If David Isberg can beat cancer, why not the prison bureaucracy?

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Medical treatment for prisoners and halfway-house residents can be tough to swallow.

Health care inside prison walls can be downright criminal, a situation we’ve chronicled in some detail in our Crime and Punishment Archive. But the care can actually be worse for parolees, since the Colorado Department of Corrections expects them to land jobs with health benefits and cuts off care entirely, while halfway houses don’t do anything to augment the lack of a basic safety net for the jobless.

Naomi Zeveloff explored this phenomenon in "Death Sentence," a 2007 article that focused the plight of halfway house resident David Isberg. While serving a three-year marijuana conviction in a private prison, Isberg found blood in his urine. By the time he received a diagnosis of bladder cancer, he was in a Denver halfway house and no longer under the system’s flimsy umbrella of care. He couldn’t afford treatment until he’d worked at his job for three months, by which time his condition had grown much worse. Isberg ended up flunking his parole and went back in prison, where he could at least receive critical care.

Recently Isberg seems to be on the mend. He now bills himself as a bladder cancer survivor ("at least so far"), health care advocate and "freedom fighter."

In a series of letters written from the Boulder County Jail to Westword and a loose-knit group of observers best known as "To Whom It Might Concern," he reports that he is suing the state over the lack of care for halfway-house residents and has founded an organization, the Medical Care For All Association. "We are currently looking for volunteers," he writes. "We need a web-page designer for our newsletter, a writer for our interest stories and an interviewer. I also need law students looking for volunteer work for political activities and help in my lawsuit... Our goal is universal health care and guaranteed employment for all people in the USA."

Well, there’s something to be said for thinking big. For more on prison health care issues, see our prior articles in the archive, notably "Death on the Installment Plan" and "The Needle and the Damage Done." -- Alan Prendergast

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