It’s time to bring former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi home, even if home means the Federal Bureau of Prisons medical center at Fort Devens.
DiMasi is currently being treated for Stage 4 throat and tongue cancer at a federal prison medical center in Butner, N.C. An already distressing situation for DiMasi’s family has turned heart wrenching, as his wife and children must travel 700 miles in order to visit him. Consequently, they are able to make the trip no more than once a month.
DiMasi is physically a shell of his former self. He has lost more than 50 pounds and takes liquid nourishment through a feeding tube. He has gone through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy and suffered bouts of pneumonia related to his cancer.
The disease has weakened him considerably. If he is too weak to make it to the visiting room, he cannot see his loved ones even after they make the long trip.
The cancer reached this advanced stage, according to documents filed in federal court by DiMasi’s attorney, after federal prison medical officials waited four months to run tests to determine if lumps on DiMasi’s neck were malignant. DiMasi had raised concerns about the lumps shortly after his incarceration. At that time, he was being held in a federal facility in Kentucky.
After his highly-publicized trial and conviction on a corruption charge, which is currently under appeal, DiMasi was sentenced in September 2011 to serve an eight-year prison term. At sentencing, US District Court Judge Mark Wolf recommended that DiMasi serve his term at Devens in nearby Ayer, noting that the former House Speaker had a pre-existing heart condition and that his wife, Debbie, had recently undergone a bilateral mastectomy due to her own cancer.
Judge Wolf acknowledged at the time that the Bureau of Prisons would ultimately decide where DiMasi should serve his sentence. The bureau rejected the judge’s recommendation and sent DiMasi to Lexington, Ky. This decision and the subsequent transfer to North Carolina have created extreme hardship for Debbie DiMasi and her children.
As the head of a correctional facility for the past 14 years, I have tried to work with families in comparable situations whenever possible. This is not coddling an inmate; it’s being compassionate to that caring family.
Why should it be any different in the case of DiMasi?
I am not the first to call for DiMasi and his family to be treated humanely. Mayor Thomas Menino and a host of newspaper columnists and commentators have made similar pleas. In an editorial on March 22, the Boston Globe went even further, saying DiMasi deserves consideration to have his sentence commuted for “extraordinary and compelling reasons — what is commonly known as ‘compassionate release’’
While he was speaker, DiMasi successfully fought for passage of a law making Massachusetts a national stem cell research center. He fought to increase suicide prevention funding to unprecedented levels. And he fought to enact the state’s universal health care law that became the model for its national counterpart.
Now DiMasi is fighting for his life. His wife and his children desperately want to help him win this fight. They should not be forced to travel to North Carolina every time they want to show their love and support.
It’s time for Sal DiMasi to come home.Michael G. Bellotti is sheriff of Norfolk County.