It is with both sadness and rage that we announce today that our friend and fellow organizer, Alexander Phillips, has been denied his petition for compassionate release. Out of respect for Alex and his family, we have been withholding releasing a statement for several months now, as state officials had given promises and reassurances they never intended to fulfill to Alex and his loved ones. It is clear that this was designed simply to minimize public pressure.

Over a year ago, Alex developed severe, crippling pain in his abdomen, around his intestinal tract. Given the frequency and severity of gastrointestinal problems in a facility whose water is loaded with rust and heavy metals like manganese, nursing staff and guards dismissed Alex’s severe pain up until about fourth months ago, when Alex was finally allowed to see a qualified physician outside of the Department of Correction. This physician discovered nearly immediately that Alex had stage 4 metastatic pancreatic and colon cancer. Upon prognosis, he was given six months to live.

Immediately after this discovery, his mother, an oncology nurse, appealed directly to the warden and the state. State officials said that Alex was a possible candidate for the new law that ostensibly offers compassionate release to dying prisoners. While waiting, Alex’s pain has become so severe and debilitating that he has lost the ability to walk freely and has been confined to a wheelchair, receiving aggressive chemotherapy treatments. At the compassionate release hearing, DOC Commissioner Thomas Turco cited Alex’s ability to still walk (on days that he is not confined to a bed) as evidence that he is “not impaired enough for release.”

It is important to understand that this judgement comes from a system wholly responsible for Alex’s situation. While it would be difficult to prove a causal relationship between the toxic water at MCI-Norfolk and the cancer, it is important to know that Alex was in excellent condition upon being sentenced to prison. This means that it almost certainly developed in the interceding 8 years that Alex has been incarcerated.

Oncologists and public health officials have long noted the survival rate rapidly rises for those who are able to get cancer diagnoses quickly and early in the first stages of the development of the disease. This same survival rate drops rapidly the longer someone is forced to wait to access qualified medical care. Aside from the fact that the toxic conditions at MCI-Norfolk almost certainly put an added strain on Alex’s already struggling gastric and immune systems, the sheer wait ensured that no matter how aggressive the treatment, an eventual diagnosis would be a death sentence.

Alex is 31. As of right now, he has 3 more years to serve on his sentence.

We are calling on everyone in our networks, and those with whom we have yet to work and struggle to join us in a collective cry of rage and anger at a system that does not believe in its own hollow mandate for rehabilitation. This is a system that routinely and intentionally fails people like Alex and his family in its utter inability to see the people they incarcerate as human beings. We focus our rage as well on the Baker administration, whose recent signing of the compassionate release provision can only be seen as yet another publicity stunt for an administration with an abysmal record of “criminal justice reform.” But we also focus our rage on the larger system— the meta-system that treats human beings as disposable, not worthy of love or care. A system that believes it holds the ability to steal people from their lives and murder them with impunity while in the same breath condemning those it rips from the community for the same things. This is the carceral state. Uninterested in healing, incapable of reform.

Last week, Alex graduated with his closest friends from Boston University. Emaciated but standing strong, this photo is likely the last happy memory we have of a man we all love so dearly. Join us in our grief.

Then get ready to fight.

Please join us by following us on Facebook or join our mailing list here: https://lists.people-link.net/mailman/listinfo/deeperthanwater


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