Bil Browning

TAKE ACTION: We Need a Christmas Miracle for Betsie Gallardo

Filed By Bil Browning | December 23, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Living
Tags: Betsie Gallardo, Christmas miracle, HIV/AIDS discrimination, prison system, spitting on a cop

Folks, we need a Christmas miracle and we need it today. Get out your cell because you're about to start crying and then start making phone calls.

Betsie Gallardo was a dying HIV+ Haitian child when missionary Jessica Bussert adopted both Betsie and her sister, Germaine. Betsie grew up in one of Haiti's worst slums where she was regularly sexually abused by a local policeman. Jessica brought the two girls home to America and Betsie responded well to treatment and has grown into a beautiful young woman - a ballet dancer.

Betsie moved to Florida recently and was in a car accident. When the emergency responders arrived, she flashed back to the horrendous abuse she suffered at the hands of that Haitian policeman and resisted arrest. She spit at a cop. The state of Florida sentenced her to five years in prison for battery on a police officer using spit as a deadly weapon - even though it isn't possible to transmit HIV through saliva.

Betsie has now been diagnosed with stage four cancer and is dying. After she didn't contact her family for over a week, her family traveled to Florida to check on her and discovered that doctors had discovered an inoperable bowel blockage. Betsie is unable to take in any food and is slowly starving to death in prison. The state has decided to refuse Betsie IV nutrition saying, "She's going to die sooner or later."

The Broward Correctional Institution warden has allowed her family to visit with her twice in the infirmary but was notified yesterday that there will be no more "special consideration." Since Betsie is too ill to have visitors during normal visiting hours, her family has been barred from seeing her. Their request to be at her bedside as she died was also denied.

After a childhood filled with misery at the hands of local authorities, the state of Florida has sentenced her to die alone and in pain for a "crime" that basic science proves spurious.

How you can help after the jump.

Read Jessica's heartfelt plea for help below. There are phone numbers and e-mail addresses at the end so you can assist this family be together one last time at Christmas. Please call and demand that the state let Betsie go home to die and then share this post widely to help draw attention to her case.

Let's help Betsie come home for Christmas so she can die in peace surrounded by those who showed this poor abused young woman love when no one else would.

Dear Friends and Family,

I'm writing you this evening because I need your help. Well, more accurately, our daughter Betsie who is in the end stages of her battle with cancer needs your help.

Many of you are already aware of most if not all of the details regarding Betsie's situation. That said I'm going to quickly sum up things for those of you with a few holes in your knowledge.

Betsie was born HIV+ and was orphaned along with her sister Germaine back when the girls were 3 and 4. They spent the next 7 years growing up in Cité Soleil, Haiti, which is by far the poorest slum on this side of the planet. During those years Betsie was repeatedly abused in all the worst ways that a young girl could be so abused. A local Haitian cop who lived down the street was often the first in line to take a turn at the child who would later become my daughter.

I met Betsie in 1993 during my second mission trip to Haiti. At the time she was both a worker and a patient at a clinic for sick and malnourished children. She was very, very thin when we met and the doctors shared with me that she didn't have much time left to live. As He often does, God had other ideas. Betsie and her sister Germaine came into our home shortly thereafter.

A few new AIDS meds had just come on the market and Betsie responded miraculously. Within a few years we were visiting the hospital less and less because of all the various opportunistic infections. Correspondingly, Betsie's strength gradually improved to the point that she eventually joined the local ballet company and performed with them for many years.

I wish that I could say that everything was rosy and happy ever after, but that would be a lie. The wounds our children received went very deep and left painful scars on their souls. Like most of us, Betsie made a few stupid mistakes here and there as she grew up and learned her way in life. As a young adult she moved to Florida to be closer to her half-brother who was living in Naples at the time. About a year later and after getting into a fight with a boy she was seeing, Betsie took a Xanax and then got behind the wheel. The accident that followed was mild and no one else was involved.

As the police and emergency workers responded, Betsie flashed back to her earlier encounters with the cop in Haiti and went into a panic. That's when my little five-foot-nothing dancer of a daughter decided to resist arrest. Things later went from bad to worse when the local prosecutor learned that Betsie is HIV+. The State of Florida considers those who are positive to be something akin to a deadly weapon and they proceeded to throw the book at her. Just over a year ago Betsie was sentenced to five years in prison. Her crime? Spitting on a cop while intoxicated.

If the story ended there it would be bad enough. Last April after visiting the prison medical center for pains in her stomach, Betsie was diagnosed with stage 4 gallbladder cancer that had already spread to her liver, lungs, and ovaries. By the time they found it, the cancer was already incurable.

We immediately started the process to have Betsie released based upon compassionate medical reasons. We wanted to give her the chance to die at home, surrounded by those who love her, instead of alone in some heartless prison. Our first request to the parole commission failed. Our second request to the Governor's office likewise failed. All the while Betsie's health was deteriorating further and further and we were nowhere closer to getting her home.

Three days ago I called down to the prison doctor to check up on Betsie. We hadn't heard from our daughter for about a week and were getting more and more worried. Our fears ended up being justified. Betsie had developed what the prison described as an inoperable bowel blockage. According to the doctor she is no longer able to take in food and from this point forward she will slowly starve to death.

As soon as we learned this news Sharon and I were in the car and headed to Florida. On the way we stopped and picked up Germaine and Rebecca. The four of us drove straight through and after about 26 hours on the road we arrived at the prison. Based upon the special circumstances we were allowed to see Betsie for about an hour and a half that first day and then again for about an hour this morning. We're somewhat doubtful that we will be allowed any further visits from here on out. According to the warden, we had received special consideration already and no more allowances would be made. While there are "normal" visiting hours, these don't normally apply for inmates with illnesses. When asked about being with her when her time finally came, the warden said absolutely not.

Betsie has been sentenced to die in prison. Why? Because she was born with AIDS and spit on a cop. It was definitely a stupid action, but was it one that warranted that she should die locked up, alone, and away from her family?

As many of you know, I just recently finished nursing school and am now a graduate RN. I have the skills and resources to bring Betsie home and care for her in her last days. We've already made arrangements with the local hospice organizations. We've even completely redone the back bedroom to make it more conducive to caring for our daughter. We're ready now but in spite of all this the State of Florida has decided that Betsie ought to die behind bars.

We need your help to get her home. I'd like you to forward this email to all your friends and family, and I'd like each and every last one of you to call the Governor's office to request that he grant our appeal before Christmas. Following the rules hasn't gotten us anywhere. Perhaps hounding them will. For those of you involved in the media, I'd love it if you could spread the word in those circles as well. Perhaps a few well-placed news stories might also get these folks off their butts.

Below are all the contact names and numbers that you will most likely need. My email is also listed in case you have any urgent questions and need to get in touch with me directly. Please understand if I'm a little slow to respond. Life is upside down right now and I'm not sure it's ever going to be put right again.

With Love,
Jessica

Please take a moment to share this post on Facebook, tweet it, e-mail it or just spread it around via word of mouth. And when you've done that, do the most important part - contact the Executive Clemency Commission with the information below.

NOTE: When calling the four members of the Executive Clemency Commission, please reference the following:

Inmate Name: Betsie Gallardo at Broward Correctional Institution
Inmate DC#: Y42277

Please tell them: "It is already a crime that Betsy has spent time in jail for HIV-stigma and discrimination. I urge Florida's Executive Clemency Commission to grant Betsy Gallardo a medical clemency to allow her to go home to her family and die with dignity and respect.

The Executive Clemency Commission:

Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida
(850) 488-4441
E-mail: charlie.crist@myflorida.com
http://www.flgov.com/contact_governor

Bill McCollum, Attorney General
(850) 414-3300
Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum
www.myfloridalegal.com/contact

Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Click here to e-mail Mr. Bronson
(850) 488-3022
http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/

Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services
commissioner@doacs.state.fl.us
(850) 413-3100
http://www.myfloridacfo.com/

After you call, please keep us updated in the comments section with what the various officials tell you. And don't forget to share this widely.

We need a Christmas miracle for Betsie Gallardo. She only has days to live and she's suffered enough.

UPDATE: Just in from Florida's Department of Corrections:

We are acutely aware of Betsie Gallardo's situation. The department recommended Inmate Gallardo for a conditional medical release in October which was turned down by the Florida Parole Commission. Yesterday we received a request from the Parole Commission for an updated medical report for their February meeting. Betsie is allowed visitors in the infirmary and her parents visited on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Broward CI Warden Jennifer Folsom said that if the parents wish to see this inmate, they need only call the Warden's office and they will be allowed for visit her as they have been in the past. We will make sure the Parole Commission has whatever they need to make their determination.

You can reach the Parole Commission at 850-488-1293. You can sign a petition demanding Governor Crist release Betsie at change.org.

Reports have flooded my inbox lately with updates from various activists, politicians and kind-hearted people disturbed by Betsie's story. The Florida Independent has done a front page story on Betsie's situation and the Miami Herald has interviewed Jessica for a story tomorrow morning. The word is spreading and the pressure is working.

Thank you for your help. I can hear Santa's bells jingling at this point; let's help him land on the roof now.

Read All of Betsie Gallardo's story at The Bilerico Project:


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After being on hold at the Governor's office for 11 minutes, I was given the opportunity to leave a message. I did so, and would urge everyone else to as well.

I'm making calls and am in quite the bureaucractic runaround. The government offices say it has to start with Broward's doctor. The doctor yelled at me (even though I was very polite), and said it was a parole issue. After a few more calls, I think the number we're looking for is 850-488-1293. It's for the Parole Commission. Apparently the woman we need to talk to is named Shane. I hope this helps.

I made calls and submitted the story to pretty much every tumblr I could think of in order to show more people. I hope it helps

Florida State Representative Daphne Campbell, a registered nurse and Haitian-immigrant, is personally taking on this challenge.

She was deeply moved and outraged when she learned of Betsie's struggle.

Sierra Bellum | December 23, 2010 10:16 PM

You were absolutely right Bil. I did start crying.

I hope that with the holidays this gets all the attention it deserves.

Thanks for putting the word out on this, Bil.

hey, bil: it looks like you have a couple errors in the contact list.

alex sink's email is actually Alex.Sink@myfloridacfo.com, and the commissioner@doacs.state.fl.us email addy is correct for charles bronson, not sink.

i'm posting on this now, and i'm hopeful that some good can come out of all of this.

Andrea Cherez | December 28, 2010 11:41 AM

From: Andrea Cherez
Subject: Inmate Betsie Gallardo at Broward Correctional Institution, Inmate DC#: Y42277
Date: December 28, 2010 11:33:08 AM EST
To: JeffreyRigdon@fpc.state.fl.us
Cc: Charlie.Crist@myflorida.com


Florida Parole Commission

Attn: Comm. Tate, Chair.
Comm. David, V-Chair.
Comm. Jenkins, Sec.

Re: Inmate Betsie Gallardo at Broward Correctional Institution
Inmate DC#: Y42277

Though I've never met Betsie Gallardo, I can't helped but be moved by the tragic story
of this young woman. News of her plight reached many of us all over the country this
past holiday weekend. At a time when we all strive to be more compassionate to each
other, it seems especially cruel to bear witness to such a premature and painful death
behind bars, without doing all that's possible to alleviate any more unnecessary suffer-
ing.

From what I can gather, Betsie has been incarcerated for just over two years. This 5'2"
woman was 25 when she freaked out after being questioned at a minor traffic accident.
She apparently bit and/or spit at a police officer. She's also HIV+, a fact that was judged
to make her act way more serious than science would dictate.

Attacking a police officer is, and should be, a serious crime and Ms. Gallardo has spent
considerable time in jail. Now fate has conspired to take her life way too early. There can be
no greater punishment. Just as we'd treat even a death row inmate humanely, we ought
to ease the suffering of this poor, young woman immediately.

I appreciate that the Florida Parole Commission has moved up her hearing date to January 5th
to consider an early release for medical reasons. Unfortunately, Betsie Gallardo may not still
be alive. At this time of year, especially, compassion should trump procedure. Please find a
way to release her tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Andrea Cherez
Boston, MA