What if you had a loved one sent to federal prison--under clearly unconstitutional circumstances--and then saw his health imperiled by incompetent medical care? What if your loved one, who certainly did not receive a death sentence, possibly faced death because of abuse and neglect in the U.S. prison system?
Those are some of the disturbing questions raised by the case of Gary White, a former county commissioner in the Birmingham, Alabama, area, who was convicted on corruption charges in a case with ties to the Don Siegelman prosecution.
Joan Brunwasser of OpEd News shines light on those questions and more in an interview with Judy White, Gary's wife who has appealed to President Obama in an effort to make sure her husband does not die in prison.
It's a horrifying story, one that started under the Bush Justice Department and is continuing on Barack Obama's watch. It shows what can happen when the trial is over and the courthouse doors have closed. An appeal is pending that might prove that Gary White was wrongly convicted. But will he live to see that day?
Brunwasser: Besides the "normal" stress that goes along with a situation like that, you've had additional concerns that led you to contact the president. For instance, you found out today that Gary's currently in a Chronic Care Clinic. What is it, where is it, and why does he need it? Was he sick? I know that when he reported to prison on the 29th, he had enough of his medications to make sure that none of the prescriptions lapsed.
White: I don't know what a "Chronic Care Clinic" is, or where it is or why he needs it. I know he was in good health, properly medicated when I left him at the prison shortly after noon on September 29th, along with his prescription medications that he was told by prison staff to bring with him when he self-surrendered. He was given no medication at all from Wednesday until just before he was allowed to call me Friday evening, and the medications he has been given since have been incorrect or completely withheld. He had been able to call me daily since Friday, October 1st. Today, the first workday after the federal holiday during which I begged our President for help, I have not heard from him at all, but I did hear from the prison officials. I suspect [his] being sent to wherever he is is retaliatory.
Would the U.S. justice system intentionally place a prisoner in an inconvenient location to punish his family members? Apparently so:
Brunwasser: Gary's in South Carolina. You're in Alabama. How far is that from where you live? Wasn't there anywhere closer?
White: That's another retaliatory situation, I'm afraid, tied to a lawsuit I filed against Alice Martin and the U.S. Attorney's office. Keep in mind: he is innocent. Gary is in a Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Edgefield, South Carolina, more than 300 miles and a different time zone away from his home, clearly intended to punish his family and him by making visits very difficult. Gary has been recognized as indigent by the court, and at sentencing the judge ordered that he be assigned to the FPC nearest his home. That would be Maxwell in Montgomery, Alabama, just 90 miles south. We live in north central Alabama.
When I drove him to the prison, I drove completely across Georgia (which also has FPCs) and into South Carolina. In order to visit on "his" weekends (not every weekend, like at most FPCs), I will have to leave home at 1:30 a.m., and drive 5 1/2 hours, which, with the time zone change, will allow me to arrive at the prison at 8:00, which is when visiting time begins, then, after visiting, must make the long drive back home. Just the cost of gas was over $60.00, and I certainly can't afford a hotel stay and meals.
Did the justice system actually disobey a judge's order so that it could punish Gary White and his family?
Brunwasser: Back up a second, Judy. You say that the judge at sentencing ordered that Gary be assigned to the FPC nearest his home. But he was not, which is pretty blatant disregard of his order. Is there no recourse?
White: Please, let me say that we are not familiar with "the system" as neither we nor anyone in our families have ever been charged or convicted of a crime. Additionally, the lawyer didn't respond to questions, although she did tell us, after repeated calls, texts, faxes, and phone messages, that we had 30 days to object, and Gary told her to object however it could be objected to. We've never seen anything indicating she did so.
Additionally, we contacted our congressman and senators, who wrote letters asking that Gary's assignment be changed, primarily for the benefit of his family; my surgeon and another doctor also wrote letters asking that Gary be assigned to Montgomery, as I am recovering from major back surgery and it is dangerous to me to drive or be a passenger for such a long distance. Finally, Gary personally objected directly to the assignment, reminding the Bureau of Prisons that the judge had ordered him to be close to home. The only response was sent to our congressman and stated that the decision was theirs alone. Did I mention retaliation?
Is this how a supposedly humane justice system really works?