This is the slightly edited version of the letter I sent off to the Mississippi Kidney Foundation today, as well as to some media connections and other possible allies. I’ve been ill for awhile and may not be following up for a few days, and worry that everyone will just think someone else is acting on this – in which case no one will – so everyone needs to, and report what you’ve done to the Scott Sisters campaign. Please use this post and email copies of this letter wherever else you can think of that these concerns need to be raised. Just click on the email icon at the bottom.
Margaret Jean Plews
Arizona Prison Watch
1809 East Willetta St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006
February 7, 2010
Gail G. Sweat, Executive Director
Lynda Richards, Director of Patient Services
Mississippi Kidney Foundation
3000 Old Canton, Suite 110
Jackson, MS 39216
PO Box 55802
Jackson, MS 39296
Dear Gail and Lynda,
I wasn’t sure who best to address this to, but didn’t want it getting lost in the void, so I’m sending it to you both if I can find your emails, and via snail mail. This is a fairly complicated story, so if it’s new to you, hold on. I’m also passing it on to a few other folks, in hopes they might have some ideas or be able to offer support. I really hope that once we figure out exactly what’s going on with care for kidney patients in the Mississippi Department of Corrections (which is contracting medical services to Wexford) Professor Capron in particular will help facilitate some kind of critical analysis and dialogue about the ethical issues involved in treating kidney patients who are prisoners – this is not an issue unique to Mississippi. That’s just where Mrs. Rasco’s daughter happens to be dying right now.
I don’t know if anyone has already contacted you about Jamie Scott
or issues with dialysis care for Mississippi state prisoners in general yet. I don’t know my way around your state: your politics, charities, media, etc., and have already stepped on a few toes. I’m a prisoner rights activist in Arizona
(from Michigan, actually) with a few websites critiquing the prison industrial complex, and I hear from prisoners and families in trouble all the time, including the Scotts, asking for help by amplifying their voices and reaching out to others. The Scott family has been working on getting these women exonerated for awhile, but now there’s a crisis with one of the sisters going into renal failure. They really need your help.
I’m concerned that the difficulty the family is having getting a response on Jamie’s care is partly because it’s not clear they or Jamie really know what her diagnosis or prognosis is. I think they’re all so terribly traumatized, and now desperately afraid that they’ll lose Jamie after working so hard for long on her freedom. But they need to be able to articulate what’s going on medically in order to know what kind of treatment to ask for, or who to turn to for help. As is so often the fashion when others control our health care, poor women (especially of color) are the last to know about our medical conditions and treatment options, and we pay the highest price for it. I’m worried that Jamie’s criminalized, marginalized status already places her at considerable risk; not many people value the humanity or gifts of a woman doing double-life in a Mississippi state prison. Add to that her race, poverty, family’s limited resources; some would say she’s lucky to get dialysis at all.
We need to get someone in there who can both educate Jamie and her family about kidney disease, what appropriate care is (which for all I know she’s actually receiving, depending on her diagnosis and prognosis), and how she can assert her rights as a patient while still a prisoner, as well as someone who can help get the resources needed into the MDOC to provide the rest of these women with appropriate medical care. I’m an antagonist, an outside instigator, an organizer – this family needs you, not me, fighting for them on the local level. I’ve probably already pissed a few people off.
Besides, I’m also fairly ill myself right now, and don’t know that I can see this family through.
This also isn’t about crime and punishment or “prisoner rights” so much as it’s about who we decide is deserving and undeserving of resources we’ve decided to ration in this world – resources that could be made more plentiful – and therefore whom is allowed to suffer, and for whom is such suffering “unconstitutional”. I know that’s pretty loaded, but I don’t know how you can possibly avoid addressing that in your business, anyway. It seems like a conversation that the larger community should be having together, with the Scott Sisters and their mom participating. Especially now, with state services for the poor being hit so hard across the country.
If you can somehow manage to lead the community in an outreach to that prison – refusing to take no for an answer when you knock on the door – and help connect the women in there with the same kind of educational, medical and peer support that free women might be able to access, you could make an impact on women’s health care in jails and prisons that I could never equal in all my years of community activism. It will improve their likelihood of survival while in prison, their success transitioning back to the community once released from prison, and their sense of human connection if it turns out that they are going to be dying in prison. At least then, perhaps, their last days will be witnessed, and even if they have no family left to grieve them, someone can speak to their struggle and courage. That matters a great deal to people; most of us take it for granted, though.
You are in a unique position to command the attention and respect of people who will just otherwise ignore this family and let Jamie suffer and die. I’m not suggesting that you charge in with any accusations – just please find out from the Scotts’ what’s up, try to find out what health care access is really like for women there, and step back and assess the situation with the MDOC and Wexford
(chronically ill patients who could be maintained for years are a drag on profits, if allowed to linger.)
I suspect diabetes is a major issue for many men and women in prison alike. I have a number of links to research and documents about prisoner health care on my websites (prison Abolitionist and Arizona Prison Watch). Whatever you think you can do yourselves, please see who else there might be natural allies for those women fighting for better health care, and speak publicly to the issue of the treatment of prisoners with kidney disease. I don’t know who else will speak for their health care rights; I’m afraid no one even notices them there. Many more may step up if you do, first, however.
You would be able to articulate the consequences of Jamie not receiving proper care, in a way unlike prisoner activists – most of whom don’t know what it feels like to be toxic and dying. You could gauge better than I could whether or not withholding certain medical options might constitute cruel and unusual punishment; you don’t have to be an attorney to question that – the Supreme Court says the definition changes as society morally evolves. I hope we’ve all come at least this far by now. If Jamie will authorize the prison/medical services provider to discuss her diagnosis, prognosis, and course of planned treatment with you with her, then you would know whether or not she’s been offered treatment that’s consistent with community standards of care. Most importantly, perhaps, if Jamie and her family are at least well-informed, then perhaps they do not need to be quite so afraid. There is already so much for them to be afraid of.
At the very least these women should be fully informed about their illness, treatment options, and rights – not reminded of how expendable and of little value their lives are. They matter to the people who love them, and to those whose lives they’ve touched in positive ways. We have much to be thankful for, out here, to the good souls in prison for life who help others make it through intact, and not on a track right back there. It may well be that Jamie’s crisis is the catalyst that gets so much needed focus on the critically and terminally ill in prison; without her voice, countless others may suffer in invisibility. And her example of survival and resistance is an inspiration to other women living and dying there, too.
There’s more history on this at Mississippi Prison Watch
– the latest post announcing my intent to contact you is in email format below. I received the accompanying note from Jamie Scott’s mother, though, and wanted you to see it – to hear the urgency in her voice as she’s trying to save her daughter’s life. I need to make a personal connection with someone there, to know whether or not you’ll step up on this as an advocate for Jamie and the other women there in terms of their right to access health care. The whole issue of whether or not the state would allow a prisoner to donate a kidney to another prisoner troubles me. Especially while both prisoners still have wrongful conviction cases hanging out there – that seems like taking the chance of executing the innocent.
Please drop us a line and let us know if you can do anything to help on this matter (Call me if you need to if I don’t respond to email; I may not make it back to my computer in the next few days.). You don’t need to comment on their convictions or sentences – no one should be made to suffer needlessly or subjected to substandard medical care when subject to the total custody and control of the state. That’s not a medical or legal judgment – it’s a moral one. It takes mainstream Americans to say that for anyone to listen, however – not left-wing radicals like me.
Thanks for your time and consideration,
cc: Professor Alexander Capron, National Kidney Foundation
American Association of Kidney Patients
National Kidney Disease Education program