Cancer and The 8th Ammendment

Eight Ammendment

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution  states:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791, has three provisions. The cruel and unusual punishments clause restricts the severity of punishments that state and federal governments may impose upon persons who have been convicted of a criminal offense.

In previous blogs, I have rambled on about out of control US sentencing guidelines, private prisons, compromised politicians who lack governing skills, the heartache when someone you love is behind bars and the setup for crime and continuing punishment.

I returned yesterday from visiting my sister in New York City, she is fighting advanced stage Cancer, which has metastasized to her brain, very, very sad. It is remarkable how my only sibling has such will to fight on and on; Elizabeth is an inspiration. Her husband Vinnie has been a steadfast potent warrior, advocating daily for any and every resource to save his wife, my sister. The blessing for them is that oncology resources are world class in New York, close at hand.

So if you are a federal inmate in let’s say Waseca, Minnesota; Pekin, Illinois or Greenville Illinois, what resources are available if you are seriously ill, perhaps with cancer and who advocates for you? The bottom line is there isn’t one other than perhaps the inmate, their family, assuming they still are in the picture. You are on your own, with no leverage, no power to move things faster; you are vulnerable. Is timely aggressive healthcare provided for federal inmates ill with cancer? I would submit no, not even close. Does anybody really even care? I’d say no. Is methodically and slowly providing healthcare for an inmate who has a potentially serious, treatable and fast developing disease fair? I would say no. Is it “unusual” in America to do that? I’d say of course. Is it cruel? I’d day yes. Do you have recourse as a Federal inmate? Probably, on paper somewhere. One might accuse me of being shrilly and over the top on this issue, so let’s toss in a few actual scenarios for a little color, small stuff first.

My wife Patty’s late dentist, a brilliant and gentle man, worked for a brief period of time at the BOP federal camp for men in Duluth. He quit because the quality of dental care expected to be provided was far below what he felt was ethically right. He was appalled that my wife endured a toothache for 18 months with the only dental remedy suggested being having it pulled if it continued after one week. Upon her release, it took antibiotics and 12 months for the infection to resolve from her jaw.

In the Pekin Illinois FCI, a male inmate was found unresponsive in the morning, cool to the touch, skin color pale, help called for by another inmate. According to stories heard by my wife, an ambulance was called and the paramedics upon arrival assessed that the inmate was dead. As the story goes, the BOP staff adamantly insisted that an IV be started and the inmate be transported; after a heated argument, that is what occurred. Don’t believe me? Check the and read about Federal inmate Adam Montoya, deceased, in an article dated 5/4/10. I believe it is the same incident; the FBI was called in and interestingly the two inmates who advocated somehow for the Mr. Montoya were transferred to California and Pennsylvania. The real truth will never be known, but the stunner is that it happened at all. Sounds very “unusual” and pretty “cruel” to me.

Last story: In the Pekin Women’s Federal Prison Camp, an inmate slipped on a wet floor and was knocked unconscious, the emergency phone was activated by another inmate to get help. Staff arrived, attended to the inmate somehow and she was observed being escorted across the compound, and then she had a seizure. When the female inmate came to, the staff had her walk the rest of the way to medical, while they continued to carry the stretcher, empty. Three hours later she was back at the camp. If that was an NFL or NHL player, would they be discharged in 3 hours? Never. My wife refused to let me share another first hand story of negligent healthcare at Pekin because of concerns for those who shared the information, it involved a death.  I worked with a lady whose brother died of an untreated infection at Leavenworth; granted he was not an angel but he was a US citizen. On her last visit with him, he couldn’t sit still he was so sick; three days later he was dead.

Lousy healthcare saves the Bureau of Prisons a lot of time and money; limited recourse and stifled advocacy makes it even easier. Only problem is it probably represents crime and continuing punishment, specifically cruel and unusual punishment. That’s where our 8th amendment to the US Constitution comes into play. This a dilemma for those concerned about those behind clinical bars and razor wire, whose voice is stifled. That would be the 1st Amendment now that I think about it. What are your thoughts? Exercise your 1st Amendment rights.

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