Editors' note: Guest blogger Jessica Bussert is the mother of Betsie Gallardo. The Bilerico Project was instrumental in getting Betsie released from a Florida prison recently. Jessica lives with her wife, Sharon, in Indiana.
After perhaps the most stressful month of my life Betsie and I are now finally getting settled into a routine in our little log cabin back in Indiana. My daughter is now getting her own room sorted out just the way she likes it, with all her new clothes in the dresser and hanging up in the closet and her shoes aligned in a nice little row against the wall. At least half of those shoes are very impractical high heels and sandals, but she loved them when she saw them and I don't have it in me to deny her much of anything. Maybe the Indiana cold and mud will teach her a lesson than I was unwilling to offer myself.
In the last few days we've managed to get her signed up with the local home hospice folks and we've made the required trips to the doctor's office, pharmacies, and the various social service providers. We've also visited the thrift stores and made the obligatory run over to Targette, that lovely little boutique that most of you know as Target. The weather here is quite a bit different than down in sunny Miami, and what with another blizzard headed our way we needed to get Betsie stocked up on a few more warm clothes.
As for myself, one of the nicest aspects of our return is the fact that I once again have Sharon by my side. She and I don't do well when we spend too much time apart and after more than twenty years together we've become each other's rock and source of strength.
I have also been able to finally start to catch up on a little bit of sleep. It seems like the whole last month I've been living on caffeine. This ol' body of mine just can't do that as well as it could in my twenties.
I'm also looking forward to returning to my own church. Faith has been the only thing that has gotten each of us this far, and it's the only thing that is going to see us through the rest of this journey as well.
Now that we are safely away from the clutches of the State of Florida I need to offer a few thoughts on that rather draconian Southern regime. Before I get started on my rant, I want to make it clear once again that we've met some amazing, loving, and compassionate people down south, including quite a few in the legislature. Unfortunately, these people are still in the minority while those with more hardened hearts and misinformed views are the ones who are managing to make the majority of the laws. These comments are directed to that latter group.
First off, you can't get AIDS from spit! Any damn fool with half a brain knows this. Just take a look at the CDC's own website if you want to doubt my words. I can share a meal with Betsie, drink from the same straw, hug her while she is crying, and even wipe her runny nose, all without fear of becoming infected. I can even clean her face after a bloody nose or bandage up a skinned knee without worry, as long as I use the same precautions that I'd use with any other person in the same situation. For non-sexually involved people, AIDS needs blood-to-blood contact to be a concern, and even then there are dozens of diseases that are much more dangerous and contagious than AIDS.
Being born with AIDS should not be a criminal offense. According to the World Heath Organization, between 250,000 to 500,000 people died from influenza in 2009. Using the same twisted logic as Florida uses for AIDS, should we now arrest anyone who sneezes in public or leaves their home when they have a fever? Isn't it just as obvious that these disease-carrying weaponized people are putting the rest of us God-fearing folk at risk? Heck, they don't even need to sneeze on us to endanger us! Just touching an elevator button or opening a door leaves their deadly germs laying in wait to spring on us unsuspecting souls.
My point is simple. The problem here is not the actual threat. The problem here is sound-bite seeking politicians pandering to a misinformed and ignorant population. Come on, people, get a clue! Isn't it about time that we stop letting fear rule our lives and start making intelligent and informed decisions?
The second thing I need to shout about is the fact that prisoners of the state are not trash to be disposed of when they become inconvenient or expensive. Regardless of their offense, when we take someone into custody we have the moral and legal obligation to provide for their basic human needs. This includes food, shelter, and medical care.
Many of the same idiots who called for my daughter to "rot in prison" are the same gun-toting NRA members who would rather die shooting than give up their guns. They are the first ones to scream "Constitution" and "Second Amendment" when someone wants to limit their access to assault rifles. But what about my daughter's Eighth Amendment rights? Remember that whole "cruel and unusual punishment" thing? Most thinking people believe that denying someone access to food and life-saving drugs is cruel and even our own Supreme Court has defended these rights.
What I believe happened is that the prison doctor who was entrusted with the care of my daughter just saw her as an expensive item on an already tight budget and decided to toss her away like a piece of trash.
Aggressive cancer care is expensive. So is IV nutrition and AIDS medication. That said, when we take away a persons freedom for any reason, right or wrong, we also deny them the ability to earn their own living and support themselves. What the Supreme Court ruled is that if we are going to keep someone from paying for their own healthcare, then we the state must pay for it ourselves.
The final point that I'd like to make regards the gross discrepancies in sentencing and care that my daughter received compared to what others have been given. I won't belabor the point other than saying that I believe a rich, white, and healthy kid who committed the same crime as my daughter would have been walking the streets the next day. The fact that my daughter is a poor Haitian woman with AIDS made her a target in the eyes of the judicial system.
Think I'm lying? About the same time as Betsie's offense occurred, former Miss Nevada, beauty-pageant queen Katie Rees, allegedly attacked a cop after a drunken traffic stop. The maximum sentence she was facing was six months, but even that got waved away after her expensive lawyer got her a decent plea bargain. She ended up paying a $1000 fine.
And for an example a little closer to home, let me offer the story of Thomas Weaver from south Florida. After a fight with his girlfriend, Mr. Weaver, who is white and healthy, assaulted and tossed hot coffee in the face of a cop. His sentence? 24 months probation.
Ok, so that's enough ranting for one day and I think I've succeeded in making my points anyway. The system is messed up, as if you didn't know that already.
I'd like to end on a more positive note. Here are a few of the people who manage to get things right, and I'd like to personally thank them right now.
At the top of the list I'd like to thank Michael Rajner. Michael didn't know any of us from Adam when I first arrived in South Florida almost four weeks ago. As soon as he learned of Betsie's plight he sprung into gear and hasn't stopped working on her behalf since. Michael is an amazing social activist, but from here on out I'll be pleased and blessed to call him friend as well.
Next I'd like to thank Reps Daphne Campbell, RN, Hazelle Rogers, Ari Porth, and all the other lawmakers who made calls and wrote letters in support of Betsie. If you ever find yourself in a bind you couldn't do much better than to get these folks in your corner.
I'd like to thank Bil Browning, Todd Heywood, Ted Scouten, Joan Murray, and all the other members of the media who did such a great job getting the word out while keeping the focus of the story where it needed to be kept. Never underestimate the power of the media!
I also need to offer an extra special thanks to the staff of the hospice where we've been staying for the last week, and to all the healthcare workers, guards, and prison administrators who continued to look at my daughter as a person with feelings and dignity and not just some piece of human refuse. Blessed are they who show mercy, for mercy shall be theirs.
Finally, thanks to all of the rest of you who have kept Betsie and myself in your thoughts and prayers. The blessings that we have received would not have been possible without your continued help and support. May God bless you and keep you and shine His light down upon you.
Read All of Betsie Gallardo's story at The Bilerico Project: