I've been corresponding with a prisoner in the NC correctional system for about 2 years. He recently found out that he is HIV+. There are two things that have recently happened to him that I wonder if I can do anything about.
First, the medical staff, even though they know his status, has refused his requests for things like fruit with his meals and some cold weather clothing for exercise outdoors when it's cold. Second, he recently heard that, according to a new case manager, his sentence will last about 4 years longer than he has been told up to now--due to the way that merit time is applied.
Is there anything that one can do from outside the prison to help with either of these situations?
For the accommodations he's seeking because he's HIV+, are there any local prison advocacy groups or HIV advocacy groups you can connect with? (E.g., North Carolina Center for Positive Living, 336-586-0062, firstname.lastname@example.org came up when I did a Google search; Project Inform lists national and regional HIV/AIDS advocacy groups at http://www.projectinform.org/advo/resources.shtml) Local groups with experience with the specific prison your pen-pal is in will be able to give you advice about whether there are specific people in the prison who they've had success dealing with in terms of advocating for prisoners with health concerns (sometimes it is good to go directly to the warden, sometimes a head physician is better - really varies depending on the individuals involved and the structure of the prison).
For the way merit time is applied, I don't know how it works in the US, but here in Canada that is not a prison-by-prison decision -- for people doing longer than 2 years it is a federal issue and so the advocacy needs to happen at that level. Legal aid groups might be a good resource for this as if he wants to put forward a legal challenge he'll benefit from having legal assistance (there might be someone in the prison with substantial experience, sometimes called "jailhouse lawyer", but getting a professional opinion is often the only option) -- Google search again should provide some contact options for legal assistance organizations. Clemency is another option, which is a political lobby -- you can sometimes argue for clemency based on a person's ill health but they have to be in pretty rough shape for early release and it doesn't sound like your pen-pal is at that stage.
There have been various discussions on this board about what pen-pals can realistically do and some interesting discussion about whether or not dharma pen-pals should or shoudn't engage in advocacy -- whether doing so takes away from the special nature of the dharma-based relationship we have. My personal take is that advocacy is sometimes completely appropriate but others have felt it is not so might be worth reading those opinions too for a different perspective.
Best of luck with this. Feel free to write off-board if you want to talk further.
I run and I am part of some prison groups on yahoo, there are some advocates that that just work in certain areas. If you wish I may be able to help, giving names of people I have in my contact list.. i was at one time an advocate.