An AIDS patient who recently secured a compassionate release
from prison joined activists on the outside Wednesday, calling
for major reforms in the way the California penal system
handles the AIDS crisis.
Judy Cagle, a convicted armed robber who has become a symbol of
redemption and a celebrated cause among AIDS activists,
tearfully urged other inmates afflicted with human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to press their fight against the
disease and often unresponsive prison officials.
"I want people I left behind to know I love them," said Cagle,
a 37-year-old mother who doctors believe has less than six
months to live. "Just don't give up. You've got to fight. You
got to know your lives are important."
Activists who worked to win Cagle's freedom introduced the
visibly weak and trembling woman at a news conference at the
Silver Lake headquarters of Being Alive, an AIDS service
agency. She was released Friday after serving more than seven
years of a 14-year sentence for a series of armed robberies.
Cagle is the first prisoner with AIDS granted compassionate
release by California prisons and courts who has survived
longer than 48 hours after release, according to Mary Lucey of
ACT UP/LA (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), although
California Department of Corrections officials said they could
neither confirm nor dispute the assertion.
Terminally ill inmates, who doctors say have less than six
months to live and who are not considered dangerous, are
eligible for compassionate release, prison officials said.
To activists, Cagle was an example of the need to streamline
the compassionate release procedure. No one was injured in
Cagle's armed robberies, they note, and Cagle had kicked the
drug addiction that had taken root in her early teens. At the
California Institute for Women in Frontera she became a
published poet and made videos warning others of the dangers of
drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease.
Cagle, whose immediate plans include a reunion with her
16-year-old son, said the procedure for compassionate release
needs to be streamlined because the process often takes more
than six months. Activists launched appeals for Cagle's freedom
more than two years ago. "We started early," Lucey said.
Activists, who are organizing a demonstration in Sacramento on
May 4 against the Department of Corrections, said other
necessary prison reforms include improved treatment for
HIV-positive inmates, expanded HIV testing, access to clinical
trials and equal access to visitation rights and prison
Leonard Bloom of AIDS Project Los Angeles noted that people
infected with HIV in prison often infect other people after
their parole. "From a public health standpoint, the prison
system is letting down all the people of California," Bloom
Photo: Judy Cagle, prisoner released because of AIDS condition,
is flanked by Mary Lucey of ACT UP/LA and Leonard Bloom of AIDS
Project L.A. Photo: (B1) AIDS INMATE: Judy Cagle, AIDS patient
granted compassionate release from prison, joined activists in
urging reforms to help HIV-infected inmates. KEN LUBAS / Los
DE CAGLE, JUDY; CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; ACQUIRED
IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME; PRISONER RELEASES--CALIFORNIA;
PRISON REFORM; TERMINALLY ILL; POLITICAL ACTIVISTS