December 18, 2003 - San Francisco Chronicle
Flaws in the Penal System
'Let My Dying Mom Out of Prison'
By Rashida Edmondson
"I don't want my mommy to die in that place by herself. I want her to come home first so we can hug her and take lots of pictures together. Will you please let her come home before God takes her to His home? Please?" -- Karma Dias, 10
During the holidays, Karma Dias, like most of us, will be
The state could save hundreds of thousands by sending Karma's mother, and others like her, home. After all, it can cost a small fortune to keep a terminally ill person in prison. As our state fights the worst budget crisis in its history, taxpayers are carrying the burden of keeping dying, medically incapacitated people locked away from their families. Meanwhile, the budget for the Department of Corrections budget has been spared from any cuts.
Karma's mother, Beverly Dias, 51, is dying at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla (Madera County). She has 20 months left on a 6-year sentence for possession of 6.3 grams of cocaine. Dias is suffering from a combination of liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver caused by hepatitis C. The only treatment remaining for her is to undergo a liver transplant. But she has been denied transplant eligibility by the transplant team at the University of California at Davis. No female prisoner in the history of California has ever been allowed to obtain an organ transplant. Without the transplant, doctors have declared that Dias will die in the next six months.
Dias is in constant pain and requires significant pain medication to function at a very basic level. She is constantly fatigued and sleeps 14 or 15 hours a day. She is so incapacitated that she is unable to walk to the cafeteria for meals, instead relying on cellmates to bring food for her.
Working with our nonprofit organization, Dias applied to get out of prison early under California's compassionate release law, which allows the early release of prisoners who have less than six months to live and who pose no threat to society. The intent of this law is to allow prisoners to spend their last days with their families and not alone in prison.
Last week, after previously denying her release, the director of the California Department of Corrections, Edward Alameida, reconsidered and recommended Dias for compassionate release. We credit his change of heart to widespread support from the community. Now it is all in the hands of the judge who originally sentenced Dias, Rene Navarro, to approve her release; the case will be decided Friday.
The plea of Beverly's daughter Karma is the plea of all children who wish for their parents to come home to die. We are working with dozens of other women who will die in prison. Their prospects of spending their last days at home are minuscule. In the past two months, two terminally ill women whom we worked with have died in the custody of the corrections department, despite qualifying for compassionate release. They died hospitalized and bed ridden, shackled to their beds and guarded 24 hours a day by security officers earning overtime pay. These deaths followed a 10-day period in July, when three other women we represented died in similar fashion.
Denying terminally ill women in prison the chance to spend
their last days with their families is unacceptable and thwarts
the intent behind the
Beverly Dias' story, while one of hope, highlights our prison system's illogical policies that result in enormous waste of money and human potential. The fact that our state is spending scarce resources to confine dying prisoners is especially troublesome in these rough economic times.
The approaching holiday season is a time for family, compassion and goodwill. At this time, Dias needs to go home. It is cruel and inhumane to deny a 10-year-old child's simple wish that her mother come home to die.
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