, social underdevelopment and the colonial relationship between the community and those in power. CORI and other draconian laws have been passed to keep people marginalized and disenfranchised, while prison expansion cuts in education continue.

Saturday, December 1st

2pm (Doors open at 1:30)

Great Hall

Codman Square, Dorchester


2. Panel Discussion
Sunday, December 2nd Encuentro 5
2-6pm, 33 Harrison Ave., Chinatown

This panel is part of a three-day series organized by Jericho Boston. Let us remember and honor, not only the political prisoners being held in the us, but also those being held everywhere in the world, in places like Palestine, Turkey, the Basque Country to name a few. We are honored to host:

o Ashanti Alston (former Black Liberation Army Political Prisoner)
o Edwin Cortes (former FALN Prisoner of War)
o Jihad Abdul-Mumit (former Black Liberation Army Political Prisoner)
o Pam Africa (MOVE! Organization, ICFFMAJ)
o Ward Churchill (American Indian Movement, Author).

Our guests will speak about their struggle and of their people's struggle to overcome the fierce repression and imperialism unleashed onto them for their fight for self determination and freedom from oppression. Many of the root causes of economic exploitation and social underdevelopment which were in place back then are still affecting our communities today.

Join us to strategize to bring our freedom fighters home and liberate our communities!

Sponsors: Jericho-Boston, (617) 830-0732, and NECDP,

CORI Screening by Vendors of the City of Cambridge

From: "UMN/Horace Small"
Subject: "CORI Screening by Vendors of the City of Cambridge"
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 11:48:18 +0000

There is more to do!

Although the Cambridge City Council passed the Fair CORI Hiring ordinance over a year ago, the Cambridge City Manager has yet to implement the ordinance. City Councilor Brian Murphy is hold a hearing this Wednesday, November 28th, at 5:30PM at the Cambridge City Hall, in the Sullivan Chamber, 2nd floor, City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It is critical that you attend and testify to the importance of this ordinance's passing for the good of the community and to allow legitimate access to those individuals needing to provide for themselves, their families, and contribute to their community.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

See Cambridge City Clerk notice below:



DATE: NOVEMBER 28, 2007 at 5:30 PM



Please be advised that Councillor Brian Murphy, Chair of the Ordinance Committee has scheduled a public hearing of the Ordinance Committee for Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 5:30 p.m. in the Sullivan Chamber, 2nd floor, City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The purpose of the hearing is to consider proposed amendments to the Cambridge Municipal Ordinance Chapter 2.112 of the Municipal Code by adding Section 2.112.060, CORI Screening by Vendors of the City of Cambridge, to ensure that the persons and businesses supplying goods and/or services to the City of Cambridge deploy fair policies relating to the screening and identification of persons with criminal backgrounds through the CORI system.

Your kind attention in this matter will be greatly appreciated.

For more information please see the following CORI screening policy text ("CORI Screening by Vendors of the City of Cambridge"):

Please come and share your opinion! The City needs to know that CORI reform is important to you!


Omar M.R. Bandar
Special Assistant to the Mayor
Cambridge City Hall
795 Massachusetts Ave, 2nd floor
Cambridge, MA 02139
Tel: 617-349-4329
Fax: 617-349-4320


Union of Minority Neighborhoods
83 Highland St
Roxbury, Ma 02119

2 Harris Ave
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

Monday, November 26, 2007

Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration

Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration

Paul Wright & Tara Herivel

This is the third and latest book in a series of Prison Legal News anthologies that examines the reality of mass imprisonment in America. [The other two titles are The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the US Prison Industry and Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor, both available from PLN].

Prison Profiteers is unique from other books on the market because it exposes and discusses who profits and benefits from mass imprisonment, rather than who is harmed by it and how. Why is sentencing reform dead on arrival in every state legislature and congress? What is the biggest transfer of public wealth into private hands in recent history? Read Prison Profiteers and you will know! Hint: It has to do with prisons.

Positive: With the baby boomlet demographics, we foresee increasing demand for juvenile [incarceration] services. Negative: . . . it is often difficult to maintain the occupancy rates required for profitability.—FROM A REPORT PRODUCED FOR THE PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY BY INVESTMENT ANALYSTS FIRST ANALYSIS SECURITIES CORPORATION

Locking up 2.3 million people isn’t cheap. Each year federal, state, and local governments spend over $185 billion annually in tax dollars to ensure that one out of every 137 Americans is imprisoned. Prison Profiteers looks at the private prison companies, investment banks, churches, guard unions, medical corporations, and other industries and individuals that benefit from this country’s experiment with mass imprisonment. It lets us follow the money from public to private hands and exposes how monies formerly designated for the public good are diverted to prisons and their maintenance. Find out where your tax dollars are going as you help to bankroll the biggest prison machine the world has ever seen.

Contributors include: Judy Greene on private prison giants Geo (formerly Wackenhut) and CCA; Anne-Marie Cusac on who sells electronic weapons to prison guards; Wil S. Hylton on the largest prison health care provider; Ian Urbina on how prison labor supports the military; Kirsten Levingston on the privatization of public defense; Jennifer Gonnerman on the costs to neighborhoods from which prisoners are removed; Kevin Pranis on the banks and brokerage houses that finance prison building; and Silja Talvi on the American Correctional Association as a tax-funded lobbyist for professional prison bureaucracies; Tara Herivel on juvenile prisons; Gary Hunter and Peter Wagner on the census and counting prisoners; David Reutter on Florida's prison industries; Alex Friedmann on the private prisoner transportation industry; Paul Von Zielbauer on the sordid history of Prison Health Services in New York; Steven Jackson on the prison telephone industry; Samantha Shapiro on religious groups being paid to run prisons and Clayton Mosher, Gregory Hooks and Peter Wood on the myth and reality of building rural prisons.

Tara Herivel is the co-editor of Prison Nation. She is a prisoner rights attorney and the author of numerous articles in the alternative press. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Paul Wright is the founder and editor of Prison Legal News and co-editor of Prison Nation and The Celling of America. He lives in Seattle, Washington and Brattleboro, Vermont.

This is an exclusive paperback printing made just for Prison Legal News.

Penalties for Crack

Penalties for Crack
The sensible reduction of jail time for drug offenders should be made retroactive.
Monday, November 26, 2007; Washington Post, A14

THIS MONTH, a measure of rationality was injected into federal sentencing guidelines when more lenient penalties for crack cocaine became the law of the land. The new guidelines will affect defendants convicted in the future, but they also should be made retroactive. That would bring some measure of equity to thousands of offenders -- roughly 85 percent of them African American men -- already serving unjustifiably long prison terms.

In May, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which has the authority to craft sentencing guidelines for federal crimes, sent to Congress a proposal that would reduce the penalties for crack offenses. For example, a first-time offender caught with five grams of crack previously faced a prison term of up to 78 months; under the new sentencing scheme, he faces a maximum of 63 months. The commission had forwarded such recommendations several times before, only to have them vetoed by Congress. This time, to lawmakers' credit, the measure was allowed to stand.

The commission is considering whether to make the more lenient penalties retroactive -- a power it can exercise without congressional approval. It estimates that 19,500 prisoners would be eligible for reduced sentences, including roughly 270 prisoners from the District, 280 from Maryland and 1,400 from the Eastern District of Virginia, which includes Northern Virginia and Richmond.

The Justice Department and some in the law enforcement community worry that allowing early release for so many crack offenders would affect public safety. But the evidence suggests the worries are overblown. For starters, any reduced sentence must be approved by a federal judge, who may take into account a prisoner's criminal history and other factors. Federal prosecutors also have a voice in this process and can raise objections to a particular prisoner's sentence reduction. And not all of the 19,500 would be released at once. Different numbers of prisoners would become eligible for early release at different times over a period of three decades, according to a commission analysis. In the District, 32 inmates would be eligible for immediate release if the reforms were made retroactive; in Maryland, the number would be 21; in the Eastern District, 48.

The lunacy in crack penalties will not be eliminated until lawmakers grapple with the mandatory minimum sentences now in place. These statutes mandate a five-year sentence for someone caught with five grams of crack; an offender would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same sentence. There are good arguments for why crack should carry tougher sentences than powder cocaine, including the fact that crack is ferociously addictive and destructive. But a 100-to-1 disparity is irrational. Lawmakers should act quickly on one of the several bills pending in Congress that would narrow that gap.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Creating a sensible marijuana law

Creating a sensible marijuana law
By Lester Grinspoon
November 22, 2007

ALMOST HALF of American adults have tried marijuana, and the number of people who use it regularly has increased to about 15 million. This expanding use of marijuana can no longer be dismissed as simply a youthful fad that can be eliminated through the war on drugs.

Still, marijuana arrests account for nearly 44 percent of all drug arrests in the United States. According to the Uniform Crime Report, nearly 830,000 people were arrested in 2006 on marijuana charges, nearly a 15 percent increase over 2005. Nine out of 10 were arrested for mere possession.

Despite the increasing threat of arrest, the growing demands of employers for urine tests, and the ubiquity of the misinformation purveyed by the US government and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the number of Americans who experiment with or regularly use this substance continues to grow. So many people have discovered its remarkably limited toxicity and its versatility as a medicine that 12 states have now adopted legislation or initiatives that allow for its medicinal use and 12 states have decriminalized it by reducing penalties for possession of small quantities to a fine, with no arrest or jail penalty.

Massachusetts is considering decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses, with both proposed legislation and a proposed voter initiative. An out-of-state grouphas been collecting signatures for the voter initiative. Despite my agreement with the goal of eliminating criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses, I oppose the initiative as it has been drafted.

The initiative reduces the penalty for possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana to a fine of $100, but it actually establishes a new offense. The sponsors should withdraw it and replace it with a more thoughtfully worded version.

The new offense is internal possession of marijuana metabolites. Anyone discovered to have any of these metabolites in his body fluids or hair would be prosecutable.

However, like many other chemicals that are fat-soluble, these metabolites are excreted slowly, often long after their capacity to exert any psychoactive effect has disappeared. For example, an individual who has smoked marijuana on a Saturday night might have a positive urine test when she reports for work on Monday morning even though there is no evidence that she is "high."

If she has used it every night, in much the same way others have a daily alcoholic drink after work, her urine would test positive for at least a month after the last smoke. Currently no such offense exists under Massachusetts law; an individual today cannot be charged with any offense simply because he has inactive THC metabolites in his system. The existence of these metabolites in the body does not signify impairment; their presence simply establishes a history of having used marijuana in the past.

A second flaw in the initiative that should be corrected is the definition of marijuana as limited to cannabis sativa that contains no more than 2.5 percent THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana.

Most marijuana ranges from 8 to 15 percent THC, and any initiative must redefine marijuana as the flowers and leaves of the cannabis sativa plant without THC limitation. Instead, the drafters of the initiative have responded to this inadequate definition of marijuana by drafting language that would decriminalize up to an ounce of the far more potent pure THC, perhaps an unintended result of trying to make the initiative compatible with the present statute.

Overall, the wording makes the initiative defective and vulnerable, a vulnerability that would surely be exploited by the drug warriors as they attempt to build opposition to this proposal should it eventually make the ballot.

So let's reject this fatally flawed proposal and work with the Legislature for a well-drafted law that would effectively decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults in Massachusetts. If that doesn't happen by early 2009, another well-drafted initiative, one that would truly free adults to use this drug responsibly, would be in order.

Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is author of "Marijuana Reconsidered" and coauthor of "Marijuana, the Forbidden Medicine."

Judge skips guidelines, releases man in crack case

Judge skips guidelines, releases man in crack case
Long prison sentence hurts blacks, she says
By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff | November 21, 2007

A federal judge has freed a Boston man who pleaded guilty to selling small amounts of crack cocaine, saying that he dealt the drugs out of desperation and that long prison sentences for such crimes often do more harm to black communities than good.

US District Judge Nancy Gertner sentenced Myles Haynes to the 13 months he has served in jail since his arrest. She said that he appeared to be an honest man whose two admitted drug sales were isolated and that lengthy federal prison terms for such crimes are depleting cities of a generation of young black men.

"Isn't it time for us to say that there is on the one hand the impact of the drug trafficking and on the other hand the impact of mass incarceration of African-Americans from crack cocaine?" Gertner said from the bench Monday. "To suggest that the public safety requires the further incarceration of Mr. Haynes makes no sense."

Gertner then set aside sentencing guidelines that could have kept Haynes behind bars an extra 20 to 28 months. While federal judges sometimes depart from guidelines, it is rare for them to air such outspoken views from the bench.

Glancing at Haynes's 8-year-old son, Myles Jr., in the gallery with the defendant's family, Gertner added, "Indeed, when I see your son, I think that public safety requires that you be with your son so that he doesn't follow in your footsteps."

US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan criticized the sentence by Gertner, a Clinton-era appointee who has often accused the US Department of Justice of pursuing ex cessive federal prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.

"Mr. Haynes is a grown man who had options and opportunities for a better life," Sullivan said in a written statement.
"Yet he chose to deal crack cocaine and made life decisions that adversely affected and endangered the decent people who call Bromley-Heath their home," Sullivan added, in a reference to the development in Jamaica Plain, where Haynes was living at the time.

However, the judge received praise from Sullivan's predecessor, Donald K. Stern, who co-wrote a recent opinion piece with Gertner in the Globe saying that overly long sentences in many street crimes are counterproductive.

"Some people belong in prison; there's no alternative," Stern said in an interview. "But I think what Nancy is raising is, one ought not to assume that everybody fits into the same box."

The Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown - a leader of the Boston Ten-Point Coalition, and antiviolence group - agreed.
"I've never heard a federal judge point out what she pointed out," said Brown, who is pastor of Union Baptist Church in Cambridge. "It's not to say that I don't believe in law and order. But I also know from working every day in the streets that things are much more complex than a single arrest and conviction."

Haynes, 37, is one of 23 individuals who were charged last year after a six-month investigation by the FBI and Boston police of cocaine sales at the Bromley-Heath housing development.

He sold an informant a small wrapper with 1.8 grams of crack cocaine May 11 last year and then sold a slightly smaller amount five days later, authorities said. Both sales totaled $380 and took place inside the development, where Haynes grew up.

His lawyer, Jessica Hedges, said the total amount of cocaine equaled the contents of three or four packets of Sweet'N Low.

Haynes, who was held at the Plymouth County jail after his arrest, pleaded guilty in July to selling cocaine in a public housing project and aiding and abetting.

Even prosecutors said he was not a typical drug dealer. Haynes graduated from Newton North High School, which he attended through the Metco desegregation program.

He enlisted in the US Marines after high school but was injured and discharged after several months of basic training, according to a memorandum by Hedges. He enrolled in a community college in 1993 but withdrew to work to support a daughter.

Before the drug charges, Haynes's criminal record revolved around a 1998 incident for which he was convicted of several charges, including assault with intent to kill and possession of a firearm, said Assistant US Attorney John A. Wortmann Jr.

Neither side gave details. But Hedges said that the incident happened at a New Year's Eve party and that the relatively short sentence, one year in jail, indicated mitigating circumstances.

Since his release, Haynes has held a variety of jobs, including as a maintenance worker for New England Medical Center and an assistant manager for a City Sports store, said Gertner. The month after the cocaine sales, he completed training sponsored by Boston Emergency Medical Services to become a basic emergency medical technician.

Around the same time, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. offered him a job but rescinded it because of his criminal record.

But Wortmann said Haynes's actions reveal a dark side. As a result of his record, he had to meet in the spring last year with a psychiatrist to see if he was suitable to become an emergency medical technician.

"At the same time he's meeting with a psychiatrist to demonstrate that he's not a danger to the community, he's selling crack cocaine in the housing project in which he grew up," Wortmann said.

Hedges said Haynes had struggled to find a job. She also said that while he was in jail in June, he used his emergency medical training to treat an inmate who had a diabetic seizure.

Haynes, for his part, apologized to his community and family.
"I made some desperate choices, and that's the way I chose," he said. "The solution wasn't the right one."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Responding to Police Requests to Search YOUR Home

What YOU Should Know

Members of the Boston Police Department may come to your door and ask to search your home. They may tell you they want to get guns off the street and will not arrest your child if they find a gun -- unless that gun is linked to a shooting.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts believes you should make an INFORMED CHOICE about whether to allow police to search your home.


You have the right to say NO to a search.
Then the police should leave.

If you say YES, any of the following can happen:

• If the police find a gun and test it, they may arrest someone who lives in your home, including your child.

• If the police find drugs or anything illegal, they may charge someone who lives in your home, including your child, with a crime.

• Anything the police find in your home may lead to school discipline for your child, including suspension or expulsion.

If you have any questions or concerns, contact the ACLU of Massachusetts: (617) 482-3170.

Prison system a costly, harmful failure: report

Prison system a costly, harmful failure: report
14:14 11/19/2007, Reuters: Top News
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of people in U.S prisons has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society, researchers said in a report calling for a major justice-system overhaul.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hospital Quality Care Bill

Below you'll find a snippet from the Mighty Wonderful State Representative Denise Provost of Somerville. Read about her House Bill 2226, and hospital-acquired infections. Many of us know that our loved ones in MA jails/prisons are exposed daily to MRSA-- an antibiotic resistant infection. It is commonplace in correctional facilities due to poor health, poor ventilation, limited access to hot water and soap and the hesitance of jailors to act on this health threat. It only makes the news when guards acquire the infection. In recent years I've called the DPH/Sanitation Offices to discuss the incidence of MRSA 'inside'. While the DPH folks were responsive to me they also acknowledged that they downplay MRSA with the prisoners because they 'over-react'

We all know how imprisonment destroys health. So please call or write to support this bill. Hospital Quality Care Bill. I have filed a bill to improve health care quality in the Commonwealth which aims to address issues of hospital-acquired infections, public notification of so-called 'never events,' and patient notification of potential adverse medical events. The bill also strives to improve physician/patient relationships by allowing physicians to acknowledge a medical error with an apology, without fear of a lawsuit, and would establish 'Patient and Family Councils' to provide patients and their families an opportunity to offer suggestions for the improvement of hospital care. I am working hard for the passage of this important legislation, House bill 2226, which is entitled 'An Act Promoting Health Care Transparency and Consumer/Provider Partnerships, Submitting Written Testimony. I encourage you to submit written testimony to the Committee on Public Health, where the bill was heard, in support of the legislation.

If you choose to write a letter urging the Committee to report the bill out favorably, it should be addressed to the Committee chairs.

The Honorable Susan Fargo
Committee on Public Health, Senate Chair
State House
Room 504
Boston, MA 02133

The Honorable Peter Koutoujian
Committee on Public Health, House Chair
State House
Room 130
Boston, MA 02133


Prison Disease Infects Prisoners and Guards
By: Chris Holbrook

Pennsylvania prisons have become a greenhouse for a virulent and highly contagious strain of Staphylococcus. The so-called 'MRSA' (for Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureau) strain of bacteria is a fast-growing infection which generally rots through the victims skin. It can be fatal especially to older or weakened victims. The disease spreads readily from person to person, particularly between men forced to share the same tiny prison cell.

In the filthy Pennsylvania prisons MRSA has infected many prisoners. Nobody counted how many or cared much about the disease until it started infecting prison guards. The guards are given an endless supply of rubber gloves to protect them. Prisoners aren't allowed to possess or use such protection.

The medical department in at least one Pennsylvania prison circulated an alert to the staff. It taught the guards how to wash their hands; actually giving step-by-step hand-washing instructions as one might do with a toddler. (Prison guards aren't recognized as being as bright as toddlers.) No similar warning or alert was issued to the prisoners - let 'em rot!

Even with the alert, guards are being infected. At last count, at least 11 guards have suffered from MRSA. Nobody knows how many prisoners have been infected or have died from the disease. We know of cases currently active in several Pennsylvania prisons.

So far, most infections seem to have proven very difficult to treat, but not totally hopeless. In several cases, it's been necessary to hack-out the infected flesh. The medical folks call that 'excising tissue.' What's done is the diseased part of the body is dug out. If they miss a germ or two, the Staph keeps right on growing, rotting whatever it touches. In addition, very powerful medications are administered. They are often pumped directly into the heart in an effort to delay or prevent death.

At least that's what's done for infected guards. Prisoners are occasionally offered two aspirin and a dab of Vaseline to ease the ream-job that's coming. Let 'em rot!

One particularly obnoxious prison guard, Jerry Droppings, a runt who enjoyed demeaning and debasing prisoners, came down with a bad case of MRSA. Maybe he didn't know how to wash his hands. Mr. Droppings quickly became seriously sick. He was hospitalized, had a chunk of infected tissue lopped out and received huge doses of antibiotics and other medications. We have no affection for Mr. Droppings, he's a truly foul human being, but nobody, not even a prison guard, cop or lawyer should suffer from MRSA and its painful complications. We sincerely hope that Mr. Droppings recovers. He has a family who likely hopes to join the imprisonment industry. It's a family business. We sincerely hope that the family isn't infected with the guard's disease.

Guard Droppings had a relative who could read and write. The relative whined about the poor darling's medical condition. It doesn't matter how badly he treated others, the relative thought that he should be treated better. We agree. Two wrongs don't make a right. There was a lot of public gnashing of teeth about the case. Nobody cared about the many prisoners similarly infected. We hope that everybody infected with this virulent infection recovers as well and as quickly as possible. Mr. Droppings and his relative seem mostly interested in money.

The principal reason for the epidemic of MRSA and other diseases in the Pennsylvania prisons is the very poor materials available for routine cleaning of cells, showers, messhalls, visiting rooms and communal areas. There is no effective disinfectant, no scouring powder or scouring pads. There is no effective soap or detergent to sanitize even the toilets and sinks. Nothing is really clean. Complaints to the prison administration are rebuffed.

A few years ago, such cleaning chemicals were readily available. There was far less disease. In fact, the state prison at Huntingdon in central Pennsylvania actually manufactured potent cleaning chemicals for the whole prison system.

Pennsylvania prison guards are such pussies, that they were afraid of the cleaning chemicals. The guards treat prisoners so very badly, that they're terrified of retaliation. If they're that scared, perhaps they should have looked for jobs as hairdressers. The bullies worry that, how about if potent cleaning chemicals were to be thrown on them! What would the poor darlings do then?!

Such things almost never actually happened. When they did, the effects were trivial. The cowardly guards would be better off to worry about the truly serious consequences of infections such as MRSA from having the prisons so filthy.

Pennsylvania prisons now use very small amounts of impotent colored water in place of real cleaning materials. Even that scares some of the more cowardly guards. We know of the case of guard, Mr. 'C.' He's won't let the men use even the watery 'disinfectant' spray. Trembling at the thought that some might be squirted at him, Mr. 'C.' keeps a tight grip on the bottle. Where a toilet must be disinfected, he personally gives the bowl a meager mist of colored water. Diseases will spread, but the cowardly Mr. 'C' is safe from colored water.

It appears likely that the MRSA bacteria was carried into the prisons from veterans returning for the insane Iraq war. Lots of prison guards are so enamored with bullying, killing and feeling important, that they've gone to Iraq in hope of killing helpless civilians. They discovered that it wasn't so easy. Some of the civilians didn't like being invaded. They defended themselves. They shot back. The prison guards pretty quickly quit and scurried home, bringing diseases with them.

Pennsylvania prison guards seem to think that it's a lot safer to abuse prisoners than to invade other people's land. If MRSA isn't eradicated in the prisons, they may be very wrong. Proper cleaning materials would be the first step in the right direction.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

House lawmakers reject death penalty bill

House lawmakers reject death penalty bill

November 7, 2007

BOSTON --House lawmakers overwhelmingly reject a bill to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts.

The 110-46 vote effectively kills any chance of the bill becoming law this session and reflects a growing opposition to the death penalty on Beacon Hill.

Supporters of the bill say the state should reserve the right to capital punishment in the most heinous cases where there is no doubt of guilt.

Critics say the death penalty is costly, immoral and used disproportionately against racial minorities. Gov. Patrick had promised to veto the measure.

The bill mirrors an earlier bill by former Gov. Romney to create a national death penalty "gold standard."

House lawmakers rejected Romney's bill by a by a 99-to-53 vote.

Hearing on sentencing bills

Massachusetts Joint Judiciary Committee Hearing on sentencing bills
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007 Room A-2, State House, Boston 1:00PM

Your help is needed to demonstrate support for reform! The Massachusetts Joint Judiciary Committee has rescheduled its hearing on state sentencing reform bills, including S.884, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem (see for more info). The hearing will be held on Nov. 13. PLan to spend the entire afternoon and be prepared for a crowded hearing room.

Meet with your legislators while you wait. FAMM will have packets to give your legislators. If you can, please bring a picture of your loved one in prison.

Register today! Call Tom Burkert (517-487-1261) or email with the name and address of each person planning to attend so we can prepare packets for everyone."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Second Chance for Ex-Offenders

November 7, 2007
NYT Editorial

A Second Chance for Ex-Offenders

If past patterns hold true, more than half of the 650,000 prisoners released this year will be back behind bars by 2010. With the prison population exploding and the price of incarceration now topping $60 billion a year, states are rightly focusing on ways to reduce recidivism. Congress can give these efforts a boost by passing the Second Chance Act, which would provide crucial help to people who have paid their debts to society.

Newly released inmates are often driven right back to prison by difficulty in obtaining jobs, education and housing, as well as by the social stigma that comes from having been in prison. In addition, many of these people suffer from mental illnesses but have no access to treatment. Some states have begun offering assistance in these areas, but much more needs to be done.

The Second Chance Act would add to what the country knows about the re-entry process by establishing a federal re-entry task force, along with a national resource center to collect and disseminate information about proven programs.

The bill would broaden access to high-quality drug treatment, which is in scarce supply almost everywhere. It would also encourage states to work harder at reuniting families, which are often torn apart when a parent goes to prison.

The country worsened the recidivism crisis when it killed off many of the in-prison education programs that have a strong track record of helping released inmates live crime-free lives. The bill would begin to reverse that destructive trend by providing grants to improve academic and vocational education behind bars.

The programs necessary to help former prisoners find a place in society do not exist in most communities. The Second Chance Act would help to create those programs by providing money, training, technical assistance — and a Congressional stamp of approval.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Read the fine print

Making Criminals Serve Their Full Terms: Joe Biden has written legislation that provides funds to states for building prisons if they agree to keep their violent offenders behind bars for at least 85 percent of their sentence, currently state prisoners serve only 40 percent of their sentences behind bars on average.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Patrick nominates two to state parole board

Patrick nominates two to state parole board
October 24, 2007

BOSTON --Gov. Deval Patrick has appointed a behavioral scientist to the state parole board and re-nominated the current chairwoman to remain on the board.

Leticia Munoz of Florence is a behavioral scientist and she has worked as the clinical director of the Brightside School Street Counseling Institute in Springfield since 2001.

Maureen Walsh of Deerfield has led the Parole Board since 2003, and she serves on the Gov.'s Anti-Crime Council.

Patrick has asked the Gov.'s Council to promptly review and confirm their nominations.

Democratic State Representative Ruth Balser of Newton says the nomination of a clinical psychologist brings much needed professional diversity to the Parole Board.

Secretary of Public Safety and Security Kevin Burke praised Walsh's re-nomination, saying she has credibility with law enforcement and criminal justice professionals.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Patrick to select new chief of prisons

Patrick to select new chief of prisons
Washington official seen as an agent for changing focus
By Frank Phillips, Globe Staff November 2, 2007

Governor Deval Patrick today is expected to appoint as corrections commissioner Harold W. Clarke, the top corrections official in the state of Washington, who has built a national reputation for improving prisons despite encountering controversy.

Officials who know Clarke, who previously ran Nebraska's prison system, said his appointment would mark a shift in Massachusetts away from the hard-nosed policies established during 16 years of Republican governors.

Clarke is at the "top of the heap" among national penal experts, with a record of reducing violence in prisons and professionalizing staff, said Martin Horn, New York City's top prison official and a specialist on prison reform.

Clarke has been criticized after incidents in which felons on post-release supervision killed police officers, and also for a controversial release of felons from overcrowded jails, but his reputation remains high, Horn said.

"He is a true professional with rock-solid integrity," Horn said.

Officials in Patrick's administration said Clarke accepted Patrick's offer to take the post late yesterday, making him the second African-American to lead the Massachusetts Department of Correction. His mandate, the officials said, will be to revamp a corrections department that has focused for years on tough-on-crime policies while cutting to a bare minimum training and reentry programs.

Former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, a member of Patrick's six-member selection panel, said Clarke is up to the job of overhauling a system that has been supervised under harsh policies articulated in 1991, when former governor William F. Weld vowed to "reintroduce Massachusetts prisoners to the joys of busting rocks."

"It will be a major shift in philosophy and approach, one that will balance top-flight professional leadership and public safety with effective reentry of inmates," Harshbarger said. "This is a major-league selection."

Until Clarke's name surfaced recently, the seven-member panel, headed by Secretary of Public Safety Kevin Burke, had struggled to find a replacement for Kathleen Dennehy, who was let go last spring. Clarke is expected to be paid about the same salary as Dennehy, $140,000 a year.

Clarke will manage a system that has 11,000 inmates, a $500 million budget, and about 5,000 staff members while dealing with one of the toughest public unions, the Massachusetts Corrections Officers Federation Union. The system has 18 facilities.

Clarke, a native of Panama who headed Nebraska's prison system for 14 years before taking over Washington's system in 2005, will be Massachusetts' first black commissioner in 33 years, since John O. Boone.

Clarke has come under fire in Washington since being appointed by Governor Chris Gregoire two years ago.

He faced a crisis this year when two freed felons under post-release supervision killed two Seattle police officers in separate car accidents, and another shot and killed a county sheriff.

In addition, a work-release program in Seattle this year faced an investigation after six workers were accused of sexual misconduct and falsifying drug tests.

At the same time, an infuriated Gregoire said that she was "outraged" when Clarke's department released 90 felons from county jails because of overcrowding.

Last summer, the leadership of the Washington Federation of State Workers called for a no-confidence vote in his management. Gregoire headed off a vote by the union membership.

Harshbarger said the selection panel looked at those issues and found nothing that would alarm its members about his management abilities.

He said he expects the same sort of resistance to change in Massachusetts, but that the state needed to move beyond the legacy of Willie Horton, the convicted murderer who, while on a weekend furlough in the 1980s, went to Maryland where he raped a woman and stabbed her male companion. National Republicans used the issue to help defeat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.

"Is Willie Horton going to dominate our correctional philosophy forever?" Harshbarger said. "Some risk is always inherent. But the risk we have now is more expensive and more dangerous than a policy of being tough but with support programs for reentry."

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Report on Arnie King's Commutation Hearing

Hello All,

The meeting began at 10:25 am. It started with the opening statements by Ed Berkin, Attorney and Arnie King, Petitioner.

Maureen Walsh, Chairperson, began the questioning and questions from other board members followed. The questions allowed for thoughtful, reflective responses from Arnie. He was eloquent with his answers and his sincerity was felt by all in the room. The board members were positive in their comments and there was a justifiable, hopeful spirit in the room.

Some of the comments made since the hearing:

"I believe this hearing was blessed by God." (Marva)

"Arnie spoke with tremendous dignity..." (Fran)

"My job is to work with boards....and we try to read where a board is coming from. There wasn't a discouraging word that gave me reason for concern." (Glenn)

" impression was that the parole board was very positive about all the work and effort Arnie has put into his activism over the years." (Laura)

"Arnie's commitment to ending violence among young people came through so powerfully...The board seemed to really understand the importance of Arnie's work in the world. That came through in many ways." (Becky)

"I was impressed by Arnie's eloquence in speaking to a situation which is heart rendering not only for him but for his family, the family of the victim, and all involved at any level." (Chuck)

There were over 150 people in attendance and unfortunately they could not all be in the main room that held only 60. The remainder of supporters were in the overflow room which provided a video screen of the proceedings.

After the board finished questioning Arnie, the floor was opened for the following preselected speakers:

Group One: Sven Bursell, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School; Becky Thompson, Professor, Simmons College; Reebee Garofalo, Professor, U Mass, Boston

Group Two: Tony Irving, Free Lance Photographer, Youth Worker; Glenn Koocher, Executive Director, Mass. Association of School Committees (MASC); Renny Cushing, Executive Director, Murder Victims' Families For Reconciliation

Group Three: Sam Williams, Director of Operations, Unitarian Universalist Ministry; Nancy Murray, Director of Education ACLU; Reverend Ray Hammond, Minister of Bethel AME and Co-founder of 10 Point Coalition.

Group Four: Marion Messinger, Executive Director of City School; Former staff members of City School, Banjineh (Foundation Movement) and Ama (Bronx High School teacher)

Group Five: Laura Efron, Editor, What's Up Magazine; Cindy Miller, Professor, Emerson College

Group Six: Marva King, sister, EPA Project Manager and Ph.D. Student; Danny King, brother, former Delaware and Maryland Education and Program Director

Group Seven: Charles Ogletree, Professor, Harvard Law School and Executive Director of Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

Sister in law of (victim) John Labanara

Further comments were:

"From the first supporter, Harvard Medical Dr. Sven Bursell (who flew in from Hawaii that morning for the hearing) speaking for Arnold to the last supporter, Harvard Law Professor, Charles Ogletree the Board was told why each speaker believed Arnold met the "exceptional" criteria." (Marva)

"...the testimony from Renny Cushing and Tony Irving was very powerful..." (Glenn)

"It was an honor to be amidst the multiracial, mixed class, inter-generational crowd that came together." (Becky)

"The amount of love, respect and dedication in that room was so emotional for me. It warmed my heart." (Chris)

"I left believing in my heart that we will get a unanimous positive vote." (Chuck)

Soffiyah Elijah, Attorney, closed with a wonderful summation.

I wanted to thank both Eddie and Soffiyah for the great job they did preparing and conducting Arnold's hearing. I can't even imagine all the hard work they put into it for the hearing to end up so organized and effective." (Marva)

"...I would like to say thank you to everyone who helped make the day. People who became aware of Arnie's case and joined in the effort, staying the course over the years... it was a great collective effort; bigger than any one person's efforts." (Kazi)

Letters of support can still be written to the Parole Board. Please send to Maureen Walsh, Chairperson, Parole Board, 12 Mercer Road, Natick, MA 01760 and don't forget to CC Arnie.

The board advised that they would provide a decision within 12 weeks. We will see that a copy of the transcript is available, soon, and then the board's opinion, once that becomes available to us.

The Commutation Workgroup


The CORI Working Group formed by Gov. Patrick following the Sept. 18 judiciary committee hearing has announced that they will hold a public hearing on November 7. The hearing will be be chaired by Secretary of Public Safety Kevin Burke, who will be joined on the panel by Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, Health & Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, and Suzanne Bump, Secretary of Labor & Workforce Development. The panel will also include Joint Committee on the Judiciary chairs Sen. Robert Creedon and Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty, as well as other committee chairs who are participating in the working group. Your presence and/or testimony at this hearing is important as we continue to push forward on this important issue! If you are interested in providing oral or written testimony, please let me know. Following are the details of the hearing:

Wednesday, November 7
4:00-7:00 p.m.
Gardner Auditorium, State House

For Women Behind Bars, "Health Care" Can Be Deadly

For Women Behind Bars, "Health Care" Can Be Deadly
By Silja J.A. Talvi, Seal Press

Why a book about women in prison?

Readers of Women Behind Bars might ask the logical question of why an entire book should be focused on female incarceration while men are still, by far, the majority of people getting arrested and locked up. To many criminologists and writers who cover prison issues, the percentage of women in prison is so small as to warrant little, if any, attention or analysis. (Indeed, at many of the prison-related conferences that I have attended over the years, prisoners are referred to by the male pronoun almost exclusively.)

This question is entirely valid, and deserves a response. Men do face unique issues and hardships in prison, and the overrepresentation of men of color (especially African Americans), the mentally ill, and poor people in general has been more of an overall focus in my work than women's issues in prison until this point.

The deeper I began to delve into the underlying reasons for the rapid growth of girls and women in lock-up, the more insight I gained into a world that few outsiders see, much less understand. Once I began to pay particularly close attention to the ways in which females in the criminal justice system were portrayed in the media, it became clear to me that stereotypes and judgments about "fallen women" from centuries ago were still holding fast.

There's much more to all of this, of course, from the overt medical neglect of women's chronic health needs; to the prevalence of sexual coercion and abuse in women's detention facilities (primarily at the hands of correctional officers, as opposed to other inmates); to the fact that girls and women enter the criminal justice system with far higher rates of drug abuse, sexual violence, childhood abuse, mental illness, and experiences with homelessness. Women are also being punished heavily with undeserved federal "conspiracy charges" for their general unwillingness (or inability) to "snitch" on their loved ones or friends in drug cases -- to the point that this has began to be known as the "girlfriend problem" in the criminal justice system.

Today, the number of girls and women doing time is utterly unprecedented in U.S. history. In 1977, there were just slightly more than 11,000 women in state or federal prison. By 2004, the number of women in prisons had increased by a breathtaking 757 percent. At the end of 2006, there were 203,100 women in jails, state and federal prisons, plus another 1,094,000 women on probation or parole, for a total of 1.3 million females under some form of correctional supervision. (Another 15,000-20,000 girls are being held in juvenile detention.) While Euro-American women still outnumber any other demographic group in jails and prisons, African American women are four times more likely to be locked up than their Euro-American counterparts. (Collectively, African American women and Latinas represent more than 60 percent of women doing time.)

The following excerpt provides just one woman's story from Women Behind Bars. She did not live to tell it, but I am able to share it with you here.


I was already several months into the process of writing when I received an e-mail from a woman by the name of Grace Ortega. Grace had heard about the book project, and wanted to know if she could tell me what happened to her daughter, Gina Muniz, after she was incarcerated for the first (and last) time in her life. In truth, I already had enough women's stories to fill the pages of a few books -- if anything, I was overwhelmed trying to figure out which stories not to include -- but there was something about Grace's letter, the sheer urgency of it, that made me want to talk to her.

In our first conversation, Grace and I talked for two hours -- or, to be more precise, I listened for those two hours. It actually didn't click until a few days after that conversation that something sounded very familiar about what Grace had been telling me in great detail. Sure enough, I had once actually written about Gina, albeit briefly, in an article about the allegations and emerging evidence surrounding shoddy, abusive, and sometimes life-threatening medical "care" in two adjacent women's prisons: Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) and the Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla.

Grace and I stayed in touch, and I made it known that I would be interested in researching the details of her case for Women Behind Bars. I asked her to send me court documents, medical records, prison memos, grievances, or anything else she might have that would enable me to grasp the chronology of events in Gina's life, and to look more deeply into her situation. A few weeks later, a cardboard box the size of an orange crate arrived at my home. Grace had taken my request seriously and literally; from what I could tell, she had sent me absolutely everything she possessed pertaining to her daughter's case.

I didn't actually examine the contents of the box closely until I was already well into a few chapters of this book. When I did finally start to sort through the material, I saw that Grace had included four 8" x 11" color photos of her daughter. I set them down on my kitchen table and just stood there, staring at them. I don't know how much time passed, but I know it was long enough that the images were actually seared into my mind.

When I mentioned earlier that I was haunted by Gina's story, I meant that I have also been haunted by these images. For a time, I actually buried the photos under piles of paper in a strange attempt to block out my emotional reaction to them. It didn't matter; my mind couldn't erase any of it.

As I write this, these pictures are out of hiding, because I can finally give Gina's story a voice. The photograph that I have placed next to me is of her emaciated body, shackled to a bed in a community hospital near CCWF. Another of Gina's photos, which was taken just two months before her arrest on August 8, 1998, is on top of my desk. This is a snapshot of a naturally, strikingly beautiful woman with thick, dark curls framing her wide smile. Gina's warmth and kindness radiate from that picture, just as the one taken just a few weeks before her death conveys the agony of living in a body taken over by cervical cancer, which had started out as an entirely treatable, early-stage illness.

Gina's face in the hospital picture is that of a much, much older woman. The only parts of her that still look young are her hands and long fingers, which resemble a pianist's. Her left arm is shackled to the bed, per the requirement of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that even terminally ill prisoners be shackled to their beds and guarded twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Her right arm tenderly cups the head of her then-eight-year-old daughter, Amanda.

Her eyes give away the intensity of her suffering, which started out as horribly as it ended. When she was first taken to the LA County Jail, Gina began to bleed so profusely that she would go through many sanitary pads in the space of a few minutes; most of the time, she was just left to bleed all over herself and her cell. When her cries got loud enough, jail guards would typically come over and look at her with disgust, and then throw toilet paper rolls into her cell.

All of this went on until Gina passed out while talking to her mother on the phone after nearly eight months of nonstop bleeding in jail. Gina's collapse was apparently what it took for her pleas for medical assistance to be heard. Even then, it would be months before she was examined properly and diagnosed with Stage IIB cervical cancer, which has a high success rate of being treated and stopped in its tracks if it is treated aggressively and consistently.

Gina's pleas for justice, however, were not heeded. She received a life sentence in state prison, with an additional seven years tacked on. A life sentence would seem to indicate that she had committed a heinous crime, and most certainly a crime of violence. But Gina had actually committed a nonviolent act, although even she thought she should be punished for stealing $200 from a fifty-one-year- old Vietnamese American woman. Gina did not have a gun, knife, or any other weapon with her, but she admitted that she "strong-armed" the woman into going to a nearby ATM and giving her the money. Even the victim herself, when the police arrived on the scene, stated that Gina had not hurt her in any manner. Gina hadn't been a career criminal by any stretch of the imagination.

Her only violations were for car-related misdemeanors, including a June 30, 1998 charge for driving without a permit. (Gina did not do jail time, although the incident did go on her record.) What happened that pushed this twenty-seven-year-old, with no history of criminal behavior, to the point of rob- bing someone?

Grace explained to me that Gina's father's death on April 22, 1998, triggered a serious, debilitating spiral of depression in her daughter's life. Although Gina's father had periodically been a heavy cocaine and heroin user, and Grace had left him when Gina was just a child, Gina still adored him and tried to see him as much as possible.

By all accounts, cocaine hadn't even been a part of Gina's life until after her father died. Although she had gotten involved with men who hadn't exactly done right by her, Gina had set her sights on becoming a nurse and paving the way for a good life for Amanda.

Seeing her grief, a much older, married male family member offered his "support" to Gina, and then gave her a taste of a drug that he promised would help her get through the pain. His encouragement of her cocaine use was obviously far from being in Gina's best interest. When her use turned into dependency, he started demanding sexual favors, which she provided to him for a time in exchange for money to buy more drugs.

The "exchange" went on for a few months, until a day when she asked for $200 and this relative demanded another sexual favor. As Gina later admitted to her mother, she was suddenly consumed by hatred and disgust -- toward him and toward herself. She refused his advances, and he in turn refused the money. But Gina's desire for more cocaine overtook her ability to think clearly. As her mom put it, "Gina did something that she would have considered unthinkable" in the not-so-distant past.

A mere surface examination reveals that Gina's poor attempt at a crime was obviously a fumbling act of desperation by a woman addicted to drugs. But that's not how the court saw it. Gina's own defense attorney took Grace's hard-earned money (which he was eventually forced to return when Grace filed a complaint with the California Bar Association), did nothing to argue her case, and then urged Gina to plead guilty in exchange for a short sentence. While the judge was announcing the terms of her sentence, Gina heard the words "life" and "seven years," and anxiously asked her lawyer what was happening.

As a bailiff would later testify, Gina's lawyer had lied to her, telling her that entering a guilty plea would get her only a seven-year sentence, not life in prison. Gina did not find out until she was sent to CCWF that she was going to spend the rest of her life in prison. Medical "decisions" made at some level in the process ensured that she was denied the necessary hysterectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy that would have saved her life. In essence, her already cruel and unwarranted life sentence was hastened into a death sentence over just a few horrible months of pain and suffering, during which she and her mother pleaded constantly for medical intervention and urgent treatment.

It took many months of letter writing, and the volunteer assistance of the San Francisco-based advocacy group Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, for Grace to get her daughter out of a depressing community hospital room under the constant watch of prison guards. Gina wanted to die at home, and so she did. On September 29, 2000, Gina Muniz slipped away in silence, surrounded by her immediate family, just two days after her mother took her home.

Where is the healing or hope in a story like this? Gina was certainly not given the chance to experience either.

Instead, they have manifested themselves in Grace's ability to turn her own grief into advocacy on the part of other women in prison. Grace has traveled across California, testifying before legislators and advocating for compassionate release for terminally ill women in prison so that they do not have to endure anything akin to the needless and slow death that Gina suffered.

Grace still looks at the pictures of her daughter every day, and she worries that her daughter's life will be forgotten entirely or, worse yet, dismissed as the plight of a criminal whose life and death were of no particular significance. "Please," she asked me again at the end of our last conversation, "Please make sure that Gina isn't forgotten."

Silja J.A. Talvi is a senior editor at In These Times. Her work appears in the anthology, "Prison Nation" (Routledge, 2003).

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