BY JEFF MACKLER
Demand Compassionate Release Now! I returned last week from a Memorial Day weekend visit with my dear friend of some 50 years, the innocent political prisoner and victim of trumped-up charges of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism, Lynne Stewart.
Lynne, 73, is incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. She has been transferred from a cell with six other women to a slightly less odious isolation and lockdown facility due to her vulnerability to infection following two chemotherapy treatments and other necessary but terrible chemicals that reduced her white blood-cell count to dangerously low levels.
Lynne suffers from Stage Four breast cancer, which has metastasized to her lungs, shoulder, back, and sternum. Her application for compassionate release was approved by the Carswell prison warden in early May. Federal probation officers in New York have since inspected and approved her residency at the Brooklyn home of her son Geoff Stewart. But Lynne’s completed paper work has nevertheless remained without action on the desk of Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels in Washington, D.C.
The bureaucratic powers that be have thus far declined to decide her fate. They will either follow the law and immediately grant Lynne freedom and “time served” and quickly usher her to the world-class Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan or, as is the tragic norm today, stand mute while Lynne remains in prison until irreparably consumed by her terrible illness.
A Dec. 10, 2012, New York Times editorial told the story well: “Federal sentencing law has been indefensibly harsh for a generation, but in theory it has contained a safety valve called compassionate release. The 1984 Sentencing Reform Act gives federal courts the power to reduce sentences of federal prisoners for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” like a terminal illness. In practice, though, the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department, which oversees the bureau, have not just failed to make use of this humane and practical program, but have crippled it. That is the disturbing and well-substantiated conclusion of a new report by Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
“From 1992 through this November, a period in which the population of federal prisons almost tripled from around 80,000 to close to 220,000 inmates, the bureau released 492 prisoners under this program. This is a mere two-dozen or so on average each year, and the number has so far not surpassed 37. The percentage of prisoners released has shrunk from tiny to microscopic.”
Prison officials first discovered in September that Lynne’s breast cancer had reappeared in one lung but declined to notify her until a month later—by which time it had spread to the other lung. Lynne has been shackled hand and foot and around her belly while being shuttled to and from the Fort Worth medical facility for treatment and evaluation. By the time she was informed of the modest improvement in restraining her disease’s relentless progression in her lymph notes and sternum, but not in her lungs, additional weeks had passed, and her wholly inadequate treatment was further delayed.
Meanwhile, doctors at Sloan Kettering state openly that the moment Lynne enters their facility, assuming that we can force the federal bureaucracy to act, Lynne will receive the finest state of the art options available to medical science—perhaps even sufficient to permanently defeat her aggressive cancer and allow Lynne to live at least some years more with family and friends close by, or even to enjoy a full life.
Some 20,000 have signed petitions for Lynne’s immediate release, and thousands more have called Director Samuels as well as the offices of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama. Now is the time for every progressive social movement to re-double their efforts to win Lynne’s immediate compassionate release, including calls and letters to public officials and ceaseless protests in the streets everywhere.
My 14 hours with Lynne at Carswell were both joyous and yet filled with grief and pain as I watched her bravely endure this terrible suffering. Lynne is filled with energy and imbued with the revolutionary passion and dedication that has guided her life since childhood. She receives radical and socialist publications from virtually the entire movement as well as The New York Times. She is absorbed by and endlessly moved by great works of poetry and fiction and is ready to discuss and debate the daily victories and defeats of every struggle to advance humanity’s cause.
We met in a large cafeteria-like setting, with some 35 other women prisoners, often surrounded by their loved ones, including scores of children and relatives who snuggle close as if to share the suffering and humiliation attendant to prison life. I see no “guilty” human beings at Carswell, only victims of a hardened and cruel social order that denies all too many the basic elements for a decent life and optimistic future.
Lynne, a highly sophisticated and conscious life-long fighter for the poor and oppressed, cannot but be humiliated by a state of existence in which cold-faced guards refer to her as Mrs. S., disregarding her humanity and life accomplishments while occasionally instructing her that holding the hand of her beloved husband Ralph Poynter is against the rules. These endless rules are continually and arbitrarily spouted, and always with the threat of punishment close by, as when Lynne offers aid and comfort to a fellow prisoner in need of assistance.
I feel compelled to report an occasional tear falling from Lynne’s loving and compassionate eyes as she contemplates the insanity of her dehumanizing state, including the dread death that inevitably awaits her if we cannot win her freedom now.
Lynne receives and reads countless letters from friends everywhere while managing a daily hour allotted for e-mail correspondence with her closest collaborators.
Today we need to flood the authorities with additional petitions and calls. All the necessary information is available at LynneStewart.org. Go to “Justice for Lynne Stewart,” where you can sign the petition and make the necessary calls to compel this cruel and hateful system to abide by the peoples’ will. Checks can be made payable to the Lynne Stewart Defense Organization and mailed to: 1070 Dean Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216.
• U.S. Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels: 202-307-3198-ext. 3
• U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder: 202-514-2001
• President Obama: 202-456-1111
Jeff Mackler is the West Coast Coordinator of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee.
A Letter from Lynne Stewart
Dear Friends and Supporters:
Four months ago I made a request for compassionate release, which was honored by the warden at Carswell Federal Medical Center. Today the papers are still on a desk in Washington, D.C. even though the terminal cancer that I have contracted requires expeditious action.
Although I requested immediate action by the Bureau of Prisons, I find it necessary to again request immediate action from you, my friends, comrades, and supporters, to call the three numbers listed above on Thursday, May 30, and request action on my behalf.
This could result in my being able to access medical treatment at Sloan Kettering so that I can face the rest of my life with dignity surrounded by those I love and who love me.
Please do this.
Lynne Stewart FMS CARSWELL-53504-054
Photo: We Will Not Be Silent