One Bright Spot

Earlier this week I read that Lynne Stewart, the radical lawyer who is serving a ten-year prison for distributing press releases on behalf of a client who was convicted of terrorist conspiracy, had been recommended for compassionate release to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  Lynne, a 73-year-old grandmother is terminally ill with stage IV breast cancer.  Later I heard that although the Warden at her prison had recommended this release, the Federal Bureau of Prisons had denied it.  I don’t know whether she’ll be granted compassionate release any time soon.

Lynne was originally sentenced to 28 months by her trial judge, but after a panel of Appeals Court Judges ruled that sentence inadequate, the original judge increased her sentence to ten years.  Interviewed recently by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Lynne stated:

“Interestingly enough, we found out later that the Clinton administration, under Janet Reno, had the option to prosecute me, and they declined to do so, based on the notion that without lawyers like me or the late Bill Kunstler or many that I could name, the cause of justice is not well served. They need the gadflies….

And it was only after 9/11, in April of 2002, that John Ashcroft came to New York, announced the indictment of me, my paralegal and the interpreter for the case, on grounds of materially aiding a terrorist organization.”

This treatment, coupled with Lynne’s decades of zealous representation of the poor and victims of government repression, convinced the RFC Board of Directors that Lynne fit our guidelines as a targeted progressive activist.

Of course, it would be better for Lynne to be released to Sloan Kettering, than for her to remain in prison.  But even if that takes place her prospects look grim.  It is terrifying to know that our court system is filled with vindictive judges, like those on the Appeals Court who essentially forced the trial judge to more than quadruple Lynne’s sentence. 

While it is not universally true, I can’t help feeling that our nation has become increasingly nasty.  The military kills people in many parts of the world both at close range and by remote control.  Domestically, unprecedented numbers of civilians arm themselves in supposed self-defense, while others engage in slaughter in movie theaters, schools and on our streets.  The Courts lock away millions for decades in God-awful prisons.  The same Courts take no effective action when we detain other people without charge or hope for so long that the only way they can fight back is to stop eating.  In response, their jailors brutally force feed these tormented victims.

Meanwhile, our political leaders lecture others on proper behavior and laud our commitment to democracy, justice and human rights.  This is hypocrisy of such towering proportions that it makes me apoplectic.

It is such a distressing set of circumstances, and yet, I spotted a ray of light through the gloom.  The picture that accompanied the transcript of Amy Goodman’s interview with Lynne Stewart was of a smiling Lynne holding a young child.  This resonated with me, not only because my grandchildren and those of others always bring a smile to my face, but also because a Rosenberg Fund for Children grant provided the funds that enabled Lynne to be reunited with young family members.  And I knew that it wasn’t just our action, but the generosity of thousands of other good-hearted people in the RFC community that made such prison hugs possible.

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