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The Feds and the Prisoner's Wife - Do Unto Others... as You Please

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Judy White is the wife of former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White, collateral damage in the Feds' prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Judy has never gotten a response to her recent open letter to President Barack Obama, pleading for vital medicine for her husband. Health care reform apparently doesn't apply to political prisoners in need. This interview follows up on a previous interview with Judy on October 13.

Welcome back to OpEdNews, Judy. Our recent interview regarding your husband Gary and his confiscated medications has caused a stir. You've just come back from the prison facility in South Carolina. This was your first one, since the scheduled Columbus Day visit fell through, due to a bureaucratic snafu. What can you tell us?

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Hi, Joan. Columbus Day had never been particularly meaningful to me before this year. As a federal holiday, it was to have been when Gary and I would see each other [for the first time since his incarceration]. It was not, however, a holiday for my office, and I had already used all my leave time when I had surgery. But my employers agreed to allow me to take an unpaid day. Regardless of our dire financial condition, and due to Gary's medical abuse, it was important that I see Gary as soon as possible.

Gary is only allowed visitors Friday evenings, federal holidays, and alternating weekends (Saturdays and Sundays). His first weekend in prison would have been "his" weekend, but he had no visitors because no one had yet been approved. After I began pleading for Gary's prescription medications to be returned to him - with the prison first, before going to anyone and everyone who might listen, including public forums - Gary, suddenly received notice that Friday afternoon that he had no visitors approved. This was after being told he had two people who would be on his visitor list. Our considerable efforts yielded no results, so we were unable to see each other.

It wasn't until late Tuesday, October 12th, that Gary had his approved visitors entered into the system. This [delay] was even though we had sent in our paperwork on September 30th, the day after he was imprisoned, and he had been told on Tuesday before Columbus Day that he had two. Perhaps coincidentally - but perhaps not - it was the first work day after the federal holiday during which our efforts to get Gary's medication restored were publicized at OpEdNews and then picked up by other outlets. Gary sounded so excited when he called to tell me that he had a "Visiting List" and I was on it - you would have thought he had won the lottery! I let the children know, and we began comparing schedules to determine travel times and when and which of us would visit him.

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Everyone in our family has responsibilities to employers, as well as other obligations. Our daughter, for example, provides child care while attending graduate school. She was committed to caring for a family's children for that weekend, and couldn't let them down with such short notice. So we added caring for our pets to her agenda, and decided our son and I would make the first visit, leaving in the wee hours of Saturday morning so we could spend as much time with Gary as possible.

But Friday morning, there was a problem with our home and workers were there to try to fix it. Then our son, who works more an hour away (in the wrong direction), called to say he would have to work late and might not make it until very late that night. So I made the sudden decision that I was going Friday - alone. I quickly threw some essentials in a bag, and, as soon as my presence was no longer required by the workers, I left to visit my husband, going through the drive-through at the bank on the advice of the Sisterhood, who had explained the need to bring five- and one-dollar bills for the vending machines. I filled the gas tank and got on I-20 heading East (one of the most dangerous and deadly stretches of interstate in the Southeast).

Gary, as we've discussed, was imprisoned in South Carolina, despite the judge's order that he be at the Federal Prison Camp closest to our home, which is located in Montgomery, Alabama, 90 miles south. Instead, this prison is more than 300 miles east, and requires going through Atlanta. Gary, along with our congressman and senators, had asked that he be reassigned to Montgomery, but they, like the judge, have been ignored. In Gary's request, he submitted letters from my surgeon and medical doctor which stated it would be harmful to me, because of my medical condition, to travel such a far distance, keeping in mind the Federal Bureau of Prison's claim to be committed to maintaining family and community ties.

Clearly, in Gary's situation, it appears that making it as difficult as possible to maintain such ties, including disregard to the harm to me, is what mattered.

As for my "medical condition," it is no secret that I had major back surgery at the end of May, including the implantation of two bones in my spine, which are intended to fuse and provide stability along with the surgical repairs to the nerve and nerve canal. Driving or riding, or even sitting or staying in a position without moving for extended periods of time is not recommended, and sometimes causes severe pain and other difficulties. Additionally, being a responsible driver means eliminating prescription medications that could affect my driving. Regardless of the risk to myself, Gary had been without his proper prescription medications since the day he was imprisoned, and from speaking with him on the telephone, it was clear he was not doing well. So, the most important thing was to try to take care of him.

Gary and I sing, or I should say, we used to sing. We were members of our church choir and had been rumored to do karaoke from time to time, but we always sang in the car, sometimes along with CDs. It was a good way to learn new songs, and we enjoyed it. My car has several CDs, but I haven't enjoyed really singing or anything else since Gary's imprisonment, especially considering the withholding of his medications. It was strange, and silent, and unbearably sad in the car, but I was on the way to see my husband, so I was okay, until I approached the Georgia state line.

Even though it meant I was one state closer to getting there, when Gary and I travelled, we always kissed on state lines - not yucky, mushy kisses, just State Line Kisses. We also kissed on the Mason-Dixon Line when we crossed it. So crossing into Georgia, and hours later into South Carolina, were "crying" times. I had let my family know of the change in plans and that I was going alone, so they called from time to time to check on me. My mother was terribly concerned about my condition and whether I would be able to manage. And my closest fellow member of the "Sisterhood" called to check on me as well.

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Along the way, I had to stop for more gas and to visit the restroom, and with traffic and accidents, I was delayed and worried. I was trying to get there before 5:00 p.m., because visiting time was supposed to be 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. I hadn't been warned about "government time." 5:00 came and went, with the door locked with the visiting family members waiting in line. The other visitors seemed to be used to it, and were chatting among themselves. I had been warned that visitors were not allowed to talk to each other inside, but I guess the constitution was still in force until we went through the locked door.

I was surprised to hear the other waiting visitors talking about Gary's situation. None of them had ever seen him (or me), but they had become aware of what was going on, thanks to OpEdNews (and other web-based news sources that picked up the story) reporting on the withholding of his medications. I overheard several of them expressing gratitude and hope that maybe this media exposure would bring positive changes. (I also overheard concern about the consequences to Gary, and how mean, vindictive, and retaliatory the prison employees are, especially to anyone who asks questions or makes requests - such as to be provided proper medical care.) But the overwhelming sentiment was hope that perhaps somehow their loved ones' conditions might be looked at and improved. I just had no idea, at that time, what some of those conditions included.

That drive didn't sound like much fun. It's encouraging that OpEdNews coverage of your story even reached the visitors to that federal prison in South Carolina! So what did you find when you finally got in to see Gary, Judy?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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