There are many gifts to be given and received this holiday season; some that you can wrap and put under a tree, and some so intangible and ethereal that they cannot be held within the boundaries of paper and ribbon.
Instead, they exist within the boundaries of our hearts.
Among those intangible presents, few matter more than the chance to be with those we love—and at the time of our death, it’s the most important thing of all.
We have a chance to bring all of this to a dying woman and her family—but the only way it can happen is if we convince the Florida Department of Corrections not to kill her first.
It’s not a tale of light and joy—but if we get lucky, there could still be a happy ending.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
--Matthew 25:31-46, as presented in the New International Version of the Bible
Betsie Gallardo was born in Haiti in 1983—and if being born into a Haitian slum wasn’t enough of a disadvantage to a baby girl, she was also born HIV positive.
As a child, she became the playtoy of a local cop...but opportunity came to her doorstep when she and her sister were adopted by Jessica Bussert, an Indiana missionary who was working in Haiti at the time.
Over the years she created a better life for herself, including a chance to fulfill her desire to be a ballet dancer.
She moved to Florida, and in the course of the police responding to a car accident in which she was involved, she experienced a flashback that led to her spitting on a cop.
Because of her HIV status, the act of spitting on the police officer was considered to be battery with a deadly weapon; in November of 2009, convicted of both battery and resisting arrest with violence, she was sentenced to five years in prison.
(Are you thinking to yourself "you can’t spread AIDS by spitting"? You are correct, and people are being convicted for equally spurious "attacks" nationwide—but that’s a story for another day.)
Fast forward to today—and now Betsie is facing inoperable gallbladder cancer, which has spread to her colon.
This is causing an intestinal blockage—and that means she can no longer eat food.
It is possible to provide nutrition through intravenous feeding, but the State of Florida has decided not to do so...which means Betsie is going to be starved to death for the crime of spitting on a cop.
(I’m told by The Girlfriend, who is a nurse, that starvation is an especially gruesome way to die, both for the dying person and the medical staff who is involved in the event.)
Jessica Bussert is fighting to have her released on humanitarian grounds, based on her current medical condition.
There are two ways this can happen: the Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, chairs the Executive Clemency Board, who has the power to release her so she can die at home, or the Department of Corrections (DOC) can release her based on the authority of the Florida Parole Commission, who could give the go-ahead during their February meeting. (The Commission refused to release her in October, despite the fact that the DOC recommended they do so.)
How can you help?
We’re looking to apply public pressure, once again, on both the Office of Executive Clemency and the Florida Parole Commission. Here’s the contact information for the members of the Executive Clemency Board:
Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida
Bill McCollum, Attorney General
Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum
Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services
So how about that?
What might be the greatest gift that you can give this year costs virtually nothing, doesn’t require you to fight the crowds at the Post Office and the mall, and, if it’s regifted, it makes the world a better place.
Go and give something of yourself this year...and if we get lucky, we’ll make it possible for a young woman do die with a bit of dignity, at home and surrounded by those who love her, instead of starved to death in prison by those who apparently couldn’t care less.