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.
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.
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:
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.
Follow Bil Browning on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bilerico