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I've written a couple of articles recently, here and here, about CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling and his battle to get adequate medical care while incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institution at Englewood, Colorado. Jeffrey has a history of atrial fibrillation. He has had several medical "episodes" in prison related to his heart, and prison officials have refused to allow him to see an outside cardiologist or to go to a hospital for tests.
Jeffrey's wife, Holly Sterling, told me in an email on Sunday that Jeffrey appears to have suffered a heart attack. She said:
"Things continue to get worse for Jeffrey. He had another episode today and had to go to the medic. He was playing darts and began sweating profusely, heart pounding, and chest pain. Jeffrey was informed, for the first time, of his blood work results. He has high levels of Troponin. A Troponin test measures the levels of Troponin T or Troponin I proteins in the blood. These proteins are released when the heart muscle has been damaged, such as occurs with a heart attack. The more damage there is to the heart, the greater the amount of Troponin T and I there will be in the blood."
Prison medical officials told Jeffrey two weeks ago that they would take him out to see a specialist, but that never happened. They told Jeffrey recently that it was the cardiologist who had cancelled the visit, a very unlikely proposition. In the meantime, he was forced to initiate something called the "Administrative Remedy Process," which theoretically would force the warden to take action to help him. More on that in a moment.
Holly Sterling has been tireless in her work to get her husband to a cardiologist. She asked Jeffrey's sentencing judge, Leonie Brinkema, to intervene. Brinkema refused. She then enlisted the support of Norman Solomon's Roots Action, which has asked supporters to call Warden Deborah Denham at 303-763-4300. In addition to the warden, Solomon recommends contacting the Bureau of Prisons' North Central Regional Office by calling Sara M. Revell at 913-621-3939 or writing to her at NCRO/ExecAssistant@bop.gov. Our grass roots pressure may be the only thing that gets Jeffrey Sterling to a cardiologist. It could save his life.
The above is most certainly NOT what the Bureau of Prisons wants you to do. They argue that there is an Administrative Remedy Process in place, and that the only way Jeffrey will get any attention -- if, they say, he deserves any at all -- is to go through the process. Let me explain what this corrupt, backward, and probably illegal system entails.
If a federal prisoner has a problem -- any problem, whether it's with a rude staff member, a complaint about conditions, or a medical problem -- he must fill out a form called a BP-8.5. He writes out his complaint, and the form then goes to the person the prisoner is complaining about. The staff member has one week to respond. Of course, no staff member is going to say, "My bad. You got me. Sorry. We'll fix this." So the prisoner then fills out a form BP-9. That goes to the warden, who has four weeks to respond. But again, no warden is going to side with a prisoner over a staff member.
The prisoner then fills out a form BP-10, which goes to the nearest BOP Regional Office. The director there has three months to respond. But regional directors, logically, will support their wardens, not a prisoner. Once the prisoner loses there, he fills out a BP-11, which goes to BOP Headquarters in Washington. Headquarters has six months to respond.
The whole process, then, takes just under a year. But the BOP has two more tricks up its sleeve. First, they backdate their responses. So if the warden has to respond by September 1, let's say, but he doesn't actually respond until October 15, he just backdates the response to September 1. So in reality, the process takes more than a year. And a second tactic is if the prisoner actually has a legitimate grievance, the BOP will just transfer him to another prison. He then has to start the process all over again.
To make matters even worse, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, coupled with a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding it, has mandated that all prisoners must exhaust the Administrative Remedy Process before they can file a lawsuit.
Jeffrey Sterling doesn't have the luxury of time. He needs help immediately. Please pick up your phone and demand treatment for him.