I hope this letter finds you well. My name is Michael. I am a fifty-something former landscaper contractor from San Diego—a man whose broad commitment to family, community and tradition stands oddly comforted against the sentence of death I remain faced with here in San Quentin State Prison. I am condemned to die for my alleged role in the mid-2000 murder conspiracy of my (then) live-in girlfriend, Tamra.
Once accepting of this grim scenario, it became far less difficult to accept who I am. Equally significant, however, was discovering some semblance of purpose and the ever poignant "why?"
Lung cancer ended my father's precious life in 2016. His battle was short, but no less painful or profound. In our last earthly chat, his strained voice whispered, "A man can preach a much better sermon with his life than with his lips."
Still ever brilliant and fearless through death, he explained that our tolerant humanity regularly takes fate for granted—that we must live for today, plan for tomorrow, and remember yesterday. By design, we should find a way to leave our mark upon this world, however slight. My fate and plight are ones which society tends to ignore. While pursuing the "why," I had become tasked with the equally humble question of "how?"
Lost in certain of my daily reading, I stumbled upon some unique legal statistics that swirled around in my brain like an errant tornado for days. As it turns out, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is responsible for housing a tiny 10+/-% of the national prison population. The other 90% of prisoners in America are spread across the country (in state custody).
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (feds) have a time-tested and well-oiled protocol in place which permits federal prisoners (that tiny 10 or so percent of the nation's prison population) to donate living vital organs, tissue, and bone marrow to biological match-worthy immediate family members in need of life-saving transplants. Who knew that an inducement free living organ donation policy for prisoners to save a family member's life might be a good idea?
Let me tell you who don't know. Every state prison system—including California. Are you sitting down?
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has assembled what they refer to as the Advanced Health Care Directive. It is made available to California state prisoners by the medical department at each facility upon request. There are nearly 40 prisons in California.
Part III of said medical directive pertains to inmate organ donation. At no time are any of California state prisoners permitted to donate living vital organs or tissues. In fact, Part III specifies quite clearly that all donations will be made posthumously. Meaning, that a prisoner may only donate an organ in the event of his or her death.
How this apathetic oversight purports to serve the nation's citizens is beyond me. The ironic absurdity is that our states take life, labor, income and time from the imprisoned while emphasizing that every prisoner "rehabilitate" themselves. The very word rehabilitation is in the prison system's title. To what end?
I argue that many prisoners share in the sentiment where the rationale for incarceration stems from a responsibility to repay our debts to society through restitution, rehabilitation, and punishment.
My great angst with all of this is in having discovered that if California had been remotely willing to simply create a protocol modeled after the existing Federal Bureau of Prison's living inmate organ donation policy for immediate family members, my father would still be alive today. I would have given him one of my lungs—no questions asked.
That said, upwards of 25 Americans die each day while awaiting the gift of a life-saving transplant when, no doubt, more than ample resources exist. Is this how our government answers the call when protecting its citizens?
Fast forward several years. One of my letters would ring within the ears of State Senator Cathleen Galgiani. Senate Bill SB1419 would soon follow and find success up through the first three layers of Senate consideration. Unfortunately, when SB1419 reached the Appropriations Committee, there was very little breath left in it. The CDCR had simply refused to implement nor fund such an effort while real lives hung in the balance.
My hope is to reopen the narrative with people like you. To evoke visceral, vocal, and visible participation from families, activists, academics, and legal circles—people ready to replace destruction with life. A galvanization of sorts.
I want to dispel the myth whereby prisoners are without redemption—devoid of civic responsibility through social action and political awareness. I would truly like to get beyond the conversation's obvious impasse where so many have claimed to be torn between: "keep me posted" and "keep it to yourself."
Not long ago, we met with 60 Minutes and interviewed for a segment on this subject. There are a couple of outdated yet still available online venues you might peek at. Please listen to our audio project scope and/or follow our Twitter page.
But for this project's promise and potential, we may never have learned of the judicial fallibilities and hurdles which stand in the way while the sick (our family members) languish in numbers that far outstrip national supply for match-worthy living donors.
The closer we all are to death, the harder we cling to life.
I welcome advise, comments, suggestions, and participation on every front. Postage permitting, this snail mail campaign prevails. The longer we remain silent and invisible, the truth stays hidden. Thank you.
San Quentin, CA 94964
Senate Bill: tinyurl.com/sb1419
60 Minutes: www.bit.ly/2d0m2hS
These procedures apply to inmates currently incarcerated in the Bureau, not to posthumous donations:
Organ donation is only permitted when the recipient is a member of the inmate donor's immediate family (parents, siblings, and biological children).
Hospitalizations or fees involved will not be at the Government's expense including all costs associated with guarding the inmate at off-site facilities. This includes the U.S. Marshals Service.
The inmate must sign a statement indicating the desire to donate an organ at a specific relative. The consent must state the following:
* The inmate understands the possible dangers of the operation.
* The inmate agrees of his/her own free will.
* The Government will not be held responsible for any complications or financial responsibilities.
When an inmate is appropriately designated as community custody, the inmate may request consideration for a medical furlough, in accordance with the Program Statement on Inmate Furloughs.
The local institution will coordinate procedures such as transportation, custody, classification, compatibility determinations, evaluation, hospitalization, furlough status, etc.
Inmates are not authorized to donate blood or blood products.
Inmates may not list themselves as posthumous organ donors while incarcerated.
Any exception to the above will be considered by the Medial Director on a case by case basis.
The Bureau will consider organ transplantation as a treatment option for inmates in accordance with the following procedures:
When an CD at an institution determines it is medically necessary to evaluate an inmate's suitability for an organ transplant, he or she will initiate an organ transplant laboratory/specialist consultant work-up at the institution.
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