Prison hinders Lynne Stewart’s cancer care

Lynne Stewart's Sentencing Hearing

BY JEFF MACKLER

(UPDATED with a new letter from Lynne.) More than two years ago radical attorney and human rights activist Lynne Stewart, now serving the third year of a 10-year prison sentence based on frame-up charges of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism, was given a clean bill of health following surgery for breast cancer. That cancer has now retuned, first to one lung, according to September tests performed by prison medical authorities at FMC Carswell near Forth Worth, Texas. A month later an additional spot was found in Lynne’s other lung, and still others in her upper back.

The same authorities refused to treat Lynne after the September discovery, a practice in accord with the monstrous policies that Carswell and most U.S. prison facilities in the U.S. are known for.

Following the October discovery that the cancer had spread, Lynne received two injections aimed at slowing or retarding its growth. Lynne’s daughter, Dr. Zenobia Brown, who was initially barred from consulting with Carswell doctors, is now actively involved in the consultations. Brown has informed Lynne’s defense committee that, based on the radiographic evidence, Lynne’s likely metastasize breast cancer is of the aggressive and type that could kill her in a short time unless treated aggressively and immediately and by her own physicians.

Yet Carswell officials insist that Lynne be placed on the facility’s formal waiting list before further prison treatment.

Lynne has requested an immediate transfer to the highly respected New York City hospital that treated her for the initial breast cancer. While Carswell has a “compassionate release” program that could approve Lynne’s transfer to this facility, prison officials insist that Lynne’s status as a well-known personality insures that she will receive adequate treatment, if not “preferential treatment,” in prison. Her request for an immediate transfer to New York until she recovers has been rejected. The implication, of course, is that if you are “famous” you get excellent treatment; if you’re  poor and without outside support you get the standard inferior health care that is the rule in virtually all U.S. prisons. In Lynne’s case, as her “fame” stems from a lifetime in defending society’s damned and oppressed, she is treated with the same contempt and disregard that most are subjected to.

A recent article on Lynne’s case by health-care activist and Lynne Stewart supporter Bob Lederer cites a Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) report entitled  “The Health and Health Care of US Prisoners.” Lederer writes, “Almost a million inmates report having one more chronic medical (problems), and their access to medical care appears to be poor.

“An American Journal of Public Health article discussed a first-ever nationwide study. It said about 40% of America’s prison population (over 800,000 inmates) have chronic medical conditions. They include diabetes, heart and kidney problems, asthma, and cancer. Researchers found ‘sick prisoners have poor access to care.’ Many in need aren’t treated. Others get deplorable care.

“Compared with comparably aged Americans, the incidence of inmates’ illness is much higher. Treatment is sub-standard.”

The fight to reverse Carswell’s rejection of Lynne’s transfer request is the immediate and top priority of her defense committee, the Lynne Stewart Organization. An online petition to President Obama to commute Lynne’s sentence is now in preparation, but such commutation, according to prison and related regulations, cannot be considered until Lynne has exhausted all legal remedies.

The last of these legal appeals is Lynne’s petition for certiorari (request that the court agree to hear Lynne’s case) scheduled for submission to the U.S. Supreme Court on February 21, 2013. Lynne is calling on the broad legal community to unite in this final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is not clear at this point whether the filing of the petition or an actual decision of the Supreme Court constitutes the legal basis for President Obama to consider commuting Lynne’s sentence. Certiorari decisions by the Supreme Court can take several months, if not a year or longer—too late for Lynne’s now rapidly progressing illness.

Lynne Stewart, a prominent civil rights attorney of 30 years who defended America’s poor, persecuted, and unwanted, was the victim of a government-orchestrated 2005 frame-up trial that was riddled with violations of constitutional principles. These errors, revealed in the court record and including repeated objections by her then attorney Michael Tigar, are being meticulously compiled for review.

This writer was present at Lynne’s trial, a five-week horrific proceeding replete with McCarthy-type (today “war on terror”) hearsay accusations that an intimidated judge allowed into evidence, and that had absolutely nothing to so with the facts of Lynne’s case.

Images of Osama Bin Laden were projected on giant movie-theater-size screens for the jury’s perusal, implying that somehow Lynne was connected to the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center bombing. The presiding judge allowed this material and countless other examples of admittedly “hearsay evidence” with the justification that while the material did not constitute any evidence against Lynne, the fact that some documents were found in files in Lynne’s office during an FBI search and seizure process was indicative of  “the mind of the defendant.” There was no mention of the fact that it was the government itself that provided Lynne with this “evidence.” This was during the time, for some years after 1995, when Lynne was representing her client, the “blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rachman,

In 2005, Lynne was convicted on four counts of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism. This was mostly based on the government’s charge that her public issuance several years later of a press release on behalf of her client, Rachman, an Egyptian cleric who was similarly framed up and imprisoned for life on “terrorism” charges, was illegal. Ironically, Rachman’s freedom is today being demanded by Egypt’s president, Muslim Brotherhood head Mohamed Morsi.

Lynne Stewart, 73, was originally convicted and sentenced to 28 months in prison. But this “light” sentence was contested by the reactionary U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and her sentence was outrageously increased to 10 years by the now compliant Federal District Court trial judge, John Koelt—career decision indeed!

Lynne attributes her “strong will” to the “focus that you [her supporters] all infuse me with!” Commenting on her formidable challenge of winning a hearing before the Supreme Court, she asked, “Will they deign to hear us? Will we advance the sunlight or only increase the shadows on our constitutional rights?” Lynne added, “We can only strive to present our issues in the best possible way and ‘fight like hell’ for justice. There’s no predicting results, but in prison, HOPE is the only currency.”

Lynne Stewart’s freedom, and her life itself, in large part depend on our solidarity. She is intent on winning her health and freedom under the most difficult conditions. Letters of solidarity to Lynne are essential.

Write Lynne at: Lynne Stewart #53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, Texas 76127. For critical information regarding where to address your letters of protest, e-mail her husband, Ralph Poynter: Ralph.Poynter@yahoo.com or call (917) 853-9759. Send your generous contribution payable to: Lynne Stewart Organization, 1070 Dean Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216.

Jeff Mackler is the West Coast Coordinator of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee, jmackler@lmi.net.

Photo: Lynne Stewart (ctr.) at 2007 sentencing hearing in New York.  By Tony Savino / Socialist Action

UPDATE: LETTER FROM LYNNE

2/3/13; 9:00 am
Family, Friends, Comrades, Supporters All,
I have been reminded of the need to update my message now that the Cancer is confirmed and we are about to start treatment.  This is definitely Bad news but somehow in the toxic climate in which prisons in particular, but the whole country operates, I am determined that it can be beaten.
Factually, when I went (finally) for the hysterectomy in June of last year, a routine chest X ray showed a spot on my lung.  Further Pet scans, sonograms, biopsies revealed (as of September) that there was my old Breast cancer back in my lymph node (armpit) and lung.  In January another Pet scan revealed that both lungs are involved as is my scapula (maybe).  So now we are working on a treatment.  I am fond of and have faith in my doctor–a young woman Oncologist.  Other medicos have concurred in that opinion. The treatment (Chemo, pills, shots not necessarily in that order) will be given to me in Fort Worth at a hospital called The Center, part of one of the big places here. There are Problems :
1. It Ain’t New York City with Sloan Kettering or New York Hospital where I was originally treated.  Cutting Edge Places –excuse the pun !
2.  All things in Prison move VERY slowly, as you can see by the history here.  it’s now February and I have had two sets of shots, estrogen related.
3. I am still transported and held in leg irons, belly chain and cuffs for each of these trips.  The guards are not unkind but of course, follow orders.It is most difficult to say the least.
Let me assure you all, though, that I am feeling good and have a high level of energy.  This may change but so far so good.  I do need a nap every afternoon but my doddering old age may have something to do with that !
We Might Have to Call on All you Folks if we decide to take action to Try and force the Bureau of Prisons/Department of Justice to ameliorate conditions etc.  Stay tuned to the website.  Ralph and our daughter, Dr.Zenobia Brown did an excellent program on WBAI( Sally O’Brien’s show)  and Dr. Z as we call her also went on with Bob Lederer.  These are archived.  My good friends and comrades, Mya Schon and Ralph Schoenman, along with Ralph also did a great show on Taking Aim, a web broadcast that has been distributed widely on the net.  I am hoping that my electronic geniuses can hook those up to this site. From the heart –all of this work and running both ways–them to me and me to them !!
Meanwhile, it is dreary in Texas.  I will soon be sharing with you our petition for Cert to the Supremes and the outlook there–also dreary !!
I urge all of you to carry on our work politically.  Now More than Ever, all able bodied and those less so, need to be out there harassing the enemy and organizing the People, Yes!
Love Struggle,
Lynne