Post Date: December 24, 2013
Several weeks ago, my beloved sister Joan died. I was privileged to be Joan’s sister and – because she faced the special challenges of developmental delay and blindness – her guardian. In the days that followed Joan’s death, I couldn’t help but think of the dying prisoners and their families who don’t get to do what I did for Joan during her final days: offer comfort, ease suffering, and say goodbye.
Accompanying a dying loved one is among the most intimate of gifts we give. I can think of few reasons to withhold it, yet the Bureau of Prisons does it routinely. I’ll never forget Michael Mahoney, whose unwitting firearm possession led to a fifteen-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and whose impending death prompted the federal judge who sentenced him to plead with the BOP to free him. The judge was ignored and Michael died needlessly alone and in pain. Nothing he did deserved the way he and his family were treated.
I swore I would not let Michael’s death be in vain. In his honor I dedicated myself to transforming the “compassionate release” program of the federal Bureau of Prisons to make it more humane. Last year, we published our report, “The Answer is No,” with Human Rights Watch, that chronicles the lapses and disorganization permeating compassionate release. Shortly after that, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice issued a scathing critique of the program. Our work to change the culture of “No” at the Federal Bureau of Prisons was rewarded this year when the BOP issued new rules and the head of the BOP made a public commitment to increase the number of people released through the program. While it doesn’t go far enough (and I said so in this investigative report) it is a long way from the sorry state of the program when we began.
That’s one of the reasons I love working at FAMM. We don’t just improve laws; instead, on our best days, we get to improve individual lives.
You can, too, by contributing to FAMM today.
And if you make your contribution before the end of the year, it will be matched by one of FAMM’s generous supporters, helping us do twice as much good!
Wishing you a happy and compassionate holiday season,